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Support for expats during coronavirus lockdown

Dr Paul McLaren, Medical Director at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove, has looked at how to manage any feelings of isolation that you may be experiencing, and how to recognise and put a stop to unhealthy drinking habits which could lead to longer term issues. Dr McLaren has also outlined the significance of communication during this stressful and difficult time as well as the importance of seeking and accessing support if you feel it is needed.

The impact of coronavirus-related lockdown on expats

In today’s world, the idea that you can live and work anywhere where there’s a job or an opportunity has become commonplace and widely accepted. For people who embrace this expat lifestyle, most will go and work abroad on the basis that they will be able to travel home regularly and freely.

With the lockdown, this has unfortunately been stopped. For many people working away from their home countries, it will feel as though the rug has been pulled from under them, which can leave them feeling isolated and abandoned.

Communicating and staying in touch during lockdown

Family and social interaction are an important element in maintaining mental health. We’re social creatures. We need to spend time with people who care about us and about whom we care about too. If we were to lose these interactions during lockdown, it could increase our vulnerability to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Many expats already use their devices  to regularly communicate with children or with family abroad. But this is often done on the basis that there will be a flight home or a visit in the not-too-distant future.

If you are isolated and miles from home, it is important that you try and maintain or even build a social network locally, even though it may not involve direct face-to-face contact at the minute. Knowing that there are people that you’re communicating with nearby can be reassuring in a way that long-distance communication cannot.

Understanding and managing the risks associated with the lockdown

Isolation is a risk factor for mental illness, particularly for anxiety and depressive illnesses. While everyone is locked down, we’re all in the same position in that respect but it does bring particular challenges for those who are thousands of miles away from their home, their family and any sense of familiarity. Try to stay in regular and even daily contact with people in your home country as well as people who are local to you, whether that is through video chats, calls or text messages.

Another major risk - and a common risk associated with expat life - is alcohol and using alcohol in a way that may not be commonly used in your home country, within your family and within your usual social network. It’s particularly important in this lockdown that you are aware of the risks of alcohol consumption creeping in, taking over and becoming a problem. A particularly risky combination is drinking when depressed. If you drink in an attempt to numb negative and painful feelings, the alcohol can actually perpetuate the depression. This can then result in a vicious cycle.

Navigating the changing landscape caused by the coronavirus

One of the concerns for expats who are trying to cope with the current lockdown is around if and when to go back to their home country.

Not fully knowing what the options and opportunities are makes that decision particularly difficult. The ground rules are changing day by day. And if you’re trying to balance this, not just in the country you’re living in at the moment, but in your country of origin, that can be particularly stressful and confusing.

Seek help and talk it through with people close to you as this can support you in finding a solution. The current situation at the moment is very stressful and very difficult for many, but there are people who care about you and who will be able to help.  


Page medically reviewed by Dr Paul McLaren (MBBS, FRCPsych, MA, BA, MSc), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove

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