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Let’s Talk Mental Health — Expat Challenges

When thinking about living abroad, we sometimes picture a perfect life filled with exciting adventures and things to learn. But relocating to another country comes with its own set of difficulties and concerns that, if not fully overcome, can slowly lead to mental health challenges.

Expat life can be like an emotional roller coaster: great experiences full of excitement take turns with negative feelings and anxiety-filled moments, especially when facing a brand-new reality for the first time. From culture shock and homesickness to lack of sleep and despairing over paperwork, expats are not immune when it comes to stress and mental health issues. Here is a list of some of the main obstacles that can cause expats grief.

Adjusting to a New Language and Culture

Acclimatizing to a different culture and experiencing an unfamiliar way of life for the first time can be a struggle for many expats. In fact, culture shock is a common phenomenon among those who move abroad and, especially during certain stages, it goes hand in hand with a sense of anxiety and alienation.

Not only cultural differences can be hard to understand, the language barrier also plays a significant role. Feeling lost or inadequate is one of the most frequent consequences, especially for expats who move without knowing the local language at all. However, speaking the local language can be frustrating, too: making mistakes, having an accent, or not being able to completely express a simple idea bring frustration and can lower one’s self esteem.

Facing Unrealistic and Unmet Expectations

Before the international adventure begins, some expats tend to build up their own expectations on what their life abroad will look like and imagine a new start filled with exciting adventures, new friends, and opportunities to escape from the usual routine. Once the initial excitement fades away, however, realizing that you will be confronted with tough moments and that expat life is not perfect can be a painful experience and negatively affect the whole stay abroad with feelings of anxiety, discontent, and even depression.

Feeling Isolated and Homesick

Leaving your friends and building a new network from scratch in another country is a challenge for many. In this situation, especially during the first weeks or months, it is easy for expats to feel isolated and lonely and to doubt themselves. Not only making friends can be hard, but also living far from family can be a huge challenge and lead to homesickness: a lack of regular personal contact with loved ones can be frustrating and create a feeling of incompleteness, depression, and isolation. What is more, even the small everyday tasks can become a struggle: from understanding how the public transportation system works to finding where to get the groceries, making a new place feel like home in the middle of the unfamiliar isn’t simple.

Having an Overfull Agenda

When moving, it is tempting to take your routine to the extreme, saying yes to everything and filling your agenda with meetings, dates, and parties in order to socialize. Being overworked and sleep-deprived can be the consequence, with many expats struggling to build a healthy and balanced lifestyle abroad. When this happens, physical tiredness can have a negative impact on mental health with mood changes, trouble concentrating, and anxiety as the result.

Preexisting Mental Health Issues

Some expats relocate to another country bringing with them an unsolved set of mental health issues or maybe even move abroad to escape problems back home. However, being mentally stable before digging into a new reality and facing the challenge that is expat life is very important! Most of the time, relocating abroad is not the right solution for releasing stress or depression, but rather gives more room for existing mental health issues to get worse.

What is more, seeking help can be more difficult abroad: from prices and insurance coverage to finding a doctor that speaks your language, being far from home and receiving the help you need to deal with mental health issues can be challenging.

Making Long-Distance Relationships Work

Some relationships become stronger than ever when facing long-distance, while others unfortunately are not able to make it through. Keeping in touch, communicating well, and making the other person feel loved — it can be though to manage relationships when you’re apart. Feeling misunderstood, hurt, or under pressure are the most common feelings among expats who struggle with managing their relationships from afar. Especially dealing with long-distance breakups can be a big shock and cause of depression while living abroad.

Sorting Out the Paperwork

From finding a new house to starting a new job, paperwork is one of the most crucial and delicate parts when relocating. Dealing with visas, permits, and insurance, maybe in another language and with different regulations, is among the main reasons for anxiety both before and during a stay abroad. Without a good organization or external help, it can be hard for an expat to keep track of all the documents necessary and to stick to deadlines or important meetings, all while trying to adjust to a new country.

If you are an expat and are struggling with these challenges, don’t forget that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that you are not alone in this. We would like to share with you some practical advice on how to cope with mental health issues while living abroad:

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