Expat Mental Health: Depression - Part 2
The World Health Organization reports that depression is one of the most widespread mental health disorders in the world, affecting around 121 million people - and that's just the cases that have been reported.
However, many people don't seek the help they need, whether it's due to the social stigma associated with depression, a lack of access to available or competent mental health providers, the cost of treatment or any number of additional potential barriers to treatment.
Unfortunately, clinical depression is typically not something you can just "get over" on your own - although you can take certain steps to improve your symptoms. Those who haven't experienced true depression might think - or, insensitively, even say - why can't you just chin up and deal with it?
These well-intended but ultimately misguided remarks can make you feel worse - you might put even more pressure on yourself or engage in negative, defeatist self-talk or feel increased self-doubt, comparing yourself to others who seem to be having an easier time of it.
If you identify with any of the signs and symptoms of clinical depression, it's important to seek professional help - and preferably from a clinician who specialises in or at least has previous experience working with expats.
Common signs of clinical depression
Some common signs of clinical depression include:
› Feeling sad or tearful most of the time
› Feeling a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
› Sleep disturbances like insomnia, or feeling like you want to sleep all the time
› Appetite changes - loss of appetite or over-eating
› Significant weight changes
› Alcohol or substance abuse problems
› Bodily aches and pains
› Avoiding social contact
If you feel like you might be experiencing clinical depression, you shouldn't suffer needlessly. You can get help, although as an expat, sometimes finding proper assistance can be a bit more challenging.
However, only a qualified mental health professional can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment - if that's needed.
Strategies for dealing with depression
Sometimes, just having a sympathetic ear to vent your feelings and problems to can be tremendously cathartic and might, at the very least, help you to feel less isolated.
But treatment for depression doesn't always necessarily mean counselling or taking medication.
Alternative methods of managing depression that are often helpful include biofeedback, aromatherapy, herbal remedies like St. John's wort or dietary supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids (always check with your doctor before using herbs or dietary supplements, especially if you take any medication), acupuncture, massage therapy and hypnosis.
While professional intervention is often the most successful way of treating depression, there are also a few self-help techniques that you can adopt to ease your symptoms.
Taking good care of yourself and being kind in your mental self-talk - such as not putting too much pressure on yourself to "fit in" or adapt right away - is crucial.
Other helpful strategies for dealing with depression
Especially as a new expat, you might feel overwhelmed and over-stressed, so making sure you get enough - but not too much - physical rest - is important.
Exercise boosts your brain's production of endorphins, which are your body's natural pain-killing, mood-enhancing neurotransmitters that can help alleviate symptoms of depression.
› Find a reason to laugh
Humour is a therapeutic stress reliever that may help lift some of the symptoms of depression, at least temporarily. A 2011 study published in the "Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences" found that laughter may also increase endorphin levels. Watch a funny movie, read a humorous book, see a comedy show and try to avoid negativity.
› Manage stress
Engage in stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation or another relaxing activity that appeals to you.
› Social support
This is a crucial aspect for expats because of the high risk of social isolation. Although it can be tempting, don't disconnect from the outside world for too long. Call home more often, if you feel like that will help you feel more supported.
Try to find at least one or two other people with whom you feel comfortable sharing your feelings. Join an expat group - even if you don't stick with it, it can be worth scoping out.
› Avoid alcohol and other drugs
Although it might make you feel better temporarily, it can make your symptoms worse in the long run.
Don't ignore your symptoms
As difficult and challenging as it might feel, you don't have to deal with depression - or any other mental health issue - alone. Reach out to other expats, try to integrate - to the extent that you feel comfortable - find activities you enjoy, and seek professional help if needed.
There are many qualified, caring professionals that may be able to help you with the difficulties you're experiencing. If you need help locating a clinician, you can search the International Therapist Directory to find a therapist near you, or ask your primary care physician for a referral.
Many psychotherapists now also offer confidential, online counselling services. Early identification and treatment is the most important thing you can do to overcome expat depression.
Previous in the series
› Expat Mental Health: Depression - Part 1