Living abroad is an emotional roller coaster—alternately exciting and scary. You’re tackling new, difficult challenges and at the same time meeting people from all over the world. It can be an extremely isolating experience. When you’re thousands of miles from your support system and don’t speak the language, how do you cope?
If you have a previously diagnosed condition such as depression, get in touch with a mental health practitioner as soon as you arrive. “Due to language and cultural barriers, foreigners should try and get mental health services from professionals who speak their language and understand their culture,” says Dr. Steve Xu clinical psychiatrist and Chair of Mental Health at United Family Hospitals.
Unless you plan to pay out of pocket at the Western clinics, you need health insurance. But even when going somewhere reputable, Dr. Xu stresses, “It’s extremely important to check professional qualifications before you make appointments with any mental health professionals.”
Improve Your Mood
Depression and feeling depressed are two different things. Sufferers of both will benefit from talking to someone, but if you’re feeling a little blue as opposed to deeply depressed, there are other ways to improve your emotional wellness. Dr. Xu advises regular physical exercise, a balanced work/life schedule, strong social support groups and abstaining from drugs and alcohol. The fact is, though, it can be hard to stay on the wagon here, where so much socializing happens at bars. Try and tie drinking activities in with something healthy—a single pint following football practice—and do your best to recognize when you’ve had enough to drink.
Sometimes, especially for those who came to Shanghai from more sedate places, it’s the concrete, grime and cacophony that can drive you to the brink. When your neighbors are screaming over a dead chicken at 6am or a piece of your ceiling collapses, covering you in asbestos, it might be time to get out of the city for a break. Escape can be as simple as a day trip to Sheshan or Chongming Island or something longer and more elaborate, like a yoga retreat in Moganshan.
Your Support Network
Most essential for improving emotional wellness and keeping the blues at bay is finding a support system. This can be friends, colleagues or even strangers. Connections are forged fast amongst expats, where everyone needs each other just a little bit more, and the population is transient. But because truly meaningful bonds are difficult to form in short periods of time (do you really want to pour your heart out to someone you just met at The Camel?), it’s talking to someone with complete anonymity that can be most helpful. Lifeline Shanghai (Tel: 6279-8900), an anonymous counseling hotline, is completely free and open every single day from 10am-10pm. Some of Lifeline’s counselors are doctors, but many are volunteers, so it’s not a substitute for medical attention. It can, however, help in a pinch.