You took the plunge and moved abroad, for work, love, or pleasure. But it is not the dream you expected, and you aren’t feeling yourself.

Do you have expat depression?

How linked are moving abroad and depression?

The short answer is, very. It’s more common than you might expect to show up in anther country and find you are depressed.

What is expat depression, though?

It’s depression that has its roots in navigating the highs and lows of living abroad, whether that is mild depression, just feeling a bit low and negative, or more serious.

Serious depression can mean loss of interest in activities you usually love, changes to eating and sleeping, constant fatigue, and feeling entirely hopeless.

Sometimes it’s the first time you’ve felt low. And other times it’s that you had depression in the past, and it’s been triggered by your new expat life.

Why has living abroad left me low?

There are many reasons. See if any of the below sound familiar.

1. You got caught up in a fantasy.

When we move abroad we can get caught up in the fantasy that somehow life will be like the pictures we trawl through on social media. We forget that while some places are indeed beautiful, everywhere has challenges like crime, paperwork, bad plumbing, difficulties finding housing, and miserable people.

2. You were sure you'd be a different person, and.. nope.

We can secretly believe that if we just move somewhere better, we’ll be someone better. More exciting and interesting, or more at ease in the world. But then we show up and the truth is, ‘wherever you go, there you are’. You are still you, with all your issues and worries.

Moving abroad is often just a fancy type of escapism. And what you are unconsciously trying to be escape can be, well.... you.

3. You took your social network for granted.

If we are used to having a lot of friends and our family around us, we can just assume we’ll quickly make such strong connections elsewhere. We don’t realise that different cultures might not have such a focus on new friendships, or that we might not fit in as easily. Which leads to the next point.

4. You are really lonely.

Loneliness is the most common reason for expat misery. And yes, even if you went to the other country for love and are happy to be with your partner, it's okay to feel alone.

It can be particularly hard if you don’t speak the same language as those around you. We can underestimate the alienation that can come with not being able to easily discuss our thought and feelings.

And then it's unsettling and empty to not have the support and attention we are used to. FaceTime calls are helpful, but not the same, and nostalgia can set in fast.

5. Love isn’t what you thought.

Speaking of moving abroad for love. It doesn’t always go to plan.

It’s easy to be in love when distance means you don’t have to deal with day to day drudgery and conflict. A whole other thing when you are always in each others space, with their family now hovering around. Or you realise that you don’t like their friends, and can’t communicate very deeply due to a language barrier.

6. You didn’t budget things.

Sometimes we are down in the dumps as we find we are running out of money.

Money is often linked to depression. Not having it can make us feel unsafe, or lead to a lot of self blame.

Perhaps we feel embarrassed we weren’t more responsible, and ashamed about having to ask family for help. Which cant trigger any unresolved past experiences around money, too, adding to our misery.

So what do I do if I have expat depression?

One of the best things you can do is to give yourself a bigger time container to feel at ease in your new country.

Often we show up with unrealistic expectations. Lower those expectations as much as you can and give yourself at least three months to settle in, if not six. And don’t expect to feel totally at ease for three years. Learning a new way of life is a big deal, it takes time.

There are also practical things that do help, like:

  • reaching out constantly to friends and family back home
  • pushing yourself to get out and meet new people and try new things
  • looking for expat groups in the area (try Facebook and Meetup as a start)
  • journaling and having a daily gratitude practice
  • taking good care of your health (sleep, exercise)
  • avoiding unhealthy coping mechanisms (alcohol, for example, is a known downer).

And what about counselling?

It’s a great idea.

Reaching out to friends and family has its limits, as we don’t want them to worry, or be disappointed if they are living vicariously through us.

A talk therapist isn’t invested in your choices. They provide a non biased container to say anything in, and help you explore methods of coping that can really help.

Really need to speak to someone who understands what you are going through, and speaks your language? We provide online therapy you can access even from overseas. Find your perfect therapist now.

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