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Depression is the number one mental health issue faced by expats

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In a survey on mental health issues faced by expatriates, depression turned out to be most prevalent condition (with a 50% increase between 2014-16), followed by anxiety (28% prevalence increase).

Aetna International’s report on 5,000 members, Expatriate mental health: Breaking the silence and ending the stigma, also found that globally, women between the ages of 30-49 are the most likely to seek treatment for a mental health concern.

The research focused on expats, given that just 6% of expats have been found to be concerned about mental health issues before relocating. ” Dr. Mitesh Patel, medical director, Aetna International, explained: “Part of the reason expats are more susceptible to mental health issues is the absence of the family and friends network they relied on for support back home.”



He added: “By comparison, more than a quarter (of expats) were concerned about heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. In addition, we found among the people surveyed, that expats on assignment expressed a reduced need or desire to take action prior to arrival.”

According to data between 2014-2016, mental health claims increased the most in Europe (33%), followed by the Middle East and Africa (28%), and the Americas (26%) not far behind. Southeast Asia saw the least increase in mental health claims during this period at 19%.

Possible solutions for employers to consider

  • Networking and language orientation: Missing home and languages barriers were the biggest challenges to well-being amongst the people Aetna surveyed faced.
  • Access to mental healthcare: According to WHO’s Mental Health Atlas 2014, the number of mental health workers per 100,000 persons ranges from less than 1 in low-income countries to more than 50 in high-income countries.
  • Employee assistance programme: Such programmes offer telephonic support to workers facing all manner of concerns, from work-related stress to substance abuse to major life events like births and deaths. Employees typically have 24-hour access to counsellors who can, if needed, make referrals to local professionals. Moreover, full confidentiality is maintained.
  • Policies that support work-life balance: Examples include family leave policies, onsite fitness and childcare facilities, flexible work scheduling, and programmes on everything from nutrition to smoking cessation.
  • The Alliance for Work-Life Progress has identified seven categories of programmes for employers: caring for dependants, proactive approaches to health and wellness, creating a more flexible workplace, financial support for economic security, creative use of paid and unpaid time off, community involvement, and culture change.

Infographic / Aetna International
Lead photo / 123RF

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