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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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HEALTH

HEALTH: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Norway 

Going to the doctor is a necessary part of living overseas, but there are a few things you should be aware of before going for a check-up in Norway. 

HEALTH: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Norway 

Norway is known for having excellent healthcare, and the medical systems in Scandinavian countries are often held up as examples of what other countries should try and emulate. 

Despite that, it’s not all plain sailing when visiting a doctor in Norway, and there are often some misconceptions people have and some idiosyncrasies with the system that can be a bit jarring for some. 

With that in mind, we’ve put together a run-down of what you should expect when visiting a doctor in Norway. 

You will need to sign up first  

You aren’t assigned a GP or fastlege automatically, so you will need to sign up for a doctor yourself. 

To be eligible for a doctor, you must be living and working in Norway legally. You will be enrolled in the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme if you meet this requirement. Everyone part of this scheme is entitled to healthcare services and a GP by extension

To find a GP, you will need to head to Norway’s digital health portal, helsenorge, and log in. You will need an electronic ID such as Commfides, BankID or Buypass ID to sign in. 

Once signed up, you can select the county you are in and see a list of doctors in your local area. The list will have the doctor’s name, age and gender, and if a substitute is covering them. 

READ MORE: How to register with a doctor in Norway

Visiting a doctor will cost you money

One of the biggest misconceptions about healthcare in Norway is that it’s free. It isn’t. Instead, residents will need to pay for healthcare at the point of service. However these costs are heavily subsidised through the National Insurance Scheme, and there is a relatively low limit on how much individuals have to pay each year. 

A GP appointment will cost 160 kroner during the day and 280 in the evening, a lab test costs 59 kroner, and a consultation with a specialist costs 375 kroner. You can get a full run-down of the fees you can expect to pay during a doctor’s visit here.

Language shouldn’t be an issue 

Norway ranks number 5 out of 112 countries for their English proficiency (English Proficiency Index). This means that you shouldn’t put off seeing a doctor because you’re worried about the language gap. 

Even if you are in more rural parts of the country, you can expect to be able to see a doctor that you can communicate with in English if that would make you feel more comfortable. 

READ ALSO: Does everyone in Norway speak perfect English?

Changing your doctor 

If, for whatever reason, you want to change your doctor, say you don’t gel with them, find it hard to get an appointment or have heard great things about another GP, then you can change your fastlege

The Norwegian GP system allows for decent flexibility, and you can change your doctor up to two times in one calendar year, for whatever reason you wish. 

To make the switch, you’ll need to sign into helsenorge and change your doctor there. 

READ ALSO: How to switch GPs in Norway 

Your medical history isn’t automatically available to doctors

When you change GPs in Norway, you’ll need to ensure your new doctor has access to your medical records. It is your responsibility to do this, and much like signing up for a new GP, this isn’t done automatically. 

Having your medical records sent to your new doctor simply involves contacting your former GP surgery and asking them to forward your record to your current practice. Your medical records also contain information from when something has been followed up, for example, notes from a scan or specialist.  

If you move from another country, then this may mean either filling in the doctor of your medical history or trying to get your medical history forwarded. 

What do The Local’s readers think of the medical system

The Local’s readers have previously shared their thoughts on the country’s healthcare system. Among the positives were competent GPs, excellent quality of treatment, and good quality service. 

Waiting times were the biggest issue cited by readers. Respondents to the survey said they either waited a long time for an appointment or to get a GP. 

READ ALSO: What do foreigners think of the Norwegian healthcare system?

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