In some countries, expats are at a 50% higher risk of mental health problems.

The expat community are arguably at a greater risk of developing mental or psychological problems linked to mental health.

According to a study on expats living in the US, 50% were at a higher risk of mental problems, such as anxiety and depression, than their US counterparts.

Depending on the circumstance, expats deal with a range of factors which could make them more susceptible to mental health problems.

What are the factors?

  • Difficulties in recognising the symptoms. It can be more difficult for an expat to determine the cause of their unhappiness or feelings of discontent, because there are a number of factors which may have triggered it, i.e. homesickness, loneliness, alienation and language barriers, to name a few. Some self-reflection may well help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and ultimately help you to find a solution.
  • Being out of a social circle. Dealing with depression is especially difficult for expats as they may not have their family or dearest friends to support them directly. In an international context, expats may feel ashamed to talk about their problems out loud through fear being rejected within their new social group.
  • The stigma of depression. Unfortunately, in some cultures depression is something that is not talked about, or even acknowledged.
  • Not sure where to find help. Although in some countries there are mental health centres that offer support, it can be difficult for expats to find a place where they have the ability to speak openly about their problems.
  • Language barriers. Expats may find themselves struggling to express themselves due to language barriers. In these cases, expats can seek help and advice though their embassy who can locate a professional or centre where their native language is spoken.

A positive outlook

Fortunately the stigma associated with depression and mental health issues is lessening, across many parts of the world. Campaigns and action plans are being set up that focus on giving advice to those who suffer from mental health issues whilst living abroad.

  • WHO have initiated a Mental Health Gap Action Programmes (mhGAP) which aim to increase awareness and strengthen mental health services across the world.
  • Forums and support groups. Online forums and live support groups are useful tools if you cannot locate a mental health centre. You can also reach out to people, often in the same situation as you on the forums.
  • Internet services and apps. There are a significant number of “mental health apps”, online support centres and websites that can help you. The International Therapy Directory helps you locate a professional therapist anywhere in the world who has an understanding of the expatriate experience. Online resources are especially helpful for those living in a country where mental health is not spoken about openly, and for those who can’t afford a therapist.

The outlook is positive; attitudes are changing and hopefully it won’t be long until mental health is given the same medical attention as physical health.