With one in four people in the world likely to be affected by mental disorders at some stage in their life, you could argue that we should all prioritise our mental health. And in reality we should. However, due to the fact that triggers for depression and anxiety can include stressful events and periods of significant change, expats are among those who are particularly susceptible.
Expats face a whole host of challenges and stressors, all at once. Starting a new job or moving house are stressful at the best of times but combined with the absence of their usual support network and adapting to an entirely new culture have the potential to cause serious mounting pressure. Very quickly, these can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
Therefore, it’s vitally important for individuals looking to relocate to different country, to be aware and prepare for this possibility. Taking care of your mental health needs to become a must for all expats. In doing so, it can be easier to recognise when action needs to be taken to prevent the problem from escalating. Above all, a proactive approach will always be better than a reactive one.
Here are some of the key areas that pose the biggest risk to new expats and some of the actions that can be taken to mitigate these issues.
New Job Challenges
With any new job comes a period of stress as you adjust to new ways of working, new duties or responsibilities, new people and of course the pressure to make a name for yourself. In a new country, you also have the addition of adapting to cultural differences and in some cases language barriers.
Companies may or may not have employee mental health provisions and if they do, these of course could be somewhat different to what you have experienced in your home country. Employers may also be unaware of the vulnerabilities’ of relocated employees.
Furthermore, for expats who have relocated for work, it can be easy for them to focus all their attention on the new job, thus allowing other important areas of their life – such as making new social connections – to fall by the wayside. Only to find burnout ensues.
To alleviate these particular problems, expats should proactively seek support from their employers. After all, help is less likely to be offered if the situation is not brought to their attention.
Further preventative measures might also include; asking potential employers what mental health resources and services they have in place for employees, before even accepting a role and/or budgeting for the potential for mental health support in your relocation plan.
Moreover, if possible, be sure to take into consideration the availability and strength of mental health services and support, when choosing your relocation destination. After all, there are some countries that are renowned for their mental health support and other that are less so.
Change to Social Activities
A new country often accompanies a very different culture and this can include restriction to familiar social activities you once enjoyed in your home country. It will certainly take some time to adjust and find new social pursuits.
As a foreigner, expats understandably struggle to transition and make new networks of friends and this can be further complicated with a language barrier. As such, feelings of loneliness and isolation are commonly experienced. Clearly this can cause mounting pressure, stress and anxiety on top of everything else.
For single expats this can be particularly challenging, as for many, facing the prospect of tackling these obstacles alone can be quite overwhelming. What’s more, dating in another country can accompany cultural difference which is yet another area which will take some adjusting to.
To address and prepare for such challenges, it can be wise to fully research a country’s culture and social opportunities to ensure you are well informed of what to expect. Where possible, speak to expats living in the country to get first-hand experience of what the country is like in reality and what potential options you have in the way of social activities and connecting with others.
Moreover, proactively seek out opportunities to make new friends by doing something you’re passionate about, whether that be joining a class, a club or volunteering. A popular option is to learn a language through a face to face course in which you can ‘kill two birds with one stone’, so to speak.
Loss of Support Network
At home expats are usually well connected to friends and family and this can be one of the greatest areas to adjust to. Even if you have moved with your spouse or children, you will undoubtedly miss the close relations you’ve left behind, which are in many ways, irreplaceable.
It can be easy to think that they will be the ones to stay in touch, yet this can be a common misconception. In reality, everyone gets on with their life and keeps up to date with your updates on social media. Therefore, it’s important for you to take the lead in staying in contact, sharing news and reaching out when you need support.
As a preventative measure, be sure to share your concerns with your family and friends before you even leave and agree how you can stay regularly connected, even if that’s simply scheduling a monthly Skype call and a visit either way once a year.