Expat Mental Health: Depression - Part 1

Being an expat is not always easy. While many people have little or no difficulty adjusting to expat life and seem to embrace their adopted country with ease, others find the adjustment to certain aspects of expat life a real challenge - to say the least.

There's no cookie-cutter, "one-size fits all" method for overcoming these challenges, and what's easy for one person can be extremely difficult for another. You might know someone who's learned to speak fluent Dutch in three months, and you find yourself here two or three years later still unable to utter a simple dankjewel to the grocery store clerk.

For many expats, and especially for some native English-speaking expats - you might be frustrated by well-meaning Dutch people who want to practice their English with you - or, on the flipside, place a tremendous amount of pressure on you to learn Dutch so you can "integrate." In such cases, it's no wonder that trying to blurt out even a few phrases can feel next to impossible.

Or you might see some people throwing themselves into all types of expat events and find yourself wondering, why can't I do that, too?

Dealing with rejection - whether it occurs when trying to find a new job, issues related to school and academic performance, making new friends, finding housing or learning Dutch - is often a very real part of expat life.

And although well-meaning natives are full of interesting "tips" to help you with these issues - especially when it comes to learning the language or finding a job - it's very hard to fully understand expat life and the challenges that go along with it, unless you are an expat yourself.

Factors can make expat life a real challenge, and not just for those who find it difficult to adapt, include:
 Re-inventing yourself to "fit in" with a new culture
 Learning the language and adapting to what might seem like "strange" or unfamiliar social customs - certain traditions like the Dutch birthday circle come to mind as an example

 Leaving your family, friends and / or career behind and perhaps not being able to visit your home country as often as you would like
 Making new friends and adopting a new social group
 Adapting to different food choices - not being able to find some of the foods you're used to in your home country

Feeling overwhelmed by the constant adjustments that you might not have even taken into account before you made the move can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Having little or no social support often further complicates the issue.

While occasionally feeling down and "blue" is normal for everyone, feeling depressed can be a sign of a more serious mental health issue. Particularly during the first year of expat life, most people have at least some symptoms associated with culture shock and adjustment, including heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

As time progresses and you adapt to your new culture, these symptoms usually subside - to some degree. Difficulty adjusting to a new culture is, of course, completely normal, and everyone adjusts at their own pace.

However, the stress of expat life can sometimes induce or further compound pre-existing mental health issues, like anxiety, panic disorder, eating disorders and depression. It's important to be aware of the differences between normal adjustment and culture shock and the signs of serious mental health disorders like depression.

Next in the series
 Expat Mental Health: Depression - Part 2

Stacy Mosel


Stacy Mosel



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