Taking Care Of Your Mental Health While Relocating As A Highly Skilled Professional

 By Jumoke Eniola Odepe

Picture credit: Tom Leishman from Pexels

Relocation or 'immigration' is not a new trend. 

From pre-modern migration to post Great Atlantic Migration of the late 1840s, human migration has existed for centuries.

In recent years, the migration of highly skilled professionals to western countries has been on the rise. 

Highly skilled professionals are motivated to migrate for reasons ranging from seeking a higher quality of life to economic factors. 

These reasons are often meticulously deliberated before making the move. What is less considered however is how the move might impact mental health.

Research shows that most middle-class skilled immigrants from West African countries such as Nigeria, migrate in search of a better quality of life. Often, they seek better healthcare, education, security and a system that works and less often for economic factors. 

Such a decision is never an easy one for a middle-class skilled professional. They usually uproot themselves from the comfort of the life they are used to and the beauty of living with supportive relatives and move to an unfamiliar destination country.

Let's Use The Story Of Jane To Paint This Picture Properly

Jane Doe is a middle-class, 30-year-old high-flying commercial lawyer in Nigeria. She is married to the love of her life, Tunde, a sought-after cardiothoracic surgeon with over 18 years of practice experience, and they have two children. She has a soaring career and a fantastic job as an in-house counsel in one of the top multinationals in Lagos, Nigeria. Tunde's job is his pride and joy. The Doe family has three live-in domestic helpers, a nanny, a cook and a cleaner. They also have two non-live-in drivers (chauffeur). 

Jane and Tunde's parents, siblings and extended family live in the same city and in close proximity. They gather every other weekend for family time. The parents come in to help the Does occasionally when needed.

Jane has a picture-perfect life. She is surrounded by all the help she needs to chase her soaring career.

The first threat to Jane's life came when she and her young family were robbed by 4 gunmen who broke into their house in the middle of a beautiful Saturday. The armed men spent hours raiding every corner of the house. Tunde made an emergency call to the police response unit during the ordeal. They did not pick up his call.

With Jane and Tunde tied to a bed, their two children fast asleep and no emergency police unit or '911' to the rescue, the armed men had a field day at the Doe's home, wiping it clean of all valuables. 

After 4 straight traumatic hours of raiding and a 2-course meal in Jane's kitchen, the gunmen left. No one in the Doe family was hurt.

Traumatized and losing faith in the system, Jane's family changed homes and moved to a "safer neighbourhood." 

Two years went by. Jane and Tunde welcomed their third child. 

Two weeks after the new birth, another set of armed men invaded their home. This time, after an initial threat by the gunmen to cart away Jane's three young children, they fled with Jane's new company car, injuring her two security guards in the process.

Jane has had enough. 

It did not help that Jane's best friend was recently released from a 3-day kidnapping ordeal after paying an undisclosed ransom. 

Jane concluded that living in Nigeria is a huge threat to her life and that of her family. She saw no end in sight to the security breaches in a country that winks at her plight. 

She then went through the gruelling procedure that most skilled immigrants go through before relocating. Which for Jane was to weigh the sanctity of her life and the security of her family against her soaring career and supportive extended family life. She chose to fight for the more important one.

After months of weighing the pros and cons, Jane and Tunde decided to leave Nigeria for a more secure country. This translates to leaving their comfort, perfect careers, well-paying jobs, helpful parents and extended family. 

Highly Skilled Professionals Migrate For A Range Of Reasons

Like Jane, thousands of middle-class skilled immigrants, choose to leave their home countries for safety, better healthcare, economic reasons and other factors.

The reality and the effects of migration however only dawn when the destination country is reached.

If you are migrating as a highly skilled professional, there is the possibility of a blend of shocking events that may shake your hopes and goals when you land in your destination country, affecting your mental well-being.

It is therefore important to weigh your options properly prior to leaving your home country and be prepared emotionally and mentally for eventualities in your destination country. 

It is also important to research where you can get help when you get to your destination country. Most countries have online and in-person mental health support. Find an example of mental health support here.

What Can Trigger Mental Health Problems?

A mental health trigger is anything that affects your emotional state. They are situations or occurrences that may cause uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as hopelessness, panic, dejection, negative self-talk, defeatism, discouragement or anxiety. 

A trigger is not a size fit all, it varies widely among individuals and situations. If you do not deal with your triggers, they can lead you through a spiral hole of depression, loneliness and lack of self-worth.

For example, a director of a multinational in his home country might get an entry-level position at a local corporate office in his destination country. A doctor in her home country might get a pharmacy cashier position as a survival job in her destination country. A high school teacher in his home country might get a survival job in his destination country as a roadside cleaner or on a lighter note, a chicken catcher like the hilarious story on Twitter that rocked the internet a few years ago. 

Look, let's be factual, there is dignity in labour, however, we know, these dichotomies often affect skilled immigrants' emotional well-being, with many foreign-trained professionals unknowingly losing their sense of self, self-worth, self-esteem and slipping into depression.

Furthermore, an intact family unit might be broken when a parent leaves for a destination country. Children who are used to living close to their grandparents, friends or extended families in their home countries are suddenly moved to a destination country. They might feel the sudden separation from family and friends than we envisage. We all say children adapt fast, right? Maybe wrong. It is important to check in on their feelings as well.

As a highly skilled professional in a new country, you should be aware of stressful situations that might serve as a trigger.

You should be aware of the following:

You Might Have To Do Survival Jobs In Your Destination Country

Survival jobs are jobs that you take in your destination country to keep food on your table while you work your way up to your desired job. This can be very dicey for skilled professionals who are used to being highly placed in corporate environments. For some, survival jobs might not be as easy as it sounds. 

Jane and Tunde needed to do their professional exams before they could practice in their destination country. 

Suddenly, Tunde found himself no longer a qualified cardiothoracic surgeon. Not being able to practice his profession made him feel that his 18 years of practice, pride and joy had been taken away from him. He was also running low on fund reserves brought from Nigeria and needed to put food on the table. He was grateful when he eventually found himself a job as a pharmacist's assistant in a local drug store after job hunting for months. 

Tunde's new boss, a fresh pharmacy graduate who could care less about Tunde's 18 years practice experience, expertise or history treated him with contempt, often being verbally abusive.

Tunde became a caricature of himself. Ego-lost, self-esteem low, he second-guessed his decision to relocate with his family. He barely had enough funds to write any of his many professional exams or to support Jane. 

Jane was not doing any better on her end. 

After a year and eight months of gruelling unsettlement, Tunde slipped into depression. He decided to go back to Nigeria, leaving Jane and the kids.

This is not always the case. However, it is vital to be emotionally prepared for this if it comes up.

You Might Have To Start All Over Or Start At A Lower Job Level

Skilled professionals often struggle with being offered entry-level jobs when they have over 12 years of experience or more.

Be aware that most skilled professionals will have to go through professional exams before they can practice their profession in their destination country. Some of the exams take up to a year while others run into 4 years or more. 

It is important that you prepare emotionally and mentally for this. 

 How are you going to fund the exams? Are you ready emotionally to do survival jobs till you can practice your profession? Do you have transferable skills to explore working in a similar field without going through exams? Can you handle the emotional toll of starting afresh at entry-level and working sometimes under a fresh graduate who would have been your subordinate back in your home country? 

All these reality checks will help maintain a healthy mental balance when you are faced with these realities in your destination country.

You Might Need Extra Help For Your Young Children

If you are relocating with young children, you might need help. 

The likelihood of having family members around to help you like you had in your home country is low. Domestic help such as nannies, cooks and drivers might not be readily available like you are used to in your home country. 

Not having help might weigh heavily on you, causing you physical and emotional distress. This can affect your mental well-being.

Will you be able to afford child care in your destination country? Is there a dependable family or friend already based in your destination country who can help you out? Is there a possibility of having either of your parents come along with you to help?

It is good practice to think through this aspect before relocating.

You Might Get Lonely 

Coming from a family-oriented country like Nigeria with strong family ties and her extended family members a stone's throw from one another, Jane was badly hit when Tunde went back to Nigeria. 

Living in a country where she barely sees her neighbours and saddled with three under-6-year-olds, professional exams and a demanding legal support job where she felt overqualified and under-appreciated,  Jane felt a bite on her her self-esteem, she felt lonely and isolated and nearly went insane with the burden of her new life.

Jane started experiencing episodes of panic attacks,  constant anxiety and an onslaught of depression. 

The connection between Jane's new life and her mental distress is not strange. Isolation and loneliness have been linked to issues such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression and the risk of dementia

If you are feeling lonely, there are resources that can help you in your destination country. It is important that you find those resources and get help. 

A good place to get help is the immigrant services in your destination city. 

Also finding networking opportunities, volunteering opportunities and getting involved in your new community might help.