What you should know about expat mental health

What you should know about expat mental health

Moving abroad is a big decision, and it can be a lot to take in all at once. While you might be excited to start your new life as an expat, there is no denying that there are plenty of challenges that come with the territory.

And while you may already have a plan in mind when it comes to your work, insurance, retirement savings, among others, have you considered your mental well-being and how this change will affect your mental health?

Expat mental health is as important as physical health, yet it is often forgotten.

After all, it is normal to feel overwhelmed by many things when you first arrive in your new country: learning how to navigate a new language and culture, finding work or school opportunities, making friends… the list goes on!

It will make the transition all the smoother if you consider how all these will affect your life overseas and how you can handle it.

In this article, we will discuss expat mental health, common struggles expats deal with overseas, and offer some tips to deal with them.

If you want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, which is what I specialize in, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use WhatsApp (+44-7393-450-837).

What is expat mental health?

Expat mental health is a term that refers to the psychological well-being of people who have moved from one country to live in another.

This change is most evident in children of families who suddenly move abroad. In fact, it is common enough to be known as expat child syndrome.

Psychologists have coined the phrase “expat child syndrome” to explain the unique emotional difficulties experienced by children who have relocated overseas. Although it can affect kids of any age, preteens and teenagers are particularly vulnerable.

When going through the many emotional and physical upheavals that come with adolescence, teenagers often go to their friends for solace. It can be especially challenging to uproot someone from their supportive social network at home and transplant them to a foreign nation.

Symptoms may manifest differently in each child, but here are some of the more frequently observed ones:

  • Changes in behavior: Younger expat children, who often cannot verbalize their emotions, may have trouble sleeping or losing weight.  
  • Isolation: Once outgoing children become noticeably more reclusive since you relocated.
  • Loneliness. Children may have trouble finding new friends to spend time with.
  • Disruptiveness. Well-behaved children may start acting up at home or at school, or have become more irritable and quick to lose their temper.

Your child may have ECS if they are suffering any of the aforementioned symptoms while living abroad. It is concerning to see your children act differently, but there are things you can do to help them adjust to life in a new nation.

A child’s mental health may be impacted by international relocation in addition to the physical manifestations mentioned above.

They may become very reclusive and lose the ability to interact with others. After a while, most kids will start to feel at home in their new environment, but some may choose to withdraw, act out, and feel resentful against their parents.

Adults are not necessarily immune to such symptoms as well. The mental health of expats is often precarious, and relocation often brings new challenges.

Compared to people back home, many studies have shown that expats have a higher rate of depression. Particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, many expats felt particularly lonely due to travel and socializing restrictions. Isolation is a known risk factor for the development of anxiety and depression.

Why is expat mental health important?

Expats can experience various mental health problems when they move abroad, including depression and anxiety disorders.

These may be caused by factors such as moving away from friends and family, feeling isolated in a new country or culture, dealing with work-related stressors like cultural differences or language barriers, missing your old home environment and having to adapt to new ways of doing things.

It should be noted that around one billion people worldwide are struggling with some kind of mental or substance use disorder, or one in seven people. Mental disorders are not as uncommon as you may think.

Diagnosis and, by extension, therapy or assistance, are significantly less common than this estimate, despite being essential to overall mental and physical health.

Although there are many advantages to working and living in another country, there are also some disadvantages. Recent studies found that twice as many American citizens living abroad experience mental health issues as Americans living in the United States.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore study, titled ‘The Mental Health Status of Expatriate and U.S. Domestic Workers’, also discovered the following:

Expats were three times more likely than Americans at home to report feeling confined or depressed.

Anxiety and nervousness were reported by twice as many international workers as by those based in the United States.

Recent polls have shown that many workers ignore the health needs of their foreign coworkers. Furthermore, mental health is often undervalued in favor of physical health in the workplace.

Expat mental health is often overlooked as an important part of moving abroad.
Expat mental health is often overlooked as an important part of moving abroad.

Disability, sick days, and lost productivity all contribute to the global burden of mental health in the workplace. However, many nations’ mental health services have been disrupted even as the demand for them has grown. The potential long-term effects of the pandemic on the next generation make this a very worrisome situation.

Recent polls conducted amongst expats have shown that there is still some degree of negative stigma associated with mental health. Compared to only 40% of workers in the UK and US, 50% of our respondents in countries like the UAE and Singapore felt it difficult to talk about mental health at work.

Expats are also quick to learn that, in addition to the difficulties inherent in any long-distance move, mental health services, like other types of health care, are unevenly dispersed around the world.

Out of all mental health claims, those for depression and anxiety are by far the most common (bipolar, psychoses, dementia, postpartum, and eating disorders accounted for relatively low percentages, albeit increasing). The expatriate population is seeing an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.

What factors should you consider for your mental health before you move abroad?

Living abroad can be stressful, but it can also be beneficial. You will meet new people and get to know a new culture. You will have a new experience, and learn about yourself. You will learn to adjust to new things like the language or food in your host country.

Living abroad can also be challenging because it takes time for your brain and body to adjust to living in another country with different customs and ways of doing things than what you are used to back home.

If you are planning to move abroad, it is important to be prepared for some challenges. You cannot avoid all of them, but there are ways that you can learn to manage them. Here are some things that may happen:

You might have a hard time making friends at first and feel lonely or isolated.

The language barrier could be difficult for you as well, especially if you don’t speak the local language fluently yet. This is something that will improve over time as long as you keep practicing every day, and talking with people in other ways besides just speaking.

It is also normal for homesickness to creep up from time-to-time when living abroad.

However, if this feeling continues for longer than two weeks then it may be worth reaching out for help from someone who understands what expats go through mentally and emotionally during their relocation process such as an international mental health professional.

You may need to find new ways of coping with stress, anxiety, and depression.

For example, if you were used to having a glass of wine every night before bed when you lived at home then this might not be an option when living abroad depending on the country.

You will meet various people along the way. You may feel like you’re the only one going through what you’re going through, but that’s not true. There are many other expats who have been in your shoes and have found their way out of them.

Do not be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

The expat community is full of supportive people, who will help guide and advise you on whatever issues might arise during this time period in your life.

You can find expat groups online or even meetup events where fellow expats gather together at different locations around town to meetup and talk about their experiences as newcomers in a new country!

You should keep in touch with your therapist back home as well, who can help guide you through any difficulties. Many doctors nowadays accept video consultations, so it is a simple matter of setting up appointments with the physicians you trust.

They may also be able to recommend a therapist in your new country and help guide you through any difficulties that come up. If they do not know of someone who specializes in treating expats, they can still help by recommending medication or even calling the local hospital if necessary.

If you are moving abroad, you may experience a wide range of emotions about it.

It is natural to feel excited about moving abroad. You can look forward to new opportunities, meeting new people and exploring places you’ve never been before.

But it is also normal for expats to feel anxious about leaving their friends and family behind, or even just knowing that they will not be able to see them as often as they did before.

Homesickness affects everyone differently: some people get depressed while others may become angry or irritable over time without realizing why this is happening in the first place.

The good news is that these feelings are usually temporary–it just takes some time for your body and mind adjust themselves after being in an environment where everything feels familiar and safe.

What are the common struggles expats face abroad?

Differences between one’s home country and the new country, such as those involving culture, climate, religion, and language, can play a role in expat mental health. It is normal to worry about fitting in with local culture as well.

Some other frequent contributors to mental illness are:

  • Disconnection from loved ones; feeling of isolation and loneliness.
  • The importance of learning to rely on oneself heavily
  • Language, cultural, and religious barriers
  • Exposure to poverty, violence, suffering, death, and the danger of disease can lead to anxiety and stress in some countries.

For many, homesickness ranks first. It is inevitable that you will miss home and friends, even if the prospect of moving abroad is something you are truly looking forward to. Or just the routine existence to which you were accustomed.

On top of the natural stress of moving to a new country, there are also feelings of anxiety about adjusting and alienation.

Many people who go overseas do not anticipate feeling cut off from their informal support networks of friends and acquaintances.

COVID-19 may have shed fresh light on virtual communication, but it still cannot compare to in-person interaction. Those who have relocated for their partner’s work may find this more difficult.

Explore resources for ‘trailing partners’ and spouses of expats, and learn how to thrive in your new environment.

Some people living abroad worry that their friends and family back home will forget about them. In order to make their friends and family believe that they made the proper decision in moving, some people opt not to tell them about their concerns.

This is especially important throughout the holidays when people are away from work and family.

Making new acquaintances can be challenging, especially if you have established a strong social network in your native country. Making friends in a foreign nation when you don’t speak the language might be challenging enough.

Moving to a new nation can cause a lot of stress and worry, and sometimes it can make things worse if you try to find a treatment for your mental health problems. Problems arise when people are unable to deal with negative emotions like loneliness and homesickness.

Life is hard, even when you are in an exciting new place with a job set up and a great apartment. The stress of moving to a new country can be overwhelming. The adjustment to a new culture can be challenging for even the most well-adjusted person.

It is important to understand that the pressure can build up over time. If you are living in a new country, it is likely that you will feel like there are so many things that you need to learn and do in order to fit into your new environment.

There may be situations where people expect you to know something or behave a certain way because they assume everyone would know this information or act this way.

As an expat, if someone makes a comment about being foreign or asks where you are from (even if they are just being friendly), it can make you feel singled out and different from everyone else around you.

The pressure builds up over time because every day brings new challenges: learning how get around town without getting lost; figuring out how much things cost; communicating with coworkers who speak another language; figuring out which foods are safe for consumption… the list goes on!

Even though each item seems small when taken individually, together these challenges become overwhelming after a while since there is so much information needed at once in order for them all fit together properly within your life as an expat living abroad.

What should you do to take care of your mental health as an expat?

Moving to a new country is a big adjustment. You will have to learn to live in a different culture, miss your friends and family back home, and make new friends. Being far away from home can also be hard on your mental health.

If you have children, they may struggle with losing touch with their grandparents or other relatives who live far away. Kids sometimes have trouble adjusting when their parents move abroad because they do not understand why their lives have changed so much overnight.

It is important for expats not only to adjust physically but also mentally–this includes learning about the healthcare system in the country where they have moved.

The key to making a successful move abroad is planning.

You will need to do your research and make sure that your family is ready for the change.

If you have kids, talk with them about what life will be like in their new home country before you leave so they do not feel like they are being left behind or abandoned by their loved ones.

There are other proven ways to boost your emotional health and happiness. You might feel more optimistic and ready to make the most of life if you give these strategies a try.

Always get a good night’s rest.

Getting enough shut-eye is crucial to the well-being of our bodies and minds.

Chemicals involved in communication between brain cells are better regulated during sleep. Our emotional and mental well-being relies on these substances.

Keeping healthy habits goes a long way towards maintaining expat mental health.
Keeping healthy habits goes a long way towards maintaining expat mental health.

When we do not get enough sleep, especially if we don’t have a good work-life balance when we are working from home, we may begin to feel melancholy or nervous.

Get up and move around.

Physical exertion and engagement in meaningful pursuits are cornerstones of mental wellness. Exercising not only improves your mood by increasing the feel-good hormones in your brain, but it also offers you a sense of accomplishment.

Feelings of depression, worry, stress, and fatigue can all be reduced via regular exercise. It’s also associated with a longer lifespan. A simple walk or some other modest activity might do the trick; you do not have to run a marathon or play 90 minutes of football.

Stay away from booze, cigarettes, and narcotics.

We do not usually think of alcohol and tobacco use as sources of withdrawal symptoms, although both can have negative effects on mental health.

The next day after drinking, you may find it more difficult to focus and experience increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

It’s only natural to want to see everything there is to see when you move to a new city or town. Expats typically socialize with locals they’ve just met by checking out the city’s nightlife. However, remember that staying up late can affect your mood.

Lack of sleep, hangovers, and excessive use of alcohol and drugs can have immediate negative effects on one’s health. Some expats may find themselves in a downward spiral if they embrace addictive behaviors while living abroad. So, watch out for your mental well-being and don’t go overboard with the bad stuff.

Pay close attention to what you eat.

Good nutrition is essential for both physical and mental health.

Lack of iron and vitamin B12, for example, have been linked to depression in humans. Eat as healthily as you can. Caffeine can increase jitteriness and anxiety, so if you are the type of person who’s easily frazzled, try cutting back or giving up caffeine altogether.

Stress is a very common problem for expats, and it can take many forms.

Stress may be caused by the culture shock of being in a new country or city, your financial situation and how that affects your quality of life, work-related issues such as being unable to speak the language fluently, the list goes on.

Avoid procrastination. Learn how to manage your time better so that you do not feel overwhelmed by everything on your plate at once. It can help if you make lists so that everything gets done in its proper order rather than trying to do everything at once without prioritizing anything properly.

Take some time for a hobby.

Try to make time for the things that bring you joy, whether it’s going for a walk, drawing, or watching a certain TV show. Without time spent on enjoyable activities, we might easily become impatient and sad.

Doing your best to adjust to your new home can do wonders for your emotional well-being, even if it sounds easier said than done. There are several ways to immerse oneself in a new place, such as taking classes in the language, signing up for a local group, or just going for a walk.

The importance of having a sense of community grows when you consider the stresses of adjusting to life in a new nation. However, you may need to take these acclimation steps more slowly than usual, depending on your circumstances. That way, you won’t have to deal with sensory overload.

You can meet other internationals and integrate into your new community by taking up activities like learning the local language or joining a sports group. You can find other expats in your area through online and offline expat community groups.

While establishing relationships with locals is important, you may find that establishing ties to people from other countries is just as useful. After all, they are in a better position to empathize with you and support you emotionally if you need it.

Try to be aware if what you’re going through is something more serious, and when you should seek professional help.

Try to distinguish if you are suffering from difficulties brought about by your expat situation, or if you have developed clinical depression.

Depression is not something that can be fixed with a few positive affirmation tips or a trip to the gym. It is a serious condition that affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide and causes significant impairments in their daily lives.

The first step in getting help for expat depression is knowing when it’s time to seek help from your primary care physician, who will likely refer you to a mental health professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist if necessary.

These professionals will evaluate your symptoms and recommend treatment options based on their assessment of your situation; this may include medication, therapy sessions, among other things.

The first thing you should know is that expat mental health problems are common. The second is that they are treatable, should you have one. Finally, you can do things like the above to make a significant impact on whether or not you develop one in the future.

The best thing you can do for yourself is talk about your struggles. Talking to someone you trust, like a friend or family member, is an important first step.

If you are feeling isolated or depressed and don’t have anyone to turn to in person, there are many online forums where expats share their experiences—and some of these sites have professional therapists on staff who can help guide users through their mental health issues.

You can also consider joining a support group (there are plenty online) or talking face to face with a therapist if possible; this is especially helpful if your mental pain causes serious problems at work, for example, if it makes it difficult for you to focus.

As much as possible, get support from friends and family. If your family lives abroad or if they are not as sympathetic to your situation as they could be, try talking with friends who are in similar straits.

If writing has always been cathartic for you in the past or if you find it easier than speaking out loud, try keeping track of how things are going by journaling every day.

It could be as simple as jotting down brief notes on how many hours each week were spent sleeping well versus waking up feeling tired; whether eating meals alone vs sharing meals with others made any difference; or whether going outside more often helped clear away some mental fog.

If you are seeking professional help, find a therapist or counselor who is experienced with helping expats adjust to their new homes and cultures.

Seeking professional help when needed is vitally important.
Seeking professional help when needed is vitally important.

This can help make sure that any problems related to mental health are addressed sooner rather than later so that they do not escalate into something more serious later on down the line.

You may find it challenging to obtain the correct aid and support if you are experiencing expat mental health difficulties like stress and anxiety while living or working abroad.

There are three obstacles to overcome when seeking professional help: the language barrier, the cultural barrier, and the mental state barrier. Many would-be help seekers initially quit up because they assume that treatment is either unavailable to them as foreigners or that it will not be tailored to their specific needs.

However, the reality is that services for mental health are widely available in many nations. Counseling and mental health help can be found in many large cities, and in many cases, the cost of treatment is covered by international health plans.

Taking care of your mental health is becoming more and more crucial in today’s world, when the pressures of daily living are only increasing in intensity. Many of us are now actively working to improve our health and wellbeing by doing things like changing our diets and creating more time for self-care. Increased happiness levels are a possible outcome of funding mental health services.

You do not need to be alone in this struggle – there is always someone else who knows what you’re going through or has been through something similar.

If you live in a country where mental health care is covered by the government, there are resources available for free therapy sessions and medications.

How do financial troubles affect expat mental health?

One other thing that should be talked about is the effect of financial strain on expat mental health.

Financial difficulties and mental health issues frequently go hand in hand. Based on findings by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, nearly 1.5 million people in England alone are dealing with both excessive debt and mental health issues.

Mental health issues are more common among people who have debt troubles.

Nearly half (46%) of those with serious debt also suffer from a mental health condition.

In a poll of roughly 5,500 persons who had experienced mental health problems, 86% of respondents reported that their financial circumstances had exacerbated their condition.

Those struggling mentally are also more likely to have serious financial difficulties.

One-fifth of those who struggle with mental health issues also have serious financial difficulties. Problem debt is 3.5 times more common among those with mental health issues than among those without (5% vs. 2%).

When asked how their mental health has affected their financial condition, 72% of respondents to the Money and Mental Health survey stated it had worsened.

How does the stress of financial hardship influence your state of mind?

Tension and worry frequently stem from monetary issues. Due to the social stigma associated with financial difficulties, many people suffer alone. Cutting back on necessities like food and heat, or dealing with creditors who are pushy or callous, can have a devastating effect on a person’s mental health.

Recovery rates for common mental health problems are significantly diminished when financial resources are limited. Four and a half times as many depressed persons with problem debt will still be depressed 18 months later as depressed people without financial trouble.

Three times as many people with serious debt report having suicidal thoughts in the previous year.

Rarely does a suicide have a single precipitating cause. Instead, other aspects of one’s social environment, personal history, and mental make-up are often included in. However, over 100,000 people in England try to take their own lives every year because of overwhelming debt.

 How can dealing with a mental health issue impact one’s earning potential?

Those struggling with mental illness face a substantial wage disparity. The median yearly gross income of someone with anxiety and depression is £8,400 lower than that of someone without these problems.

In 2018–19, only 48% of British adults with mental health issues were employed, compared to 79% of those without such conditions. People with mental health issues are overrepresented in low-paying roles and are more likely to work part-time (37% vs 24%).

Compared to the 26% of the working population who have never experienced a mental health problem, 37% of those who are now employed and have such a problem are in the three lowest-paid occupational groups.

The benefits that people with mental health issues are more likely to obtain are quite meager. Nearly half (47%) of persons aged 16-64 receiving some form of out-of-work benefit have a common mental disease, such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder.

This includes 35% of Housing Benefit users. Sixty-six percent of persons applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a payment for the disabled and the sick, fall into this category.

Financial stability might be negatively impacted by sudden periods of mental illness. People may find it difficult to keep up with their financial responsibilities, maintain their benefit claims, or show up for work.

In 2018, 23,000 people in England were coping with problem debt while residing in a mental health facility, and thousands more were doing so under the supervision of a crisis team.

How does the inability to control spending or build a nest egg stem from a mental health issue?

Symptoms of mental illness, such as impulsivity and memory loss, make it more difficult to manage money and get a fair deal in complex markets, both of which increase the risk of financial distress.

Many people who struggle with mental health issues describe drastic shifts in their spending habits and decision-making capacities during times of low mental health.

In a recent national survey of persons with mental health issues, 63% said they had a harder time making financial decisions while they were sick, 42% said they delayed paying bills, and 38% said they took out a loan they wouldn’t have otherwise.

When asked how long they could survive without their primary source of income, three out of ten adults with mental health difficulties said less than a month. This was twice the incidence of those who reported never having mental health issues (14%).

Access to basic services and financial stability might be impeded by mental health issues.

Those struggling with mental illness may also find it challenging to interact with utilities and financial institutions. Having trouble paying bills and keeping track of account information can cause tension and anxiety.

When dealing with life-sustaining services, more than a third (37%) of people with mental health issues experience severe anxiety, manifesting itself in physical manifestations like a racing heart or difficulty breathing.

It can be especially difficult to have productive conversations with vital service providers. A national survey indicated that 41% of people with mental health issues find making phone calls difficult or stressful, with 76% finding at least one communication channel challenging.

People may be unable to get help and handle financial issues at an early stage if they are not given the option to use alternate communication methods.

People with mental health issues often face financial difficulties, which can be mitigated with the help of support services.

However, opportunities to identify people who would benefit from help are often ignored by health and social care agencies, despite the fact that they can play an essential role in identifying persons with mental health problems who are also suffering financial difficulties.

Fewer than a third (28%) of those who suffer from mental health issues say they have been proactively asked about their financial situation by their doctor, social worker, or mental health nurse.

Many people with mental health issues have difficulty accessing financial advice and may benefit from more adaptability in the system in order to get the aid they need to come out from under their debt.

How can an expat financial advisor help?

When you’re living overseas, there’s a lot to worry about. The expense of moving abroad and getting settled in a new country is just the beginning.

You need to get your finances in order and start managing your budget. There are tax implications as well as cultural differences that may make it difficult to manage your money.

In fact, financial troubles are a huge tax on expat mental health.

Expats often have unique needs not met by ordinary financial advisors. Taxation rules change depending on where you live, so you will need help from someone who understands the rules for both countries.

And investments may not be taxed in the same way as they are back home — for example, if you invest in real estate or stocks that pay dividends instead of interest on bonds and CDs.

An expat financial advisor helps expats manage their money in an unfamiliar environment. They can help create budgets and develop strategies for saving money while abroad.

They can also help with opening accounts and finding local financial services providers that are tailored specifically to expats’ needs like debit cards or international bank accounts.

Bottom line

Learning how to manage your mental health is an important part of living an expat life.

Mental health problems are common among expats and can affect your ability to cope with the challenges of living abroad. If left untreated, they can have a negative impact on your mental well-being and quality of life.

It is important that you learn how to manage your mental health so that when problems arise, you know where and who to turn for help.

The more you know about living abroad, the better you can cope with any challenges that come up. One of the best ways to cope is by understanding that the pressure can build up over time and being prepared for it.

The first few months are usually great, but once you’ve settled into your new routine and gotten used to living in another country, things may start feeling different.

If this happens, try talking with someone close to you who understands what it’s like living abroad like a friend or family member.

They might be able to help guide you through whatever difficulties are causing stress at this point in time. If not, consider reaching out again later when things have calmed down–it’s always good practice for keeping connected with people back home.

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the challenges that expats face.

The key takeaway is that living abroad can be hard, but it can also be rewarding and exciting. You just need to know what to expect and how to handle it. If you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, don’t hesitate– reach out for help!

Pained by financial indecision? Want to invest with Adam?

Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 622.7 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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