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No Surprise to me - Expat Mums are more likely to get Postnatal Depression

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

I have been reflecting on this question often over the past several years; does the likelihood of getting mental health issues increase for expat parents? Several studies worldwide suggest that this is the case.




I feel incredibly blessed to have two places I can call home. And there is even a special word in German for the place you were born in, we call “Heimat”, and this holds a special place in my heart. Yes, I am privileged to have moved continents from one westernised country to another and to have travelled a lot in my life. Australia is a fantastic place to live. The wildlife, the vegetation, the landscapes, beaches, and people are all magnificent and I truly love living here.

However, as an expat it also entails challenges that I didn’t really think about before moving here. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything, but I feel like it was a lot harder raising two children here, without my social circle and support network, than it would have been in my “Heimat” in Germany.


In this post I want to give you an insight of the challenges I faced as an expat mum. Sometimes I found that families who do have their support networks close by (and by that, I mean in-laws, parents, siblings, aunties, and friends), take the support they are getting on a regular basis for granted. And that is fair. Because that is how it should be. Families should get the support from people around them, and they should get a lot of it. Because raising young children is hard. And parents need a break, they deserve support.


So, what happens when you don’t have that? Well, you and your partner are always IT. There is no one else you can call on to have the baby while you go to the park with the toddler. There is no one else you can call on to look after the kids while you get a pap-smear, haircut, or have to do the groceries. Inevitably you will get to a point of exhaustion. Simply because it is too much. The constant demands of your kids that trump your own needs, the constant emotional labour, the constant practical labour (all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, bathing, changing, feeding, rocking, playing, etc), the constant lack of help and having to find the resources to keep going. It is hard. Especially when you don’t have that relaxing leisure time with your comfort people, with a nice cuppa, a drink and a good laugh.

Now, let’s not forget the partner who will come home from work, exhausted as well, and then has to be the best friend, mum, and primary caregiver (because you want to “clock off”) all in one. This also will leave the partner inevitably burnt out and resentful.


These burdens are too much to carry for two people alone. I am of the opinion that humans are social creatures, because this is how we survive, this is how we are meant to live, this is what makes sense. Modern society has created a world in which new parents are physically isolated from other humans who could pitch in. We stick new mums into their 3 bedroom houses with high fences all around without anyone to come and help her and send the dad back to work after a week or two.

In addition to this the Australian culture is a very “polite” one. You don’t ask other people for help because you don’t want to put anyone out, you don’t want to be rude. In Germany we have a different concept of asking for help. People ask for help when they need it and if someone can’t help for whatever reason they simply tell them that. Germans are upfront, they are clear, and they are labelled “rude” by British or Australian people because of it. I understand that this is simply different cultures dealing with this in different ways. But I believe that it has to be more ok in our Australian culture to ask for help. Because it really is ok to ask for help. Most people are actually happy to help. Because we are wired this way. We are social creatures, and we are inherently good. People will help when you need it. So, ask for it!

Easy, isn’t it?! Well not when you don’t have a support network!


In my case there was hardly anyone I could have asked for help. I did ask my GP and I asked the local PND clinic for help because I wasn’t coping. The GP dismissed me, and the clinic didn’t have availability. There are several studies about the linkage between perinatal mental health issues and migrant mothers and they suggest that the likelihood of a migrant mother getting postnatal depression is two times higher than if she was in her birth country during the perinatal period. One of the reasons listed in why this is the case was illiteracy of the health system and supports in the “new” country. This stood out to me because I feel like this can easily be overlooked when expat mothers are cared for by health professionals. We don’t know all the ins and outs of this country because we didn’t grow up here!


In my personal story, we came up with the plan of getting an Au Pair and that was helping for a little while. But now looking back, what I also needed was emotional support. Someone to cheer me on and to believe in me, someone who would have held space for me and helped me ground myself again in all the turbulence and chaos that was going on around me and within me. I wish I had looked for a counsellor, I wish I had believed that I deserved the help and support, that I was worth the money even.

Thankfully this has shifted significantly and now “Lisa comes first!”. I will make sure my cup is full enough to be a good parent, wife and friend. I take self-care seriously and spend money on myself whenever I feel like I want or need to. My mindset needed to shift, and I am so thankful that it did. My life has become a lot more aligned with who I truly am. I don’t love the fact that I had to go through a mental health crisis to get here, but I appreciate it.


Did the missing support network play a role in me getting sick? Most definitely, yes. It certainly was not the only reason, but it did contribute to it.

If you lack support, if you need someone to cheer you on and hold space for you, if you need someone to remind you that you are worthy of all the love and support you can get, then please reach out to me. I would love to be there for you.


Go gently,


Lisa



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