Elena Darmenko

Expat Psychotherapist

Emotional Disturbance.
Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Health Disorders

Don't hesitate to ask for a professional support!
In my practice of an expat psychologist, I work with clients suffering from different forms of an emotional disturbance. And I've found that there's still a social stigma and discrimination around them. Unfortunately, this can make mental health problems even worse and stop a person from getting help they need.

What Exactly Is an Emotional Disturbance? Some Theory Behind the Phenomenon

We refer to mental disorders using different "umbrella" terms such as emotional disturbance, behavioral disorders, or mental illness. Under these umbrella terms, there is a wide range of specific conditions that differ from one another in their characteristics and forms of treatment.

There are six types of emotional disturbances: anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, conduct disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, and psychotic disorders.

They are usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. However, they may go undiagnosed and untreated for many years.

Emotional disturbances can affect a person in different areas of behavior. Depending on the specific mental disorder involved, a person's physical, social, or cognitive skills may also be affected.

No one knows the actual cause of emotional disturbance, although several factors – heredity, brain disorder, diet, stress, and family functioning – have been suggested and widely researched. A lot of studies go on every day, but researchers have not found that any of these factors are the direct cause of emotional problems.

Emotional disturbance can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. It is not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Emotional disturbance can be treated. Most people diagnosed with emotional disturbance issues can experience relief from their disease.

Stigmatizing an Emotional Disturbance

Stigma means that someone sees you in a negative way because of your particular characteristic. This might be skin color, cultural and ethnic background, disability, or mental disease. And it goes hand-to-hand with discrimination.

When we speak about an emotional disturbance, stigma usually happens when someone defines a person by their illness rather than who they are as an individual. For instance, my clients suffering from an anxiety or eating disorders are often labelled as "psychotic", not as "a person experiencing a specific disease". This stigma may double when living overseas – someone might be stigmatized due to their cultural background AND any kind of an emotional disease. Together with a social discrimination, it makes their mental health conditions even worse, making it harder to recover. The worst thing is that it may cause a person to avoid seeking for a professional help they need, because of the fear of being stigmatized.

And it's the circle that should be broken!

Dealing With a Stigma Around an Emotional Disturbance

In my practice I've found some common harmful effects of stigma, specific for expats. These include feelings of hopelessness, shame and social isolation, fewer opportunities for social adaptation and interaction, self-doubt (they often believe that they'll never overcome their illness). And as I've mentioned before, they avoid asking for help or getting treatment.

Culture shock, emotional roller-coaster and challenges of an overseas life often make them double as they need to struggle with all of that simultaneously.

However, there are some ways you can successfully deal with a stigma.

First of all, don't hide away and get the mental treatment you need. Even living abroad, you can find a psychologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist who can help you. You can also try a teletherapy. Don't let your fear of being stigmatized stop you from getting professional assistance.

It's not personal. I know, it's difficult to accept this, but remember that other people's judgements or negative attitudes come from a lack of knowledge and understanding. They just don't know what an emotional disturbance exactly is. These attitudes were made long before those people met you, so don't believe their attitudes have anything to do with you personally.


Remember, emotional disturbance is not a sign of weakness, and you can't deal with it on your own in most cases. Don't hesitate to ask for a professional support – it will help you on your road to recovery.