Know before you go: mental health and expat depression

June 06, 2017

As part of our ‘know before you go’ series we take a closer look at how expats can be prepared for mental health issues.

Studies have shown expatriates may be at greater risk of mental health problems, often manifesting in the form of expat depression.

This can be the result of the significant amount of stress and high demands placed on people who move abroad to live and work. If you are moving abroad as an expatriate there are things you can do to look after your mental health, before you leave and when you first get to your new location. They may help prevent or manage depressive feelings while you are away:

Sleep is essential for good mental health. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night. If you are getting less than this on a regular basis it can impact your energy levels, attitude to life and emotions.

It is worth noting that the relationship between depression and sleep is complicated. Oversleeping is also a symptom of depression, so if you are getting plenty of sleep but still struggling with how you are feeling for a few weeks, it is worth speaking to a professional.

Moving abroad is exciting. There’s so much happening; there’s a whole new city to explore, people to meet, a new role to get to grips with and exciting activities to take part in. Sometimes it can all be a little too much and feelings of anxiety or stress can soon follow. Do what you can to look after yourself as you settle in. Build ‘me time’ into your week to relax and unwind.

Although it is important to find the balance, social support can help prevent and aid recovery from depression. If you have a good circle of friends, you are at lower risk of developing depression in the first place.

However, building new friendships and maintaining existing relationships can be difficult when you are moving to a new country and, possibly, time zone. There are things you can do to stay connected when living as an expatriate:

  • Join an expatriate social group in your new location
  • Join a team or activity in your new city
  • Attend social activities with new colleagues
  • Make calling friends and family at home a priority
Multiple studies have shown the positive impact exercise has on all forms of depression, including expat depression. Get your heart pumping through cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging or take a class in a hobby you enjoy. All of these can help alleviate many of the symptoms of depression.
Although having a few alcoholic drinks can boost your mood initially, within hours it can leave you feeling worse. Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and may make you feel more depressed the next day. It is not uncommon to feel anxious, jittery and guilty the day after drinking. It is best to limit or avoid alcohol if you are feeling down.
Most people don’t have an issue going to a doctor for a broken leg. With depression it is just a different part of your body that is hurting, however many people suffering from depression don’t seek treatment. The great news is, depression is often highly treatable, so there is no need to struggle alone. Speak to your doctor to get the help you need to start feeling better.
Ensure that your health and the health of your family is looked after while living and working abroad with expat health insurance. Get a free quote today.