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Treating expat depression

A guide to treating depression for those who live away from home – from medication to counselling

If you are living away from home and feeling that you or a loved one might be experiencing depression, you can get help. Seeking treatment for depression as an expat is especially important since you are far from your support network. 

Depression can be treated with counselling. Medications such as antidepressants may also be prescribed, usually in conjunction with counselling.

Psychological counselling

Counselling (talk therapy) involves talking to a mental health professional at regular visits. In these visits, you learn ways to:

  • Cope with problems, from minor to severe
  • Change negative thought processes
  • Manage your emotions
  • Improve your relationships

Types of counselling

There are many types of counselling. Some therapists provide a specific type of therapy. Others may offer more than one or combine methods.

Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on recognising and changing patterns of thinking. This helps to change feelings and behaviour.

Interpersonal psychotherapy explores the connection between psychological well-being and problems in relationships with other people.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy seeks to help you recognise inner conflicts that may stem from early relationships (for example, with parents, siblings or peers) or other phases in your emotional development.

Group therapy involves a small number of people who meet and talk together under the guidance of a therapist. As with individual therapy, many types of group therapy exist.

Couples therapy teaches people in relationships to understand each other and manage conflicts.

Family therapy addresses the way the entire family functions.

What to expect with counselling

You might be worried about trying to find counselling in your own language if that isn’t the dominant language where you’re living. Some international health care insurance representatives can help you find a therapist who can speak with you in your language by phone or videochat. They may also connect you to online self-help resources that are a useful supplement to counselling.

You may need to talk with a few professionals to find one you feel comfortable with. Many talk therapists will offer a free ‘introductory’ session to talk about what services they can offer.

It’s common to have one session a week for about an hour. How many weeks you meet depends upon your individual situation and other factors.

Learn more about people who can help expats with depression

Antidepressant medications

Antidepressants work by helping to balance chemicals in the brain. They are not addictive.

Antidepressants don't work like aspirin. You can't take them only when you feel bad, then stop taking them when you feel better. You must take them as directed by your doctor. It can take a few weeks before they start to work.

Many types of antidepressants are available. Sometimes the first one that your doctor prescribes is not helpful. That’s okay. Some people need to try several antidepressants before finding one that works for them.

Certain antidepressant medications are considered controlled substances in some parts of the world. If you’re prescribed an antidepressant in one region and then will be travelling somewhere else, contact your doctor or international health insurer to find out how you can safely travel with your medications. Whenever you travel, always carry your medications in their original containers accompanied by your prescription.

Read our antidepressant Q & A here

Find out more about depression in the Mental Health episode of our Fit for Duty podcast below.

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