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Maintaining Your Mental Health As An Expatriate

Whenever you pack your bags, relocate and settle in a foreign country, starting anew in a place that’s unfamiliar can bring anxiety and stress.

This entails leaving your comfort zone and the majority of your support system behind which can lead to homesickness. There’s also the adjustment to your new home’s culture, tradition, customs and in some cases the language barrier. There can be an unspoken, overwhelming pressure to adapt and meet new acquaintances plus it’s unavoidable to start comparing life then and now. When left unresolved, this can lead to a serious case of depression.

A few months ago, Indonesia Expat reported the news of a Japanese expat by the name of Jiro Inao who committed suicide by hanging himself March 21, 2017. His 11-year-old son found his body in his room. Inao was a manager of popular Indonesian girl band JKT48 and the reason behind his suicide was suspected to be stress due to his immense workload.

In 2016, there were a few cases of foreigners who committed suicide in the country with reasons that vary but often stem from depression. According to Aetna International, there is a sharp rise in mental health issues specifically in depression and anxiety among expatriates all over the world. Insurance providers’ mental health claims saw an average 28 percent increase between 2014 and 2016 in Europe, Southeast Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.

Dealing with mental health issues is unfortunately still considered a taboo, especially in highly conservative places. Despite Indonesia not being well-known for its mental health care, it shouldn’t stop you from taking the necessary measures to help yourself.

Try to find a healthy balance between work and life

Some expatriates move to a new country due their job. However, when you find yourself chained to your desk or glued to your computer 24/7 with little time for family or social life – it could leave you burnt out. You also have to deal with high expectations given that you’re a foreigner with more experience thus the need to constantly prove yourself.

I Am Expat explains: “When working abroad, expats are expected to adapt quickly and perform well in their new environment, which puts a lot of pressure on both the working expat and their partner or family.” To deal with it, the site shares that it is important to recognize that work is only one part of your life. As crucial as it is, since it helps pay the bills and supports your lifestyle, it should not be more important than your health or relationships.

Forbes shared a Harvard Business School Survey showing 94 percent of working professionals are reported to work more than 50 hours per week. Nearly half worked more than 65 hours weekly. The results? “The compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.”

Give yourself time to adjust

Adapt gradually and don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re having a hard time even manoevring your way around the city. Things are entirely different to what you’re accustomed to, so it would take time to get used to things. Joseph Shaules, an expert on cultural psychology says the three common reactions to going abroad are culture surprise, culture stress and culture shock.

He notes that the processes are unconscious, so it can be difficult to prepare beforehand. “Fortunately, your mental processes have lots of built-in flexibility. As you establish new routines, you get your mental autopilot back on track,” Shaules says. “Living abroad is not simply a long holiday – it taxes mental resources. Yet it is often also a source of growth. The strains of adjustment, far from indicating a problem, are part of what makes your stay meaningful. Moving abroad is what you make of the challenges it presents.”

If it helps, try keeping a journal and write down your daily experiences. It could be a good way to vent out and clear your mind.

Communicate, socialize, build a network

Start embracing the culture little by little. One of the best ways to get started is by befriending locals or even fellow expats who have adapted well. That way, going through the ordeal of adjusting doesn’t have to be so lonely as some of them can even provide comfort.

A language barrier shouldn’t stop you from socializing either. You can teach each other how to speak your native tongue. I Am Expat writes: “Understanding the new culture is about more than learning the language; it is also about coming to comprehend the more subtle aspects such as non-verbal communication, values and norms.” Also, don’t forget to keep in touch with loved ones back home. Familiar voices and faces can boost your morale.

Seek professional help

If push comes to shove, it’s best to find a professional to talk to. Finding the right help abroad can be daunting especially for those who live in remote, far-flung areas. Dariusz Skowronski, a Japan-based psychotherapist says: “There are three barriers – the language, the culture and the mental state – to overcome. Many people give up seeking help at the start, believing it is not available for foreigners or they won’t receive the treatment that would suit them.”

You don’t have to be afraid or ashamed about your struggles since Indonesia has clinics that provide help. Experiencing Life Foundation (ELF) offers counseling and psychotherapy. You can contact them via +62 21 5472583 or send an e-mail to [email protected]. Their Clinical Psychologists can speak both Bahasa Indonesia and English: Mr. Karel Karsten ([email protected]) and Mrs. Eunike Mutiara ([email protected]).

Rosa’s Counselling Practice can help you deal with your anxiety. Located in Bogor, Propinsi Jawa Barat, Indonesia, contact the clinic via +62 819 08065090 or [email protected]. For a list of other clinics, you can visit PsychologyMatters.Asia.


Featured Image via Pexels


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