Expat Depression and Mental Health
Finally, the day has arrived. You’ve waited a long time to make your dream of moving abroad happen and now it’s about to come true. While you might feel giddy starting a new chapter, it’s understandable if you feel a mixture of emotions as you turn the page.
Preparing for a move abroad is a lengthy process that includes applying for a visa, making a ton of logistical decisions, and figuring out what to do with your things. It can be a whirlwind! Once you’ve arrived to your new home and have a moment to catch your breath, the reality of leaving your old life to start anew might hit differently and can lead to feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and depression.
Uprooting your world and getting settled in another country isn’t an overnight process. Culture shock, homesickness, dealing with bureaucracy, and making friends are some of the challenges expats deal with when they move abroad.
Adapting to life in a new country might feel a bit like riding a roller coaster. On one day, you might have a blast connecting with others and then crash the following day because you’re unable to communicate in the local language. While these ups and downs are part of the cultural adjustment process, they could also take a toll on your mental health.
Taking care of your mental health goes hand in hand with making a major life change. To support you on your journey, this piece will provide you with insight, relatable stories, and resources – like international mental health counseling – to help you through the tougher times you may face after relocating abroad.
Can where you live affect your mental health?
It’s important to ask yourself questions and listen to your gut when deciding where you plan to start the next chapter of your life. For example, if you’re a city girl but considering moving to a remote town, ask yourself if it makes sense to live somewhere that might be more challenging for you. While a move abroad will definitely push the boundaries of your comfort zone no matter where you move—it’s part of the experience—taking your personal comfort level into account can help you decide the best place in the world for you that will minimize any unnecessary stressful and isolating situations.
Weather and people can also affect your mental health. Per a member of the She Hit Refresh (SHR) community, living in a sunny and warm climate helped her feel more alive and positive. Another factor she considered when relocating abroad was settling in a city with a relaxed, warm culture and surrounding herself with like-minded people.
Deciding where to start life as an expat is also an opportunity to set yourself up for success. Therefore, being aware of what works and what doesn’t work for you will help you manage your mental health abroad.
Is it a good idea to move abroad?
If you thrive on change and new experiences, then moving abroad is the way to go. Getting to this point requires thinking long and hard about why you want to live abroad. But, if you’re clear that you’re moving towards something, rather than running away from your current life, there’s no reason not to live overseas.
Moving the needle towards your goals may also require some coaching and time for reflection. For help gaining clarity about why you’d like to make a major life change, check out She Hit Refresh’s Make It Happen course.
How to mentally prepare for moving abroad
Once you’re confident about why you’re hitting refresh, it’s a good idea to do what you can to prevent any foreseeable circumstances that can lead to relocation depression. So, aside from gathering information and feeling ready about what’s ahead of you, take time to connect with others. Find communities like She Hit Refresh’s Facebook Group, Workationing, and Digital Nomad Girls and network with other women who’ve been in your shoes.
If possible, spend some time in your future country before you jump into anything longer term. By knowing what you’re getting into beforehand, you’ll be in the driver’s seat and more mentally prepared to manage any potential expat depression.
What challenges would you face if you moved to another country?
Like many things in life, there’s no guarantee about what will happen or how you’ll feel on a given day. While typical challenges to moving abroad include fear of missing out (FOMO) on the world you’ve left, figuring out how to set up a new life and routine, and navigating a whole new world…expect the unexpected, you won’t be able to foresee every challenge.
Take a look at some challenges members of the She Hit Refresh community experienced when they moved abroad:
- One SHR member’s anxiety skyrocketed when her new teaching gig in South Korea turned out to be a nightmare and left her homeless for a few days. This stressful situation led her to question why she left the job she already had in the country. Although she was anxious, things worked out when she allowed herself to rely on others to help her during this uncertain time.
- Another Refresher moved to Spain while she was also recovering from an eating disorder. Even though she loved everything about Spain and admired how food brings people together, her high-pressured job and time socializing made her feel like she was overdoing it. In order to focus on her healing, she left Spain to regroup in a remote area in Australia. She’s now back in Spain, happy, healthy, and living her best life!
- A third Refresher learned that although she was living in her dream country, everything wasn’t perfect. As she struggled to find her community, she began to second-guess herself by questioning if she had made the right life choice. But with time and patience, she found like-minded people and realized that she was where she was meant to be all along!
Per the real-life examples shared by these three SHR members, there’s no way of knowing when and how you might experience depression after moving to a new country. However, connecting with others, seeking out counseling services, and listening to your gut will prepare you for if and when you might need additional support.
Does moving abroad change you?
Relocating overseas is so much more than just changing your address. Starting fresh in a new country is a powerful way to evolve into your true authentic self. It’s also an exciting opportunity to get clarity about your needs, wants, and goals by “trying on” different hats to see what fits you as you venture into this new adventure abroad.
For Cepee Tabibian, founder of She Hit Refresh, her expat journey led to pushing herself outside of her comfort zone to test the waters with other interests. Through trial, error, and many teachable moments, Cepee’s path led to reinventing herself as a blogger, social media marketer, community builder, remote worker, founder, podcaster, author, course creator, and much more!
To learn more about how Cepee embraced her process, check out The Art of Reinvention: Becoming Who You’re Meant to Be.
Will moving abroad make me happy?
There’s a certain rush that comes along with starting a new chapter in your life. And if you’re an adventure seeker who thrives on new experiences, moving abroad will add to your happiness. However, the root of being happy comes from within, not from where you live.
While food, cost of living, and weather are some of the “good things” that come with moving abroad, relocation depression can surface as you face challenges when adjusting to your new life. This is why support, community, practicing self-care, and access to counseling services are important when move abroad.
Being self-aware and having realistic expectations are other tools that’ll help influence your happiness when you move. By knowing that everyday isn’t going to be perfect, you’ll be more prepared and more able to bounce back on days that don’t feel so wonderful.
Depression after moving abroad
Depression, or “expat depression” is very real. It can hit you immediately or it can creep up when you least expect it – like when a global pandemic strikes.
Covid-19 has forced the whole world to slow down and recalibrate what matters. It’s also forced expats to deal with a whole new set of challenges in a foreign country. This includes adjusting to pandemic protocols in a culture that’s unfamiliar and feeling alienated due to the guidelines.
Being proactive is the key to coping with depression abroad due to COVID-19 or any other reason. For example, if you feel lonely, seek out like-minded people in Facebook groups and other online communities. These connections are great ways to feel validated and less alone, especially during the pandemic.
Staying informed is another way to be proactive and feel confident about your decision to move abroad during an uncertain time. Therefore, follow the local news and reach out to government agencies to further understand the impact of the pandemic in the country you’re living in.
Finding ways to make yourself feel comfortable is key to handling depression after moving, regardless of when it may set in. In the case of one SHR member, she was feeling mentally stuck abroad and knew she needed to mix things up. So, she listened to her gut and moved to a smaller city, with a warmer climate and different opportunities to have new experiences. This change, along with online counseling, helped her get her groove back!
How to take care of your mental health abroad
Knowing the signs of expat depression is the first step to taking care of you! So, if you like to write, take time to journal and process how you’re feeling. If you’re someone who needs to process your thoughts with others, find a community that works for you. For ideas about how to find your people, check out this piece about making friends abroad.
Regardless of how you choose to take care of your mental health, give yourself permission to feel. The only way out is through. Once you do this, you’ll be able to start working on how to heal.
Finding a therapist and counselor abroad
If you’ve hit refresh in a culture that’s completely different from your home country, finding a therapist and counselor may require a bit of research. One of the first things to do if you have private healthcare is to check with your insurance company to see what therapy options are available to you. You can also seek out suggestions from expat Facebook groups about therapists that speak your language and live in your area.
Group therapy is another counseling option to help you address depression after moving. Keep in mind that this might not be in your first language and your needs might be different than the other participants. Regardless, group therapy is a great way to connect with others who understand what you’re going through too.
Does online therapy work?
Online services like BetterHelp offer individualized counseling sessions with qualified professionals that are accessible, affordable, and usually assigned to you within 24 to 48 hours. A big perk to online therapy is that you’re in control of how often you want to speak with your counselor: monthly, weekly or even multiple times a week. There’s even a built in portal to journal and options to connect with your therapist via chat in-between sessions!
A member of SHR shared that BetterHelp did an excellent job matching her with an experienced therapist who was able to give her strategies that helped her manage her anxiety and depression. Besides the convenience of speaking with her counselor from anywhere in the world, she enjoyed chatting with her therapist from the comfort of her bed!
Click here to get 10% off your first month of BetterHelp!
Become a She Hit Refresh member!
Hop on over to She Hit Refresh’s Facebook Group and join 7,000 like-minded women living life on their terms. Once you become a part of the community, you’ll get valuable information about moving abroad and be able to connect with other women who understand the cultural adjustment process and expat depression. It’s also a fantastic forum for making friends too!