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The Roaming Empire

Reports the effects of moving from one home to another among Americans; Sufferings of movers; How neighbors can help newcomers adjust; Views of Mindy Fullilove regarding the importance of places to a person's life.

Talk about a nation on the-move: Almost 20 percent of Americans find a newhome each year. Trouble its all this mobility exacts a psychological toll, reports Mindy Fullilove, M.D., a New York-based psychiatrist who has studied the effects of displacement on groups ranging from war refugees to U.S. school kids.

"When people live the American myth of picking up stakes and moving, they give up the sense of security that comes from being rooted in a particular place," Fullilove says. Kids who move a lot are more likely than those who don't to have trouble in school, she says, while overly mobile adults tend to focus so much on their jobs that they neglect community activities--everything from local politics to bowling leagues. And frequent movers often suffer from nostalgia, those feelings of longing and homesickness that seventeenth-century physicians believed to be a life-threatening illness.

While for most of us moving may be inevitable, the problems associated with it aren't. Neighbors can help newcomers adjust by inviting them to participate in activities that create a sense of belonging, and by listening to their remembrances of their former home. "The places in a person's life can be seen as a string of pearls," says Fullilove. "No two are alike."

CARTOON: One reason moving can be so traumatic is that our hometown actually becomes Dart of our identity.