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Mental health and living abroad: New data reveals the most common pitfalls

Studying or working abroad is a fantastic experience for many, offering new experiences and perspectives. However, it can also provide significant challenges, especially with regards to wellbeing and mental health.

Mental health and living abroad: New data reveals the most common pitfalls
Living in a new country can be exciting but also daunting. Photo: Getty Images

Many people experience significant challenges to their general wellbeing and mental health when moving to – and living in – another country. This can take many forms, such as:

  • Difficulty accessing medication, particularly medication prescribed in the previous country of residence.
  • Not being able to navigate the local health system to book an appointment.
  • Not being able to find the right ingredients for a vegan or vegetarian diet.

In partnership with AXA Global Healthcare, we take a look at some of the major issues facing international professionals, as well as what can be done to look after health and general wellbeing as an expat.

Difficulties faced

Having moved to Berlin from Saudi Arabia to study and work in HR, Hanan Asgar was excited about the opportunities Germany offered. As she says: “I wanted freedom, respect and equality for myself and my generation.”

However, the combination of being completely new in a foreign country, together with an unfortunate incident in her first few days in her new homeland – about which Hanan had no one to speak to – meant that Hanan began to feel isolated and anxious.

She tells us: “My anxiety grew and I actually ended up locking myself in my dorm room and questioning my choice of moving to Germany. But after some reflection, I realised that it was me who was missing out on the lectures I was avoiding. So I took the courage to step out again and face what was to come.”

Living and working abroad, far from home, can present a number of obstacles. Learn more about how AXA provides mental health and wellbeing healthcare as part of its global health plans 

Hanan subsequently underwent treatment for anxiety and depression with a therapist, and has now been living happily in Berlin for the past six years.

Hanan’s experience with initial culture shock and mental health challenges, while living and working abroad, is shared by many expats. A social listening study conducted by AXA* in 2021, across six popular nations or regions for those living abroad, discovered:

  • Anxiety was the most common difficulty faced by expats in France, the Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom – 24%, 27% and 32% respectively.
  • Depression was the second most commonly experienced challenge.
  • Those in France were most likely to experience anxiety and depression regarding the consequences of Brexit.
  • Other issues that those in France, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom identified as obstacles associated with living abroad, included dealing with chronic illness (such as living with a condition like diabetes), safety concerns (for example, crime) and stress related to the workplace.  

Exercise can help deal with stress. Photo: Getty Images

Strategies that work 

Fortunately, the AXA study also shows that there are a number of strategies that work when dealing with health and general wellbeing issues. Their study found the following:

  • Building strong support networks and healthy relationships with friends and co-workers was seen as important by expats in all countries.
  • Building strong support networks, as well as spending time on entertainment and hobbies, were particularly important to those living in the United Kingdom
  • Exercise – outdoor, or in a gym – was particularly helpful to those in Scandinavia and France, while those in France reported that they had also had specific success with mindfulness practice and good nutrition.
  • The most effective and useful strategy that AXA discovered, however, was proactive and preventative healthcare, such as accessing a GP or qualified psychologist. 

Discover more ways to look after mind and body while living abroad with AXA and their Mind Health Service 

Seeking out the right health professionals for both body and mind can significantly reduce the levels of anxiety and depression experienced by those living abroad. Regular check-ups can prevent conditions becoming chronic, while discussing mental health and wellbeing can substantially reduce the pressure that many feel. Prevention, as the saying goes, is better than cure.

Hanan Asgar moved from Saudia Arabia to Berlin. Photo: Supplied

Ensuring you have the right healthcare

Finding the right health professionals abroad can be difficult due to language differences, cultural attitudes and varying levels of healthcare. As Hanan reports of her own experience: “I sought professional help and it was quite challenging to find a therapist who spoke English. It took months just for an initial appointment. In the meantime, I would go to an emergency psychological help centre or ask a friend to be around. It all worked out in the end, but it did take a mental toll on me”. 

This is why finding a health insurance provider that offers fast and effective links with health professionals is key. When looking for an insurance plan, consider what AXA has to offer, and the Mind Health Service1 they provide for their customers.

Included with all individual and small business coverage plans, the Mind Health Service provides up to six telephone-based sessions for those covered, in addition to their Virtual Doctor Service2. It’s easy and fast to connect to a qualified psychologist who speaks your language, wherever you are in the world, whenever you need it. There is no extra charge for this service for individual, family or SME customers, it has no impact on your excess and outpatient or policy allowances, and can also be used by anybody who is covered by your plan. 

Living abroad is, for many, the experience of a lifetime. The memories and friendships created can endure long after we’ve returned home. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that the care and support is there to ensure you can keep enjoying your new country.

Ensure that your time overseas is happy and healthy.  Access up to six telephone sessions with a qualified psychologist through AXA’s Mind Health Service, available at no extra charge as part of all individual coverage plans

*Social media listening, commissioned by AXA – Global Healthcare, conducted by Listen + Learn from 2018-21, across six regions: Canada, Dubai, France, Hong Kong, Scandinavia and UK

¹The Mind Health Service is provided by Teladoc Health
²The Virtual Doctor Service is provided by Teledoc Health

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Member comments

  1. disappointed of the use of the word “expats” that word is just creating a classist differentiation that shouldn’t exist, and using our privilege to create a gap doesn’t help, we all are migrants, that’s it.

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NATURE

EXPLAINED: How to deal with wasps in Germany

The hot weather in Germany is good news for wasps, but not necessarily for people. Here’s what you need to know if you encounter the stinging critters this summer.

EXPLAINED: How to deal with wasps in Germany

Thanks to the persistently warm and dry weather across Europe this summer, wasp populations are on the rise, with pest controllers in France even dubbing 2022 ‘the year of the wasp’.

The peak of wasp season is still to come, however, as wasps tend to reach their maximum population between September and October. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with the stripy insects in Germany.

Is it illegal to kill wasps in Germany?

In short: yes. There are hundreds of wasp species in Germany, some of which are particularly endangered and are on the so-called “red list” of threatened animal and plant species.

Since they are a protected species, killing the insects is generally prohibited under the Federal Nature Conservation Act, and anyone who gets caught deliberately killing a wasp could face a hefty fine.

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, a wasp-killer can face a fine of up to €50,000 while in Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the maximum fine is up to €20,000. In the other federal states, catching, injuring or killing wasps can cost up to €5,000.

In the case of a specially protected wasp species such as the gyroscopic or button horn wasp, fines range from €10,000 to €65,000, depending on the state.

Are wasps dangerous?

Though they may be somewhat pesky, biologists and nature activists generally agree that wasps aren’t dangerous, at least to those who are not allergic to their stings. They are typically not aggressive unless threatened and will tend to flee rather than fight.

It would also take at least 50 to 100 stings to actually overdose on wasp venom, but severe allergies and accidents (while running away from a swarm, for example) could be more dangerous.

How do I keep wasps at bay?

There are a few tried and tested tricks you can use to ward off wasps.

Firstly, as wasps are primarily attracted to meat and sweets, you should keep these foods well covered as much as possible.

Wasps don’t like getting wet, so having a water spray bottle on the picnic table can come in very handy for keeping the critters at bay. Don’t go overboard with the spray, though, and don’t be alarmed if the wasp doesn’t move for a while after you’ve given it a dousing. As soon as its wings are dry, the insect will fly off.

READ ALSO: How to deal with fruit flies (and other critters) plaguing your German flat

Distraction tactics also work well: a bowl of overripe fruit – such as grapes – placed at a safe distance can be a good way to keep wasps away from you. 

One homemade deterrent you can try is a lemon cut in half, sprinkled with a few cloves, which is a particularly unpleasant scent for the insects.

How should I react to wasps?

If the uninvited guests do join your barbecue or picnic, you shouldn’t panic. “Take it easy” is the best motto when dealing with the black-and-yellow insects.

You should avoid abrupt movements and not lash out or blow in the direction of the animal as exhaled carbon dioxide makes the normally calm animals aggressive, and do not try to hit them or make any sudden movements.

What if I find a nest?

First of all, keep your distance – ideally at least five metres. Nests can host thousands of wasps and they will become aggressive if they feel threatened.

According to the Species Protection Information of the Berlin Senate Department wasps are subject to general protection and may “only be controlled if there is a reasonable reason to do so.” In other words, finding a wasp nest in your house doesn’t necessarily mean you can call pest control to come and get rid of it. 

The German Nature Conservation Association (NABU) advises those who come across a nest to seek advice, either by getting in contact with them directly or with your local environmental agencies or nature conservation authorities.

What should I do if I get stung?

If you are unlucky enough to get stung by a wasp, the first thing to do is to carefully clean the puncture site. NABU also recommends cooling the sting site and treating it with insect creams which you can get from your local pharmacy.

READ ALSO: Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

Alternatively, you can use the old homemade remedy of cutting an onion in half, making an incision so that the juice can escape more easily, and rubbing it into the puncture site. This not only has a cooling effect but can also act as a disinfectant and anti-inflammatory.

For allergy sufferers, however, a wasp sting can be very dangerous. NABU recommends that allergy sufferers always carry emergency medication with them and if in any doubt, go straight to the emergency department of the local hospital.

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