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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

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1040 Abroad

How the Pandemic Affected Expat Mental Health

More than a third of expats feel their mental health has worsened during past year but nearly as many felt their relationships with locals had actually improved during the pandemic
By News Team
Published on May 14, 2021

Mental Health Matters PHOTO: MATTHEW BALL

Released in time for Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10 to 16) a survey of over 1,100 expatriates living in five countries reveals that 38% of expats feel the quality of their mental health has declined during the 18 months, so far, of the Covid-19 pandemic. And 44% say they would have preferred to be in their home country throughout the pandemic. However a surprising, and positive, 35% say their relationships with local people in their host country had improved during the period.

The survey, conducted by health insurance company William Russell, highlights the unique challenges faced by expatriates, which readers of The American will be well aware of. They are having to navigate the ongoing global pandemic, like the rest of the world, but they’ve had to do so while living in a foreign country. That means they’ve been isolated from traditional support networks such as friends and families...

66 million people worldwide live as expatriates, around 9 million of them US citizens, and the survey included a cross-section of expats including foreign workers, students and retirees of all ages, living in the UK, USA, Australia, Hong Kong and UAE.

Impact of the pandemic on expats

When asked about the impact of the pandemic on their mental health, 38% of expats responded that they had noticed a decline. Just under half of respondents claimed that their mental health was “significantly worse”.

23% of respondents, however, believed their mental health had improved over the course of the pandemic.

44% of respondents agreed with the statement “I would prefer to be in my home country during the Covid-19 pandemic,” and 15% strongly agreed. Only 33% of respondents disagreed with the statement.

Mental health support for expats

Tellingly, only 10% of respondents said they felt “confident” about the professional mental health resources available. On the contrary, 22% of respondents said they were “sceptical,” 46% “uncertain” and 11% reported themselves as feeling “unsatisfied.”

When it came to talking with fellow expatriates and seeking social support, the results were mixed. 25% of respondents said that expats in their community were discussing mental health less often as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 29% of respondents felt that their expat community had started to discuss mental health more frequently.

Overall, 31% of respondents felt that expats in their region were “more concerned” about mental health in general following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Living abroad – mental health and lifestyles

While every expat has a unique and individual experience of life overseas, the survey highlights several mental health trends.

Overall, the results paint a somewhat optimistic picture. When asked how they thought living and working abroad had impacted their mental health, 53% said it had a positive effect. However, at the other end of the scale, as many as one in five (21%) said the overall effect has been negative. 4% felt strongly enough to say that living and working abroad had had a “significantly negative” impact on their mental health.

The survey also highlights some of the tangible effects of the pandemic on the mental health of expats.

For instance, when asked whether their eating habits had changed, almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents said their diets had been affected, with 35% claiming their dietary habits had changed “significantly”. A further 6% said their diets had become less healthy during the pandemic.

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, the data tells a mixed story. It shows some growing tensions between expatriates and their friends and families. Almost a quarter (24%) said their relationships with people in their home countries had worsened while 18% said their relationships with people in their home country had improved during the pandemic.

When it came to relationships with people in the country where they live and work, almost one in ten (9%) said their relationships with other people had worsened, while 35% felt their relationships with locals had improved, showing that many expatriates (but not all) were able to find friendly help and local support in their countries of residence.

For more information go to www.william-russell.com

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