I wasn’t going to write a post today. I have a busy week with school assemblies and meetings and work to catch up on. I’m trying to do a final read-through of the Survival Guide before sending it to the proof-reader. The washing needs doing….there’s mouths to feed…you know the score.
But as I scrolled through my Facebook feed this morning, something caught my eye. One of my online ex-expat friends Nicola had posted something about today being “time to talk about mental health” with a supporting campaign called “Take 5“. As I read the post, I wondered how many expats suffered from depression or other mental health issues – and how many of them (us) ever talk about it.
According to the Take 5 campaign, one in four of us will suffer from some sort of mental health issue every year. Now, I am no expert on this but knowing what I do about moving and living overseas, I can’t believe that already fairly shocking figure isn’t even higher amongst expats. Some of the sort of things that can lead to depression or mental health issues – isolation, loneliness, change – are all part and parcel of life for many expats, especially those who are newly arrived. And for the partners, this is often magnified by their other half going to work and immediately finding a role, colleagues, friends – while their accompanying spouses stay at home and need to work all of this out for themselves.
But how many people ever admit they have a problem? Who would you admit it to, anyway? Your partner? Many of us don’t want to worry him or her, as they try and get their head around a new job. Or they’re so desperate for you to be happy that you don’t want to upset them.
Friends? You may be lucky and know one or two people when you first move overseas – but even then, they are unlikely to be someone you feel close enough to do talk about things like your mental health. At least not straight away.
Family? Once a week you have those Skype or Facetime discussions. Your mum wants to see the kids and she wants that tour of the house, loves looking at the tropical foliage in the garden or the city view from the upstairs window. How do you start a conversation with her about how down you’ve been feeling?
Professionals? In some countries this will be possible. In others, it will be a lot harder. It all depends on what is available locally.
This is a difficult subject to talk about – but sometimes that is all we need. Someone to discuss it with. I don’t have any magic answers here except to assure you, if you think you are depressed or do have other mental health issues, that this shouldn’t be something to feel ashamed of. And that you shouldn’t be afraid to seek help. DO talk to your partner – he or she needs to know and it’s better they hear about it early on rather than when it’s gone too far. If you don’t have any local friends you can trust enough to open up to, what about online forums? Mumsnet (as an example) will always have a sympathetic ear – whatever time of the day or night it is. There are also specialist expat coaches or counsellors who work over Skype or via email – often they will have been expats themselves and will have a really good idea about what you are going through.
Moving is said to be one of the most stressful things you can do. Moving overseas can be even harder. Being somewhere new, where you don’t know anything, can’t get around easily, have no routine to your day and possibly don’t even speak the local language, it’s not surprising if you don’t feel your normal self. For most expats, things will get better as they settle in, get to know more people and start to get some routine back into their lives. For others, it make take a bit longer or they may need to get professional help. But for all of you, just remember to go easy on yourselves. This is a big life change – don’t expect it all to be sundowners and pool loungers. And don’t forget to talk!
Have you found it harder than your thought to settle in to expat life? What advice would you give to others, especially those who have just moved or are about to move overseas? Any tips for dealing with depression or low mood generally, even if you are not or have never been an expat?