Contributed by Lisa Rogers, MA, LPC, LMFT
Moving to a new country can be a wonderful adventure to undertake. But, unfortunately, it can also be a very stressful one to navigate, and many expats are surprised by just how much it can affect their mental health.
Even if you wanted to make a move, you could find that your expectations and reality don’t quite line up the way you expected them to. A brand new life in a new country, no matter how wonderful it is, can also come with some unexpected strains on your mental health.
Whether you’re about to become an expat or you’re currently living as one, here is some important information you should know about expats and mental health.
Why Expats Are at Risk of Mental Health Issues
Thanks to social media, the images we get from those who’ve moved to another country are often curated to show the positive side of life. But in reality, life doesn’t necessarily get better or easier just because you’ve changed geographic locations.
Expats are more susceptible to depression for several reasons. For one, starting over in a brand new country and learning to ‘fit in’ with cultural expectations can be stressful. In addition, you may feel a loss of confidence as you question your new identity in an unfamiliar place.
Life may be more exciting and interesting, but at the same time, the uncertainty of learning to adapt to a new location can be stressful and intimidating. Compound this with the fact that your closest support network, your friends and family, are far away, and it can take time to establish a new support network in your new country. Sometimes it can even feel impossible to do so.
Signs of Depression
Depression can hit expats unexpectedly, but the signs are often there long before you realize you need help. It can be hard to admit you might be suffering from depression, especially if you feel like you should be happy living in a new country and experiencing all the fantastic opportunities that it offers.
You may feel a sense of culture shock as an expat. At first, everything is new and exciting. You might be too busy enjoying the novelty of living in a new place even to consider how stressful it can be. But once the novelty begins to wear off, the reality of being far from home and different from your new peers can hit you hard.
Homesickness and feeling like you don’t know where you fit in are significant contributors to expat depression. If you suddenly find yourself losing interest in your new home or questioning why you left your friends and family, you could be dealing with expat depression.
How Poor Mental Health Can Affect You
The stress of experiencing depression or poor mental health in a new country can significantly impact your life. You may withdraw from socializing and miss out on opportunities to build a new support network in your new home. You might also begin to shut out your old one.
Although they may mean well, your friends and family back home can sometimes compound your anxieties by making you feel guilty for leaving, whether or not they intend to. They may miss you and take every opportunity to tell you, which can make you feel worse and may even lead to you pulling away from them.
If you’re in a relationship, poor mental health can put a strain on it as well. Often, one partner or spouse gives up a job or career to follow their partner to another country for work or other opportunities. This sacrifice can lead to resentment, especially if the unemployed spouse can’t find a job or other ways to integrate into the new location.
Depression can strain any relationship, but compound it with the stresses of expat living, and it can take a serious toll on the relationship if you don’t seek out help.
How To Get Help as an Expat
While it’s true that you may never experience depression or poor mental health as an expat, if you do, there is help. You don’t have to give up on your dreams, and you don’t have to suffer alone.
Counseling and therapy are widely available options for anyone struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. You may choose to see a therapist based in your new country, or you might decide to engage in online therapy or phone therapy with a therapist from your home country.
You may want to consider marriage counseling, especially if your spouse doesn’t understand why you’re struggling with depression as an expat. If you moved because your spouse is from another country, this could be especially helpful. Your spouse may not understand the strain that expat living can put on a relationship, and therapy can help them see things from your perspective so they can support you better.
Support for Expat Mental Health
Lisa Rogers understands the unique challenges that being an expat can pose to your mental health. She has traveled extensively and lived in many different places around the world.
At Lisa Rogers Counseling, I offer a wide range of therapy and mental health services for several areas. You are not alone in your struggle and neither are your loved ones. Reach out to me today to make an appointment.
I provide services in:
- Adult Therapy: Individual, Marriage, Couples
- Child Therapy: Group therapy, family therapy, social skills, play therapy
- Adolescent Therapy: Individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, substance abuse
Current services are all available via Teletherapy now during the pandemic. Contact me for more information.
[Note: This piece was originally published on Lisa’s Blog and has been re-posted with permission from the author.]
Author: Lisa Rogers, MA, LPC, LMFT
Since 1993, Lisa Rogers has been providing a combination of all her years of training tailoring specific treatments based on the individual needs and challenges of her patients, facilitating healing. She makes every effort to accommodate the busy schedules of her patients by offering evenings, weekend appointments and Telemental Health (Online Counseling-Virtual/Video Conference and Phone Sessions) offered in the following states she is licensed in: New York, California, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, and Vermont.