Living abroad is a fantastic experience giving you a unique opportunity for self-development and personal growth and gaining insight into another culture and traditions. However, expat life can present you a set of specific challenges. I've been working as an expat psychologist for years, and I should say that a depression therapy is a big part of my practice.
Expats Depression – Red Flags
Recent studies show that expatriates are at greater risk of mental health problems. This includes stress, anxiety, social isolation, and a phenomenon called an expat depression.
So, what exactly is an expat depression? My clients describe their symptoms as" loss of interest to the things they used to like before", "feeling hopeless about their future", "being emotionally fragile". Others have "emotional roller-coaster" or even physical symptoms like tiredness, lack or energy, etc. Their problems were also related to greater rates of dissatisfaction with work, marital relationships, family relationships and job performance. One of the most common symptoms I've found in my work refers to a downturn in self-confidence which is connected to their ability to adapt and socialize in a new place.
Most of them thought that was just one more and temporary aspect of a process of their adaptation to the new country and culture. One of my clients said "I didn't realize I was dealing with depression for approximately six or seven months. I just didn't have time for self-reflection, and I thought the situation would become better soon."
What Can Be Done? CBT For Depression
Expats who have experienced depression reported me that they were trying to ease the situation and symptoms by going to the gym, watching stand-up comedy to make them laugh, building new connections and taking spontaneous trips with their friends. This works fine, however, sometimes it's not enough.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT is the best-proven form of talk-therapy that in some cases can work as well or even better than medication to treat depression. It's especially effective if your depression is mild or moderate. In more severe cases CBT can help you the most if you combine it with medications.
How CBT Works
I will help you to identify your negative, or even false thoughts about your situation. Next step is to replace them with more neutral, realistic, and healthier ones.
For instance, you might feel hopeless about the future. First, therapy makes you aware you have these thoughts. Then I'll teach you to swap them to neutral, and then positive ones. The idea is that changes is someone's attitudes lead to positive changes in their behavior. And this can help to ease your depression.
This sounds easy, but it usually takes weeks or months of therapy to start feeling better. I should be honest – it's a long journey, but it's worth it!
Dealing with an expat depression may require more emotional honesty and reliance on those around you than you would normally be comfortable with. The sooner you identify and take steps to start a depression therapy, the sooner you can get the most of your life abroad.