In Part 1, I talked about how loneliness and lack of support for foreigners can be two weighty problems for people living abroad. Today, I will continue writing about these problems and how they affect people’s lives. Before reading this article, please note that this post was written entirely based on my own and other foreigners’ experiences, not by a mental health professional.
I concluded my last post by saying that people don’t know what foreigners go through in their host countries. I would also like to add that some foreigners like me don’t want to be called expats because we are immigrants or refugees, and won’t (or can’t) return to our home countries. Some of us don’t even immigrate willingly. That’s why statements like “If you don’t like the country you live in, go back to your own country” are not productive; on the contrary, they will harm potentially fruitful conversations.
If you aren’t familiar with my country, here are some basic facts about its economy. The annual inflation in Türkiye has risen to 85%, which puts the country in a vulnerable situation. The unemployment rate is quite high, and property prices have soared even though salaries have not increased. I have thought about returning to my country, Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey), whenever I have been in dire straits. Yet I can’t entertain the notion under my country’s current circumstances.
I can think of a few things almost everyone fears: death, disease and uncertainty. We die, get sick or live in limbo in our home countries, too. However, uncertainty doubles for those of us who are abroad because residence status, visa status and other aspects are more out of our control than for people living in their birthplaces. Now, read the questions below to understand the fear and anxiety that only people living abroad will understand.
Have you ever feared someone might revoke your visa and kick you out of where you live?
Have you ever had to frequent an immigration office and deal with cranky officers because you don’t have the right papers?
Have you ever had to stay married to keep your spouse visa?
Have you ever thought you’d be in trouble if your school found out that you’re working more than the student visa allows?
Have you ever waited in a country for years in uncertainty to get a residence permit?
If you answered no to these questions, you have either had a cushy life abroad, or you have never lived outside of your country. And if you answered yes to at least one of these questions, I want you to know I understand how you feel, and I am sorry to hear you are having a hard time.
Uncertainty is not only about visa and residence issues. For example, many people living in Japan couldn’t go to their own countries during the pandemic because they were afraid that they would not be allowed back in when they returned to Japan. I don’t know whether we will have a new pandemic in the future. All I know is that because foreigner-friendly policies are not adopted in most countries, it’s usually the foreigners who find themselves in a vulnerable position whenever a new crisis occurs.
People who run away from their problems tend to believe that their problems will miraculously disappear if they live abroad. Do you think mental health problems, which plague our lives even while we’re living in our own countries, will veer away from us when we’re abroad? As Neil Gaiman eloquently says in The Graveyard Book, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”
While some bring their problems to where they live, other people’s mental health issues might appear or be triggered in their host countries. Loneliness, lack of support for foreigners, and uncertainty may induce those issues, but since humans are complicated beings, there might be different reasons behind their mental and emotional concerns. And mental health problems may get better or worse depending on the quality of mental health services and the country.
If mental health problems are considered taboo or trifling, it is difficult for foreigners to voice their mental health issues and seek suitable treatment abroad. Despite doing my best to take care of my mental health while living in Japan, there is no shame in admitting that I need mental health services and am susceptible to insomnia. However, the doctor I see is lukewarm to my problems and quick to say, “See you next time!” as soon as he gets answers to basic questions. I sometimes wonder if I am better off without him, but because I don’t speak much Japanese, my options are limited.
As in all areas of life, living abroad has positive and negative aspects. In this article, I talked about the uncertainty and mental health problems experienced by foreigners while living abroad. There might be discrepancies between my experience and yours because of our gender, nationality and background.
And thank you for reading this post. I hope I initiated a meaningful conversation about living abroad. If there is a point you think is wrong or a story you want to share, do not hesitate to write it in the comments. You can also contact me privately so I can mention your experience anonymously.
Have you ever faced visa problems abroad? Do you think the mental health services are foreigner-friendly in your country?
Leave a Reply