Mental Health Resources while Abroad

Disclaimer: This week we are focusing on dealing with different mental health issues while living abroad. While we are not professionals, we can see how stigmas around “living your best you” while living abroad can hinder our capacity to face our biggest issues and we want you to know that, if this is your situation, you are not alone. We believe that the holiday time can be a extra-difficult time to deal with this kind of issue and encourage your to reach out to someone you care about or a healthcare professional if you are having any serious issues.

View from an airplane. Photo source Sacha Verheij on Unsplash

Dear Ashley,

This week we have talked about dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues while living abroad. We recognize that it is not easy to tackle these problems alone, therefore, we want to provide you with some resources that can help you in your own journey. Remember, that talking to a professional is a sign of strength and personal power—you are not alone.

Local Resources:

Your Study/Work Abroad Program

If you have come abroad with a specific program, they will most likely offer you both one-on-one time with a teacher (if you have to talk things through) as well as access to mental health professionals. While these people might be close enough for you to confide in, they will also be knowledgeable enough about who you can talk to in the local area and help you find someone that fits your needs. Keep in mind that the majority of the people working with such programs are probably not qualified to help you deal with all problems, but the can be the first step to finding someone who can.

Example: When I worked at the International Relations Office in my school in Granada I found that oftentimes students would come in to confer with and ask advice from my boss. While she wasn’t qualified as a psychologist, she was the most knowledgeable person in questions of what students could access with their program. And, often times, it was my boss who was the key to a solution down the road.

A private solution in your area:

Depending on the size of the town or city that you are living in, you will be able to find professionals who have opened their own private practices. As it is difficult to get into public healthcare many wonderful practitioners end up grouping together and starting their own clinics (although it is difficult to maintain them). Be sure to look for somewhere that houses certified professionals and consider getting a consultation (often times this first session is free to ensure that both the healthcare professional and the patient are comfortable with the situation).

Example: A good friend of mine studied psychology but found it extremely difficult to get into the public system. So, for a couple of years she opened a private practice with several friends from school. It is extremely difficult to maintain a business like this in Spain and she eventually left the practice to go back to school. However, she assured me that there are many good places in Granada if I would ever need it.

The National Health Care System

Depending on how you are living abroad in Spain, you will have access to the health care system. Everyone who belongs to this system has the right to see both psychiatrists and psychologists as part of their ‘normal’ healthcare package. This means that if you don’t have money to shell out on a private healthcare professional, you should be covered by public insurance.

There is a problem with this solution, however, and that is that many times you have to jump through a fair amount of hoops before you are actually able to see a professional. Like many things in the public healthcare system, in theory it works great, but in practice it can take time. This means that if you have a problem that needs to be resolved now, you might want to consider another option first as this solution is more viable for long-term issues.

Woman using computer. Photo source on Pexels

Online Resources:

While we really value local resources as it means you can go talk to someone in person, it may be difficult to find someone who speaks your language and it is hard to completely express yourself in a foreign language (in fact, I say I have different personalities in different languages). Therefore, sometimes the most straightforward solution is to find resources online that can help you. We would like to highlight two:

The Mindful Expat

You can see where we have collaborated with Dana from the Mindful Expat here and here (and hopefully again in the future). She has a great podcast about living abroad as an expat and has an online practice helping people who are living abroad. While she is physically located and specializes in France, her online consulting has a much wider reach. In addition, she has a great list of resources that can help you if you are in a moment of need and don’t know what to do or who to turn to.

The Intentional Expat

While we haven’t collaborated on anything with Melissa (yet—you never know what the future will bring), we really enjoy what she has to share. She believes in living proactively and being aware of what is happening around us so we can each live our own best life. Like Dana she offers online counselling sessions although she also has expertise in working with people who are living abroad in Spain. If you’re looking for regular life inspiration when you are feeling down, I would recommend checking out her blog (it’s not updated every week, but the posts are gems).

Now I know that the resources provided don’t make a comprehensive list of all available resources out there—again check out Dana’s guide for things like books, websites, etc.—but I hope that they can help you see that you have a lot of options. I also know that it is hard to see all the possibilities when you are down, so if you need someone to push you in the right direction, feel free to reach out and we will do our best to help you find what you are looking for.

Please leave you pro-tips and favorite places for mental health support in the comments!