Integration difficulties into Dutch society can affect an expat's mental health

Integration difficulties into Dutch society can affect an expat's mental health

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For some expats, the challenges of being away from home and integrating in a new culture can lead to mental health risks. Kühler & Trooster explains how. [Contributed by Kühler & Trooster]

According to the 2015 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey—one of the largest independent global expat surveys, which is conducted annually—the Netherlands ranks within the top ten of the 37 surveyed countries in the areas of job security, work/life balance, quality of education, childcare and tolerance.

These results are based on interviews with close to 22,000 expats living in more than 100 countries, so landing in the top ten is impressive. But as far as experiences with Dutch culture, social life, ease of integration and making friends with local people, the results were far less positive, putting the Netherlands in the bottom five. The international mental health experts at Kühler & Trooster understand the challenges of living abroad. 

'It's an adventure, but not always an easy one'

Navigating the challenges associated with relocation to another country and integration with a new culture is an adventure, but not always an easy one. There is no manual available that can show you how to adjust to the social customs of a new country. There are often many unwritten rules to interactions with local people, and it can feel like there is a collective secret that is not being shared with you. You may unintentionally find yourself in an awkward position without realizing it, or even understanding what caused it. Some people may take the time to explain it to you, but often only when they can relate to it.

If you have lived in the Netherlands for a while, you have undoubtedly noticed that the Dutch are welcoming and willing to help expats, if you ask for it. They will speak English, they will translate things to help you deal with bureaucratic issues and they will give you directions if you are lost. But what can be more difficult is crossing the barrier between practical exchanges and actual friendship. And then it simply becomes easier for expats to form connections with other expats who can relate to your situation or share your cultural background. It makes things far less complicated.

The effects of disconnectedness and social isolation

The feelings of disconnectedness or social isolation can affect your quality of life. If you are a lifetime expat who has moved around nearly all of your life, you have had to leave your friends or family behind many times. In order to cope with that repeated sense of loss, you may have developed certain defence mechanisms to protect yourself against the pain of saying good-bye to people you care about. For some, it can be difficult to get attached to others, or to form deep and stable connections.

Many expatriates report feelings of emotional emptiness or even depression. If that is combined with high job demands or stress, the lack of social support and the 'normal' life events, it is not surprising that expats are more vulnerable to develop psychological problems. 

Finding the right support

Some expatriates with psychological distress manage to find the right support; others feel that it is something they are able to manage on their own. Some even believe these issues are normal and do not require attention. But it can be helpful to talk about your struggles with someone who understands where you are coming from, and what challenges you need to overcome.

Kühler & Trooster International Mental Health provides comprehensive mental healthcare by a team of internationally oriented psychiatrists and psychologists, covering treatment for both adults and children in a number of languages. Individualised treatment programmes optimally support expats managing these challenges so they can better enjoy the adventures of their expat life.


Contributed by Kühler & Trooster

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