Australians overseas: looking after your mental health

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact everyday life for many Australians living overseas, prioritising mental health and wellbeing has never been more important, particularly for those who want to return home but have not yet been able to.

Due to ongoing restrictions to international flights brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Australians overseas are finding it challenging to return to Australia.

For people who are in this position, prioritising mental health is key.

Jill Newby, a clinical psychologist at the Black Dog Institute and UNSW, explains why.

“Being stranded overseas away from loved ones is bound to have an impact on mental wellbeing. For people in this incredibly difficult situation, it’s natural to feel drained, both physically and mentally,” says Newby.

“Living with ongoing uncertainty and separation from family and friends can cause considerable mental strain. On top of this, it’s natural to be feeling homesick, helpless, stressed, sad, lonely and angry at the situation.”

“It’s also worth noting that people stuck in countries with high infection rates may also be worried about getting the virus and whether they can easily access the vaccine,” she adds.

Taking each day at a time

So, what can people in this situation do to help support their mental health?

“The first thing I’d recommend is to keep on top of the day-to-day things we all need to do to stay mentally and physically healthy at any time. So, eat well, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, exercise, relax, etc. In terms of this specific situation, it’s particularly important to seek social support and keep in touch with people close to you,” says Newby.

“Regularly reach out to family and friends and talk honestly about how you're feeling with them. Connecting to culture and community is also important. This could be through local community groups or via an online forum, the main thing is to stay well connected.”

"It's important to seek social support and keep in touch with people close to you."

Dealing with difficult emotions

Being overseas while wanting to come home may understandably result in feelings of anger and abandonment in some people.

According to Newby, the first thing to do if you’re feeling this way is to acknowledge, accept and label the emotion.

“Accepting these strong feelings as a valid and natural response to the situation is the first step in dealing with them,” she says.

“Once you've acknowledged these emotions and let yourself feel them fully, think about what you can you do to help shift the intensity into something productive and positive. For example, try to focus on what you do have control over and think of ways you can improve your current situation.”

Newby also recommends making sure that your anger doesn’t become all-consuming and toxic.

“Look at ways you can help manage these emotions in a healthy way. Talk to someone you trust, be mindful of the content you consume, and engage in activities that help you feel calm.”

Coping with uncertainty and loss

Not knowing when you’re going to be back in Australia, or when you’ll see your family and friends again, may be causing feelings of loss and grief, and your sadness may feel overwhelming at times.

Perhaps you’re grieving loss of time spent with people you love, or you may have suffered an actual loss of a loved one. Missing milestone moments that you’d otherwise be sharing with people you care about may also be a difficult thing to reconcile.

"Be kind to yourself, open up and seek support."

In terms of coping with feelings of loss and grief, Newby again recommends acknowledging and labelling these feelings, as well as speaking openly with someone you can trust.

“It’s important not to bottle up these feelings. Be kind to yourself, open up and seek support” she says.

Newby also advises against turning to unhealthy habits as a coping mechanism.

Maintaining a positive mindset

Staying positive probably feels like a big ask right now but it can play an important part in helping you get through this difficult chapter in your life.

Newby suggests keeping track of all the positive things you experience each day.

“Being grateful for what you do have will help foster a more positive outlook,” she says.

“Simply write down at least three things you feel grateful for each day. And when you notice your mind slipping towards negative thinking, make a concerted effort to bring your focus back to something more positive.”

“Finally, try not to lose hope. Things will get better – it may just take some time.”

Online self-help resources

The Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) has a wide range of self-help resources for various mental health conditions including health anxiety, worry and rumination, tolerating distress and depression.

Please note that these resources are not a substitute for proper diagnosis or treatment by an appropriate health professional.

Our support services

Beyond Blue’s counselling support service is a national Australian service and is not able to safely support international callers. We know that many Australians abroad are experiencing distressing circumstances, and we’re working hard to find ways to support their mental health.

If you’re an Australian currently overseas, we encourage you to reach out to local services including medical centres or hospitals. Or contact an Australian embassy or consulate in the country where you’re located for guidance finding appropriate support in that country.

The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website may also be able to provide further guidance around issues that might be impacting you.

If you need urgent help or have significant welfare concerns, emergency consular assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305.