How Expats Can Look After Their Mental Health

By  //  April 26, 2019

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Keep a healthy schedule

With mental health no longer the taboo subject it once was and with more people opting to work, live, and retire abroad, the isolation of expat communities is now starting to be seen in a different light.

With mental health no longer the taboo subject it once was and with more people opting to work, live, and retire abroad, the isolation of expat communities is now starting to be seen in a different light.

While expats tend to earn more and be happier compared to their compatriots who stay in their own country, depression and related issues are extremely common in all expat communities, particularly during their initial adjustment period.

Suffering from a mental health issue overseas can be especially difficult as expats may not always find people who they can relate to, either because their community is too small, or because they may not have developed sufficient mastery in local customs and culture to be able to relate to locals who may be able to help.

To add to the problem, different countries have different policies as far as mental health issues are concerned in relation to their healthcare system.

There may also be significantly divergent attitudes between your host culture and your own when it comes to these situations as well, which can lead to misunderstandings and social friction.

However, there are a number of things expats with mental health issues can try in order to stay productive abroad.

1.) Maintain a stable supply of prescription medications

If you have been prescribed a certain set of medications in your home country, try to make sure that you are able to continue obtaining them in your host country.

In some cases, your prescription medications may not be legal or easy to acquire in your host country, so make sure that you can either find a way to stock or acquire them legally or have your doctor prescribe a legal alternative.

2.) Keep a healthy schedule

Having a regular routine that includes enough sleep, sunlight, and exercise is crucial for maintaining optimum mental health. This is especially true in places that receive a limited amount of sunlight. Be sure to also allot time to prepare healthy balanced meals, and some quiet time to unwind, should you need it.

3.) Keep in touch with people back home

Regular contact with friends through apps like Skype or social media is critical in helping you keep connected with any close family and friends you may have left behind.  Another thing you can try is to send old-fashioned letters and postcards to friends.

These traditional correspondences have the added benefit of allowing you to sit down and really compose your thoughts. They will also have that critical warmth and “realness” that people back home may need from you, which may also encourage them to respond to you in kind.

4.) Keep a pet or a house plant

Having low-maintenance pets or houseplants can go a long way into helping you adjust to life in your host country. Having a pet or a house plant can have significant benefits for maintaining one’s mental health over a long period. 

They can provide comfort and a sense of stability and control, and there is even evidence to suggest that human evolution has been shaped by both pets and plant cultivation, which implies that we are hardwired as a species to take care of them. This is especially worth looking into if you foresee yourself living in your host country for the long haul.

5.) Develop a circle of local friends

It’s important to make the effort to meet new people, be they locals or other expats, especially during your initial adjustment period. This will do a lot to cushion the worst effects of culture shock and provide you with a support network that will help you through more difficult moments.

It’s also worth trying to find local groups that engage in the same hobbies you enjoyed back home. This will help you avoid feelings of isolation and identity loss that can often happen when you’re separated from close friends and things you are passionate about.

6.) Prioritize physical health

The lack of sleep, nutrition, and exercise will tend to exacerbate any mental health issues that you may have, and even trigger negative thoughts and feelings down the road. It’s critical to prioritize having a healthy lifestyle, especially in a foreign country where you may be especially vulnerable to health-related issues.

Living a healthy lifestyle may not be enough, however, as there is always the possibility of getting into an accident or contracting an illness that isn’t lifestyle-related.

We recommend investing in international or expat insurance from a specialized insurer such as Now Health International.  These types of companies tend to be able to provide much better coverage and lower premiums for expats and retirees when compared to policies from bigger insurers.

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