Expat Mental Health Challenges (And How to Deal with Them)
Every expat knows that living abroad can be challenging at times. There are many instances when expats are asking themselves if they’ve made the right decision when moving to a different country far from friends and family. You can always make new friends but there’s only one family. The COVID-19 pandemic made life even more difficult and many foreign workers had to move back to their home countries.
The ones that stayed are still facing all sorts of mental health challenges with little support from institutions that are now often closed because of strict lockdowns.
Of course, not everything is terrible, and expats can have fulfilling and exciting lives if they put a little effort into it. Today we’re going to look at the most common pain-points that expats are facing.
Dealing with Forms and Government Institutions
Even reading this headline gives many expats a churning feeling in their stomach. Not knowing how to speak the local language can exasperate even the calmest person.
Many countries are still facing people to deal with bureaucracy face-to-face rather than filling out online forms. Going from door to door is really not something you ever wanted to do in a new country.
There are a few things that we can do to mitigate this hurdle. Getting a person that speaks the language to help you fill out the forms or translate what public servants are saying will make your life much easier.
If you have enough money, getting a solicitor to deal with most, if not all the paperwork, is the way to go.
Missing Family and Being Homesick
Many expats are feeling more isolated than ever due to ongoing travel restrictions that make it nearly impossible to see our families face-to-face. But even before the pandemic, homesickness was something that oftentimes would just not go away. There’s no real “cure” for that, especially now that we can’t travel back home as often.
The only thing that you can really do is to stay in regular contact with your friends back home, which we often neglect, and spending time on “face time” over the internet. Sending a real physical letter can also help you “vent” your feelings.
Finding a new circle of friends and a support network will also help you feel less homesick as your new locale will start to feel more welcoming.
Taking Off the Pink Glasses
Once the initial “honeymoon” period is over and you start noticing things that didn’t bother you earlier, it can be hard to adjust quickly. It is important to adjust your expectations as no country on earth is perfect and of course, you’ll be running into issues.
If you go into your international adventure thinking that you’ll be sipping cocktails on the beach the whole day you might get desolate when harder times start knocking on your door.
Trying to Balance Work and Life
This is an ongoing issue for millions, if not billions of people in our modern world and it’s not an issue exclusive to expats.
Putting too many obligations on your plate every day can lead to burnout. If at the start you’re trying to fill the void by making endless work and social appointments, dates, parties and so on, you won’t have a balanced life and physical tiredness will quickly creep up, bringing mental health concerns such as concentration, performance, and anxiety issues.
Do not try to do everything in the beginning, and don’t feel obliged to say yes to every invite. Try to carve out time for yourself as well. Time to meditate perhaps or relax a bit.
Learning A New Language
Learning a new language can be disheartening at times. You’re trying really hard and spending so much of your time and energy yet the words coming out of your mouth are not what they sounded like in your head. Simple things like buying groceries or ordering food in a restaurant can become hurdles.
If your international adventure is not a decision you’ve made a couple of weeks ago but was a long-term goal, try to prepare yourself ahead of time by spending as much time as you can on learning the new language. It will make your life that much easier when the time finally comes to move.
It is normal to still have a foreign accent even after a few years, and it’s important that you’re aware of the fact and don’t feel lower self-esteem because of it.
Culture shock is a real thing and a common phenomenon that can happen when moving to a different place. All societies are different and that’s what we’re trying to appreciate about them but on the ground level, it can be difficult.
Not understanding why local people do the things that they do the way they do can lead to alienation. No one is saying that you have to completely immerse yourself into the local culture and accept everything that they do. But by acknowledging the fact that people are different will help us manage expectations of them.
Relocating with Pre-existing Mental Issues
It is never a good idea to run away from your problems or even mental health issues, especially to a foreign country. This is exactly what people often do and then they’re surprised that they’re not “cured” after relocating.
If you thought that seeking help at home was difficult because everyone knew you and there was a stigma of speaking out, it is often even more difficult to find help and solutions abroad. Even finding a doctor that speaks your language can prove difficult.
This is not to say that it can’t be done. After all, you can’t be a preacher in your village as they say. If you’re really at the end of the road and can’t find proper help, maybe the solution is to relocate elsewhere, but maybe not to a foreign country for now. And makes sure you look for UK-based sources of help if you need it.
In these challenging times, expats and locals alike are suffering from increasing mental health or addiction issues. It is important to know that the night is darkest before the sunrise and that there’s always a way out of troubling times. You don’t have to be alone in this and by actively finding a support network, your life can improve immensely.