Are Expatriates at Risk of Developing Mental Health Problems

A joint study by Chestnut Global Partners and the Truman Group has revealed that expatriates are at a higher risk of developing mental health and substance abuse problems than their counterparts in their home countries.

The survey, which used an online, scientifically based survey called the Gain Short Screener (GSS), which was developed by the Research Institute of Chestnut Health Systems, to compare the mental health status of global multi-national expatriate employees with their non-expatriate counterparts who were living and working on U.S. soil. The results revealed that expatriates and their families do experience higher stress levels and that they are more likely to develop mental health problems as a result of living overseas.

According to the survey findings, 50% of those expatriates assessed within the study were 2.5% more likely than their U.S.-based equivalents to develop internalizing problems (such as anxiety and depression). Discussing the results, author Dave Sharar, Ph.D., Managing Director of Chestnut Global Partners, the international employee assistance arm of Chestnut Health Systems commented: “Studies estimate that American expatriates have rates of assignment failure as high as 40%, which often results from stress caused by cultural differences and demanding workloads.

“This study is the first to examine and establish that expatriates and their families do experience higher levels of stress than their U.S. counterparts. As the number of expatriates is expected to increase, our findings underscore the need to design programs and provide services that mitigate the challenges of living and working abroad.”

Adding to this, study co-author Sean D. Truman, Ph.D., LP, director of clinical services at the Truman Group said: “This study suggests that there are meaningful and powerful links between each expat’s internal experience of stress and the ways in which they relate to people in their life. There is an explicit need for programs and services that are comprehensive in scope and sensitive to the personal, interpersonal, and professional dynamics that contribute to the overall wellbeing of expats and their family members.”

Key highlights of the study findings:

  • Three times as many expatriate as U.S.-based workers claimed that they experienced feelings of being trapped/depressed.
  • Twice as many expatriates as U.S.-based workers revealed that they experienced anxiousness or nervousness.

If you’re currently living overseas and are finding life stressful, check out our 7 tips for dealing with the stresses of moving overseas.