‘Snow White’ syndrome: far from a fairy-tale

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‘Snow White’ syndrome: far from a fairy-tale

Resignation syndrome is an interesting and unique, relatively little-known dissociative syndrome that eventually “induces a catatonic state” in the sufferer. The syndrome is prevalent amongst young people; particularly those who have suffered a psychological trauma- the patients affected by the disorder predominantly live in Sweden and come from refugee or immigrant–based families, often those who have been faced with deportation or family separation. Resignation syndrome is considered by most to be a culture-based illness as thus far it is believed to exist only in Sweden and only amongst asylum-seeking refugees. Also known as the ‘Snow White’ syndrome as termed by Dr Elisabeth Hultcrantz, an ear-nose-and-throat doctor who handles many sufferers of the syndrome, as the patients’ just “falls away from the world”.

In Sweden, the syndrome is called Uppgivenhetssyndrom and what makes it so intriguing is that it seems that despite the fact that “the patients have no underlying physical or neurological disease; they seem to have lost the will to live”. The children affected by the disorder assume a “coma-like state” in that there is little to no physical activity displayed. The children stop walking, talking or communicating in any form and essentially entirely disconnect and withdraw from any active participation in the world around them. Due to their comatose state, the children rely solely on tube feeding for nourishment. Dr Hultcrantz has treated over 40 children who have been diagnosed with Resignation syndrome: “When I explain to the parents what has happened, I tell them the world has been so terrible that [they] have gone into [themselves] and disconnected the conscious part of [their] brain” says Dr Hultcrantz, “I think it is a form of protection, this coma they are in”. Most professionals who have treated children with the syndrome believe that the trigger stems from a specific trauma, either through having witnessed acts of violence perpetrated on family members or through the constant instability of living life as a refugee without a consistent and reliable home-base.

Resignation Syndrome is by no means a new discovery, it was first observed in the late 1990s but its prevalence has been noted since the early 2000s, with over 400 recorded cases, and more recently an additional 169 cases have been recorded in the past two years alone (Doctors of the World Org.). So, is there any hope for these silent sufferers? Doctors believe that recovery is possible and that the best way to initiate the recovery process is through the establishment of a safe and secure environment for the asylum seekers in the hopes of eventually undoing some of the trauma that the turbulence of an asylum-seekers life has caused. In essence, the hope of recovery is intertwined with the restoration of hope to the family.


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