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Expat mental health: Addressing the issue

As an insurance brokerage specializing in international health insurance, Pacific Prime is one of the loudest voices out there when it comes to trying to inform those living and working abroad of what risks they should be prepared for when moving to a new locale. Knowing about the specific area in which you live, how the healthcare system there works, and any lesser known dangers that may exist there can be hugely beneficial to families in a new land. After all, when moving to an unfamiliar place, we have a million things to worry about, and oftentimes being well versed in the local medical system is one of the last things we consider. However, there’s one aspect of expat health that may be even less thought of, and that’s mental health. Here, we discuss expat mental health, and try to raise some points that expats worldwide can make use of.

Expat mental health in the news

Recently Aetna International published a report that highlighted a specific case in the Persian Gulf. Specifically, in February 2017, an American working in the Persian Gulf committed suicide. Despite all of her friends’ assertions that she seemed “vivacious and full of life” on the surface, she actually suffered from clinical depression. The report itself pointed out several factors that put expatriates in a unique situation vis-a-vis their domestic counterparts that may leave them more susceptible to mental health problems.

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First, expatriates are cut off from the emotional and psychological support systems that they would have once been able to reliably fall back upon if times ever got tough. The advent of modern communication technology has afforded expats a great deal more indirect contact with loved ones. Gone are the days when the only way to get in touch was with a letter or a call on the landline. Now, we can video call or simply send a quick online message to our family and friends back home, or even just check out their social media accounts to see what they’ve been up to. However, even with the ability to communicate readily at our fingertips, it seems we’re doing less and less actual speaking with the people in our home countries.

Next, the article mentions “adapting to new languages, cultures and work responsibilities”, which is certainly true. For some people, getting outside of our comfort zones can be a jarring experience. Combine this with the possibility of feeling overwhelmed when faced with a host of differing challenges, and we can start to feel like we’re up to our neck in adversity.

All of the above can lead to a feeling that we are cut off from the world we once knew, and induce feelings of helplessness, confusion, or anxiety. The important thing is that we take the necessary steps to address these issues before they become deep seated problems. However, this is often more easily said than done.

The stigma of mental health

Let’s face it. Almost anywhere you go in the world, there will be a stigma attached to mental health issues. Whether as a youth or an adult, there is likely some point at which we’ve all seen or heard someone put down or written off as “crazy.” If someone were to experience this enough, they would likely learn to believe that having a mental health issue is something to be ashamed of and hidden from the world. Then, afraid to even share with their most trusted friends and family, the problems may get worse without help and culminate in a rash action being taken. This is the downward spiral that is created by treating mental illness as something shameful. In fact, mental illness should be treated as something normal that should be addressed with medical professionals, just as would be the case with any physical illness.

All this actually highlights one of Aetna’s mentioned solutions for improving expat mental health: raising awareness. The best way to erase a stigma is to shine a light on it. By putting pressure on local healthcare systems, governments and other organizations to run campaigns for the promotion of mental health awareness, people can begin to change the way that their neighbors think about the issue, and encourage those that need help to seek it out.

Other expat mental health solutions

So beyond raising awareness, what can people do to address their expat mental health concerns? Well, many insurance plans include a benefit known as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs can provide a range of different features that can assist those struggling with their mental health. This includes support over the phone for stress management, substance abuse, or coping with major life events. They can also include coverage for local therapy sessions.

Sadly, for some the fact remains that mental health facilities, resources, and support vary greatly in different areas in the world. If you are fortunate enough to be stationed in an area with a highly developed mental healthcare system, you should count yourself lucky. The reality for many expats is that, no matter how much effort and money they or their employers are willing to put in, the local area simply will not have much, if any, expat mental health support available. In cases such as this, more creative solutions may be required, such as online therapy sessions.

Another factor that should be considered by every company sending staff abroad long-term should be the process through which the employee is prepared for the new assignment. Many companies send workers abroad without much, if any, consideration for preparing them for the experience mentally. In fact, Aetna believes it would be prudent for employers to carry out screenings or assessments to evaluate if a given employee should even be sent overseas, as some people will simply be able to cope better with such a large change more effectively than others, regardless of previous work performance. At the least, businesses should supply staff going abroad with comprehensive cultural and language training to make assimilating to a new location easier.

Expats in crisis?

So, are expats really more at risk of suffering mental health issues than others? To be sure, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are global and ubiquitous. No particular demographic can claim to be exempt from these types of problems. However, when comparing one company’s overseas workers to its domestic employees, one study cited in the Aetna report found that 56% of expats self-reported signs of anxiety or depression, compared to only 21% of workers in the home office.

This shows that businesses should be concerned about their overseas employees’ ongoing state of mind. As such, they should secure for their employees an insurance and wellness policy that includes considerations for mental health. By offering regular therapy sessions, and further treatment for more acute mental disorders, companies can ensure that their valued staff abroad are never left feeling like they don’t have the support they need.

Whether you’re a company looking to protect your employees, or an individual that feels you could benefit from this type of coverage, you can always get the information you need about mental health insurance benefits from Pacific Prime. Our staff is here to address all inquiries, and let you know which insurance plans have the very best in mental health benefits, including those from Aetna.

Contact us today for a free plan comparison and price quote.

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