Wellness Wednesday: How to Recognize Depression Abroad

Welcome to the fourth installment of Wellness Wednesdays featuring Abroad101′s expert on expat emotional health, Melissa Doman.  In this post Melissa talks about how to recognize anxiety and depression issues that go beyond normal culture shock, and warns against using substances to cope with emotional discomfort.

“You’ve studied your host language phrase books, settled in with your host family, and have made a few local friends – you’re well on your way to having an amazing adventure abroad! Just remember to keep your emotional well-being and safety in mind!

As mentioned in previous postings, the honeymoon stage of initial arrival is fascinating and exciting, and serves as a prequel to the unique adjustment that lies ahead. Cultural adjustment is different for everyone and please remember that your process will be your own. As a fellow nomad, I want to give you a heads up on what to potentially expect emotionally during the negotiation/disintegration stage of cultural integration into a new country.

When you enter into the negotiation/disintegration stage – this is the point when you become acutely aware of the differences around you. If you’re feeling angry or frustrated – these are all normal feelings of being out of your comfort zone. If I can give you two words to remember during those times – they would be STAY CALM. If you’re feeling disconnected during this process, remember you are not the first person and certainly won’t be the last to go
through this.  The best thing you can do for yourself during this stage is to embrace that you are creating your temporary home away from home.

Outside of the normal ups and downs of culture shock from being in a new place, please remember that if you notice changes that seem beyond what you’re capable of handling – the best thing you can do is reach out for help.

Signs to be aware of:
– Depression: feeling consistently blue, desire to isolate yourself, increased need for sleep, crying spells, intense feelings of hopelessness
– Anxiety: insomnia, irritability, anger, racing heart, irrational fears
– Use of alcohol and drugs to numb feelings of emotional discomfort

Please note: a lot of countries have 18 as the minimum legal drinking age. While this is very different from the U.S.A, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it a free for all! With great power comes great responsibility – and if you have access to it – be responsible about it.

One of the hallmark signs of emotional distress is the noticeable abuse of alcohol and drugs as a method to cope with psychological pain. If you notice that you, or even your friends, are engaging in risky substance abusing behavior concurrently with reporting they are upset or depressed – they may need access to help.

Sorry to disappoint, but the myth of ‘drinking your sorrows away’ is not only false, but will make you feel worse. Alcohol is a physical depressant and will make your blues even blue-er. Engaging in binge drinking can predispose you to physical health issues. If you choose to drink while you’re abroad – be responsible! The last thing you need during a potentially stressful cultural adjustment are physical health issues too.

If at any point you feel the need for help – there is no shame in asking for it! Remember that everyone, especially during times of transition, needs someone to talk to. Your programs usually have a point of contact person in your host country to help you with such issues of adjustment – so don’t be afraid to utilize them. These folks can help get you access to the necessary services you need in order to ease those homesick pains. No need to feel embarrassed – remember that people feel blue or anxious in any place around the world.

I leave you with the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”