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Moving Abroad and the Risks of Depression and Suicide

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By Danny Knight

Image: Pexels

Making the decision to move abroad can be one of the biggest life changes you’ll ever attempt. Whether it’s for work, school, or just because you need to get away, packing up and moving to a different country can be exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for Americans abroad, and while the reasons are varied, it can be surmised that many people who move to a different country have a hard time adjusting to the change, and as a result, suffer from depression or substance abuse.

After you’ve thought long and hard about the logistics of making such a big move, it’s a good idea to sit down and consider the effect such a change might have on you. If you’ve already moved abroad, here are some things to think about.

Relationship Changes

If you’re in a relationship and your significant other will be making the move with you, you’re likely to deal with some strain. A move across town can be stressful, even if you’re just looking for a local place that’s more affordable; going out of the country is a different kettle of fish altogether. If you’ll be living in a city where you don’t know anyone, the two of you will be the only support system available, which can cause changes. While you are stressed, try not to lose sight of your relationship goals during and after the move. Keep your priorities at the forefront of your mind, and think about both where you’ve been and where you are going — together. If you feel you or your partner are being too needy or demanding, stay calm and address the situation face-to-face in a way that’s not accusatory. It’s likely that, if you are feeling that way, your partner is picking up on it, too.

Friends and family can be a challenge when you make a big move, no matter how supportive they are of your leaving. It’s important to maintain contact with the people who mean the most to you, even if it’s through old-fashioned means (i.e. in a letter or postcard). Knowing you still have those people in your life and in your corner can mean a whole lot when you’re feeling blue about the move. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that you’ll likely feel guilty for a while about the move, especially if you have friends or family who ask when you’re coming to visit or tell you about big things you’ve missed back home. When possible, make arrangements to visit and share them with everyone back home so they’re all informed of your plans.

Reasonable Expectations

Moving to a new country is seen as exotic, the ultimate dream for some who are tired of the daily grind at their jobs or at school. While you may be a bit more grounded than the friends who romanticize your trip, it can still be easy to have high expectations for your new home. It’s important to keep a level head and realize that no move ever goes perfectly. 

There will likely be at least a couple of issues that come up with the move or with traveling there, and that’s normal. All you can do is prepare the best you can and keep an open mind, and remember that frustration is okay in small doses. Do your best to plan what you can. For instance, if you currently own your home, you’ll have to decide if you want to sell or rent it. There are pros and cons to each. A lump sum of money can come in handy as you start your new adventure, but knowing there is a steady stream of income through rent and equity can be appealing. Plus, if you choose to rent out your old home, you have a safety net if the move isn’t the right fit.

If you feel yourself getting stressed to the point that you begin using a substance to level out your moods, take stock of the situation and ask yourself if you can stop anytime you want. If not, it’s okay to ask for help. Depression is common in people who make a huge life change, and suicidal thoughts, depression, and drug or alcohol abuse go hand-in-hand.

If someone you love has made a move to another country and you think they might be abusing a substance and having suicidal thoughts as a result, let them know you’re there for them and offer to help in any way possible. Even if it’s just making yourself available to talk at a time that’s convenient for them, that can be a big help.

Moving abroad can be a lonely, isolating time in which you might feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. Try to keep an open mind. Though it might be hardest at first, really push yourself to go out and meet new people, try new things. It’s important in any new situation to try to acclimate yourself to local culture; once you do that, you’ll feel more at home.

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