Expatriation and Mental Well-Being
By Deborah Valentine
Initial conclusions (March 2019) of a mental health survey, conducted by Healthcare for internationals (H4i) at the end of 2018, revealed that “…more than 50% of internationals living in the Netherlands experience mental challenges, such as frequently feeling lonely, anxious or depressed. 70% relates these feelings directly to moving to and settling in another country”.
More than 30 years ago, a Community Needs Assessment undertaken by the American Community Council “…recognised the sombre reality that numerous families were experiencing significant stress and personal problems during their settlement and integration”. While the most recent research is more quantitative than the one done earlier, the general conclusions align: relocating to a new country is stressful, and hard. It can lead to loneliness, feeling disconnected from one’s immediate environment and at a loss about what to do, or whom to turn to. Added to that, the multitude of questions one has about how things work in an unfamiliar place alone can significantly impact one’s mental well-being.
PROCESS OF TRANSITION
'Like waves crashing on a beach, each new generation of the global tribe brings with it the same challenges and struggles'
It was this assessment which was the founding backbone of what we, ACCESS, are today. The model, which was recommended following a comprehensive review of the situation in 1986, included a curative as well as preventative element, both which remain firmly in place. There is no change, not because a ‘solution’ was not found, but because the community for which this solution was recommended changes, is in flux, and the very process of transition is what causes the feelings, not the lack of support in and of itself. Like waves crashing on a beach, each new generation of the global tribe brings with it the same challenges and struggles ….to find community, to understand the process of leaving and arriving, and to navigate the personal journey of change in an unfamiliar environment.
Tried and Tested Solutions
The ACCESS Counselling Network is a network of licensed professionals who, besides their professional experience, are also personally familiar with the process of expatriation, and repatriation. Between them, they speak multiple languages and have a variety of specialisations which can, and do, serve the international community in need of support. Every month, two are on-call to receive calls for help, and to direct these to the most relevant, appropriate source of support. This free, confidential on-call service was the original curative solution which remains in place to this day.
'We continue to contribute as best we can to supporting the mental well-being of the international community in the Netherlands'
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. In this regard, the volunteering network that is the body of ACCESS was set up to do just that. In order to prevent people from feeling disconnected and lonely, it provides them – largely the partners/spouses of those who have come to the Netherlands for work or study – with a place to go, something to do and an opportunity to be of value to others. Over the years, ACCESS has been able to support thousands of individuals in this manner. It has provided, and continues to provide, professional volunteering opportunities as a stepping stone towards getting settled, meeting people and creating a community. ACCESS cannot, of course, absorb all the people who are in need of this support, which is why we partner with as many community-based, volunteering networks as we can: this allows us to support our own mission indirectly, and to help people successfully settle in the Netherlands by suggesting other places and communities through which people can connect with others.
In our services – on-call Counselling Network, helpdesk (where we answer questions people have about relocating to, and living in, the Netherlands) and the multiple volunteering roles we provide – we continue to contribute as best we can to supporting the mental well-being of the international community in the Netherlands. We hope that those who are adjusting to a new life in the Netherlands, be it long or short-term, know we are here to support and serve you.
Deborah Valentine is the Executive Director of ACCESS.