For expats, loneliness, isolation, and depression are some of the biggest integration difficulties when starting a new life away from home.
As impressive as a country’s quality of life ranking can be, that’s not to say that moving there comes without its own integration difficulties. According to the 2016 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey – one of the largest independent global expat surveys, which is conducted annually – the Netherlands lands within the top ten of the 45 ranked countries in the areas of job security, work/life balance, school quality, healthcare, and finance.
These results are based on interviews with close to 27,000 expats living in more than 100 countries; therefore, 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; the Netherlands sits in the bottom ten. We explore some of the main challenges of living abroad.
Handling expat problems: an adventure, but not always easy
Navigating the challenges associated with relocation to another country and integration with a new culture is an adventure; it’s not always an easy one though. 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; it can even 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; often, however, this is only when they can relate to your experience as an expat.
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.
It simply becomes easier for expats to form connections with other expats who can relate to the common expat problems. These include loneliness, experiencing those awkward situations, or sharing a cultural background; all of which makes things far less complicated.
Expat loneliness: 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 goodbye to people you care about. For some, it can be difficult to get attached to others, or to form deep, stable connections.
Many expatriates report feelings of emotional emptiness; for some, intense expat depression rears its head. If that is combined with high job demands or stress and a lack of social support and the ‘normal’ life events, it is not surprising that expats are more vulnerable to developing psychological problems.
Finding the right support for expat mental health
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. Search our directory to find the right healthcare professionals to support you.