Solastalgia and the Psychological Cost of Immigration

The flood of non-white immigration in the United States, Europe, Australia, and other white nations has, and continues to have, an erosive effect on white communities. Immigrants who are in the out-group relative to the majority population move into neighborhoods and rapidly alter the social landscape.


by Evan Anderson

Solastalgia is a relatively new concept created by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht and first published the journal PAN in 2005 (1). It is defined as “the pain or distress caused by the loss of, or inability to derive, solace connected to the negatively percieved state of one’s home environment”. In other words solastalgia is a type of ‘homesickness’ that occurs while one is still at home. Rapid and radical changes to the home environment turn it into something unrecognizable and can induce a sort of distress similar to that experienced by refugees from war.  Albrecht writes that the “dominant components of solastalgia” include “the loss of ecosystem health and corresponding sense of place, threats to personal health and wellbeing and a sense of injustice and/or powerlessness”. (2)

Solastalgia is classified as a psychoterratic illness, or one in which environmental damage is associated with mental distress.

Research demonstrates a profound impact on mental health and sense of well-being in those who suffer profound changes in their home environments. In one case, people living in New South Wales, Australia struggled to deal with the effects of expanded coal mining and power industries. Those interviewed complained about the unsightliness of the environmental devastation and the declining property values of the land they had occupied for generations (2).

As useful as Albrecht’s notion of solastalgia is, his writing focuses almost exclusively on the effects of damage to the physical world. However, the home environment consists of much more than just trees, fields, and buildings. As Aristotle first remarked, man is a social animal. People live in a webs of social interaction and interpersonal relationships, or communities. They find comfort and solace in family, friends, civic and religious organizations, and even in just seeing familiar faces at the neighborhood grocery store. Damage to this community structure can cause at least as much psychological harm as damage to the physical environment.


To get a sense of how community might be disrupted let us take a closer look at how it is defined. German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies (1855 – 1936) made a useful distinction between two types of social environment (3). On the one hand is society (Gesellschaft) or groups formed on the basis of an instrumental goal. Examples might be companies, unions, or political organizations. For the most part societies are a modern phenomenon and tend to be rather fluid – breaking apart and reorganizing as goals change. Tonnies’ community (Gemeinschaft), on the other hand, refers to family and neighborhood bonds that result in feelings of cohesion and togetherness. These are natural groupings based on an underlying, often subconscious, “essential will”. The sense of community is not created or ‘imagined’, but innate, and is largely a  consequence of biological kinship and genetic similarity.

More recent research on community psychology has identified four basic elements involved in the ‘sense of community’; membership, influence, integration and need fulfillment, and shared emotional connection (4, 6). The first, membership, deals with who belongs to the community and who does not. Factors such as language, dress, ritual, common symbol systems, and most importantly race, all serve to differentiate mbmers of the in-group from those of the out-group. Those within the community share a sense of emotional safety, sense of belonging, and personal investment.


Members also feel as if they have some influence over what happens in their community. They belive that they have a voice and that their opinion matters. Likewise they are comfortable with the influence that their community has over them. There is a sense of trust that their interests are being looked after.


Finally, members of a true community feel integrated into the social framework and have a shared emotional connection with those around them. They have a personal investment in the community and feel they will be rewarded for civic participation. In the context of the community honor and shame still have meaning and the power to influence a person’s behavior.


The flood of non-white immigration in the United States, Europe, Australia, and other white nations has, and continues to have, an erosive effect on white communities. Immigrants who are in the out-group relative to the majority population move into neighborhoods and rapidly alter the social landscape. Days at school, trips to the store, or nights out on the weekend no longer become community-affirming experiences but are filled with language barriers, fear, and a palpable tension. These feelings manifest themselves in the well-known phenomenon of ‘white flight’. As the non-white population of an area increases, whites tend to move out of the area in an attempt to join or build racially homogenous communities elsewhere. But in both the United States and Europe, whites are running out of places to go.


Even liberal sociologist Robert Putnam discovered a reduction in  ‘social capital’ in areas that were more ethnically diverse (5). Social capital includes such things as security, community involvement, and use of shared community facilities. He found that the more racially diverse an area the more the residents (of all races) tended to mistrust others and sequester themselves. Immigration is creating this sort of situation in all white nations. Solastalgia may prove a useful concept in describing the psychological impact this has on individuals in those nations.




  1. Albrecht, G. Solastalgia: a new concept in human health and identity. PAN (Philosophy Activism Nature), 3, 41-55, 2005.

  1. Albrecht, G., et al. Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. American Psychiatry, 15:S, S95-S98, 2007.

  1. Ferdinand Tönnies. (2007, Oct 30). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 16, 2008 from

  1. McMillan, D. W. and D. M. Chavis. Sense of Community: A Defininition and Theory. J Community Psychology, 14, 6-23, 1986.


  1. Putnam, R. E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century – The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture. Scandinavian Political Studies, 30(2), 137-174, 2007.


  1. Wright, S. Psychological Sense of Community: Theory of McMillian & Chavis,, Retrieved March 16, 2008 from