Sweden has taken more Syrian refugees than any other European country and, despite its attempts, the country has struggled to accommodate all of the displaced men, women, and children. In the midst of this crisis, a mysterious disease has developed among Syrian teenage refugees in Sweden, one that inexplicably results in coma-like states.
Called "resignation syndrome" — or uppgivenhetssyndrom, in Swedish — young Syrians appear to be sleeping while in actuality they are forfeiting consciousness in the face of trauma. Essentially, these young refugees are giving up on life. The catatonia-inducing disease tends to manifest after a teen's request for asylum has been denied, causing skeptics to wonder whether resignation syndrome is a true medical condition, or just some kind of placebo.
Teenagers With Resignation Sickness Can't Feed Themselves And Don't Respond To Pain
Teenagers that have been afflicted by uppgivenhetssyndrom, or resignation sickness, do not suddenly shut down but slowly withdraw from their surroundings. They often stop speaking, don't eat, and get to the point where they no longer open their eyes, forcing their family and friends to take extreme measures to keep them alive.
Many victims, like Georgi, a once-vibrant teen whose family was denied residency in 2014, are given feeding tubes. The teens are so depressed and apathetic that they don't even put up a fight to the tube, nor do they react when doctors try to elicit a pain reaction from them. When a light is shone in their eyes, they do not seem to notice. When touched or comforted, they show no response.
It's Unclear If The Teens Are Traumatized By What They've Been Through Or By The Thought Of Going Back — Or Both
The cause of uppgivenhetssyndrom is unknown but doctors believe a combination of factors may be involved. The children, most of which are between ages seven and 19, are all from "holistic cultures" that value the family unit over the individual. As a result, one of the theories is that the teens are unconsciously sacrificing themselves for their families, falling into a vegetative state so the entire family will be able to avoid deportation.
There may be other causes — or at least contributing factors — for the illness. The children come from violent, war-torn areas and once deportation becomes a reality, they fall victim to extreme fear about returning to those conditions, losing the safety they've worked so hard to gain.
Some Teens Begin To Resign Almost Immediately Upon Hearing Asylum Has Been Denied
The early stages of resignation syndrome include a lack of anxiety, social withdrawal, and dysphoria, but once it becomes clear to a teen that there is no hope for asylum, their immersion into a stupor can be almost immediate. One Roma girl lost the ability to walk within one day of finding out her family hadn't been granted residency in Sweden. She and her sister were both stricken by the disease, and although she had only been bedridden for a few months, her sister had been immobile and noncommunicative for two years when NPR reported on them in 2017.
One Recovered Patient Said He Felt Like He Was In A Glass Box For Months
When the boys and girls affected by resignation syndrome fall into a stupor (females experience the ailment more than males, however), it's difficult to know exactly what they experience. Georgi, who slowly emerged from the disease in 2016 after his family was granted asylum, described it as "if he were in a glass box with fragile walls, deep in the ocean. If he spoke or moved, he thought, it would create a vibration, which would cause the glass to shatter." He believed that movement or sound would drown as the water overcame him.