Behind the brave curtain of living an international life.
Text: Aina Masood
As we approach World Mental Health Day on October 10th, I can’t resist the urge to talk about the mental health of internationals in Denmark. Moving to a new country is exciting and adventurous, but not everyone leaves home for similar reasons. The Expat community can, roughly, be divided into two groups. One group contains internationals who had no choice but to leave their country to flee from conflict or danger. The other group comprises internationals who leave their country with high hopes and dream-filled eyes for a better quality of life. Unfortunately, both these groups are at a high risk of developing a mental health disorder.
Research suggests that internationals are twice as likely to suffer from a mental health condition than people who remain in their country of origin. Among the most likely mental health issues, depression and anxiety disorders are most prevalent. It is very common to feel homesick, lonely, and like an outsider in your new environment. We, internationals, receive a lot of praise for being brave and taking the leap, but while embracing and creating a new life sounds outwardly glamorous, it might be a battle on various fronts.
"Finding like-minded people can be difficult, but it is a possibility."
Expat Depression or Expat Blues are characterised by feelings of loneliness and isolation, lack of self-confidence, dejection, despondence, and identity crises. It is more pervasive than feelings of sadness associated with homesickness.
Understanding expat depression
It is hard to recognise signs and symptoms of depression in internationals because of a multitude of reasons. One of them being that the opportunity of moving to another country comes with the pressure of feeling happy and thrilled. We, internationals, are not expected NOT to be happy with our new life, which puts unwanted pressure on our emotional and psychological well-being. This leads us to ignore any feelings that do not fit the picture of a happy international. When we invalidate our feelings, we end up being inauthentic, and that brings forth guilt.
Expat guilt is another prominent factor associated with expat depression. This might stem from not being true to ourselves and acknowledging our feelings or not living up to the expectations of marvellous international life. When things get rough and tough, most of us feel unable to talk about them with our friends and family back home because we are expected to have it all together and be satisfied with the move. This strengthens expat guilt with increasing expectations and challenges. (I will elaborate on this more in my next article).
Other reasons for expat depression include starting from scratch with our home, neighbourhood, social relationships, friends, language, and even grocery stores. Many of us experience culture shock, and the language barrier magnifies this effect. If you are an accompanying spouse, the chances of you going through expat depression are high. Changes to job, familiar environment and support system can cause identity confusion and compromises one’s self-worth and confidence.
What can be done about it in Denmark?
If you are an international in Denmark going through depression, contact your GP. They can refer you to a mental health professional, and in this way, you can avail an excellent resource without worrying about the cost of therapy. You can also seek help from psychologists and psychotherapists in private practice and offering services in English. Most of them are in Copenhagen, but many offer online sessions post-COVID. If you are going through depression and don’t know where to start seeking professional help, write to me, and I would be more than happy to help.
It is essential that you build a social support network that works for you post-move for your well-being. Finding like-minded people can be difficult, but it is a possibility. Attend workshops and language classes, ask people for coffee meetings, take walking tours, or make friends through social media like Facebook and Instagram. Remember the acronym RAIN - Recognise. Accept. Investigate. Nurture.