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Expats – Be Prepared for Mental Health Challenges Abroad

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Along with joy relocating to a new country can bring frustration, anxiety, and depression, so prepare for these mental health challenges before you go.Have you decided to make a move abroad? Maybe you have accepted a job in another country or are moving to participate in volunteer work. An adventure like this is full of excitement and opportunity. But to be successful, you have to prepare yourself for the challenges that can come along with it.
 
Some of the challenges you may face as an expat include:

  • Living in a place where few people speak your language. To be constrained by language barriers is isolating. Even when you have some grasp of your new language, fluency takes time and the process can be frustrating.

  • Adjusting to a new environment. Your new area may not be as safe as your previous neighborhood, limiting mobility and walks alone. Or maybe your spouse is working, leaving you to fend for yourself during the day. Unfamiliar foods and lack of access to the comforts of home can cause stress.

  • Understanding and adapting to new cultures and customs. Learning what is proper and acceptable in another country can be a long process. When you aren’t familiar with local customs it can lead to frustration and embarrassment. 

  • Being separated from family and friends. If you want to grab lunch with your mom or a friend they are all back in your native country, and phone calls can be expensive! It can also be upsetting if you have to miss important life events, milestones or beloved holidays.

This combination can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, or depression. In fact, expats experience a significantly higher risk for anxiety, depression, and substance abuse problems than their domestic counterparts. This was highlighted in a recent study that showed that expats are at a higher risk for mental health problems.
 
These feelings can quickly derail what should be an exciting, engaging, and interesting chapter of your life. They can lead to poor job performance, marital problems, and physical health issues.
 
What can you do before embarking on your journey to prepare yourself for these challenges? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Identify both the strengths and weakness that change brings out in you. This awareness will help you maximize your strengths and not be blindsided by your weaknesses.

  • Let go of the idea that life has to be a certain way. View change, big and small, as an opportunity to grow. 

  • Do research. Find out as much as you can about the country, city, and neighborhood as you can before you move. If possible, visit before your move so you have some idea of what to expect. Talk to people who have made the same move or a similar one.

  • Learn some basic phrases in the new language. Having a greeting and some basic sentences you’ll need on a regular basis memorized before you go will help you feel more comfortable in your new environment. It will also make it easier to pick up the language.

  • Plan ahead to see family and friends. Plan a definite time to come back to your home country for a visit or have loved ones come visit you. Schedule phone calls and video chat sessions. 

  • Find a therapist. You may come to realize that you could really use the help of a therapist to navigate your transition to a new life in a new country. 

On the point of finding a therapist, how you do you find one in a new country? It can definitely be a challenge. Depending on where you are going, there may not be that many qualified therapists in your area. The local therapists may not speak your language. And in a small community, the local therapist could be someone you interact with in other circles. It can be uncomfortable to open up to someone who has connections to your outside life.
 
What if you could have a qualified therapist who speaks your language, and who is available at the touch of a button? I offer a service that provides exactly that! My Remote Counselling Services for Expats utilizes a HIPPA compliant, online video program to connect us, no matter where you are in the world via video conferences, I can help you navigate the unique situations that you face and find a healthy way to cope with your new challenges. Please take advantage of this unique service so you can get the most of your international experience and your life!


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