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Feeling depressed? Tips for expats in Singapore

Think back to the time before you were an expat. For some of us, it may have only been a few months, while for others it feels like a far away memory. Do you remember when you first moved overseas? The wonder and excitement of a new city, culture, food, people, language, and even job is often enough to get even the most excited expat to exclaim how much they love their new home.

The thing is, over time this excitement and awe starts to wear off. Food that was once exotic becomes “meh” while the pressures of both work and finding new friends and a social life are often enough to make many consider why they even left their home in the first place. One starts to miss family, friends, lifestyle, etc. Heck, even the restaurant that serves mediocre coffee and doughnuts you never could bring yourself to eat becomes something you think of with fondness, leaving your current home to feel gloomy and possibly even boring. You may even find it hard to get the motivation to do anything, or just sometimes feel like packing it in and going home.

Speaking to other expats and even locals here in Singapore and they will lament with you, some may suggest that you are merely homesick and that you will get over it. But what if these feelings aren’t homesickness? As an expat, the lifestyle you lead could put you at higher risk of mental health issues, more specifically depression.


According to a survey conducted by the Singapore National Mental Health organization, the lifetime prevalence of depression in Singapore adults is around 6.3%. This means that 6.3% of the population in Singapore will suffer from depression at least once in their life. Combine this with findings from SingHealth that estimate the annual prevalence of depression at 0.80-5.8% and it is easy to see that in a city of nearly 7 million, over 400,000 of whom are foreign work permit holders (mostly made up of expats) the chances of an expat or their family being depressed is quite high.

The stigma of depression in Singapore
Despite the fact that the government here in Singapore takes depression seriously, there is still a large stigma associated with mental health. In a report on mental health in Singapore, published by the Ministry of Health in 2012, it was found that only 50% of individuals who were found to have depression were actually seeking treatment, while an estimated 30-50% of cases in medical and primary care settings are not detected.

A large part of this is due to the fact that many people are simply unaware of the signs and symptoms of depression, or they think that it is not serious and will simply “go away’ if ignored. The fact of the matter is, depression is a serious mental health issue that is also highly treatable.

Recognising the common signs of depression
The first step to overcoming depression is to be able to recognise the common symptoms associated with it. We have found that the Health Promotion Board here in Singapore has a great article with common ways to recognise depression including:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Checkout the full list on the board’s website here. Also, be sure to take a look at the Institute of Mental Health’s website for even more information.


Coping with depression as an expat
While almost every website gives general information on how to cope with depression, few include expats. But here are six tips that others in the expat community have passed along to help cope.

Do read the various general websites with information on how to cope
The government’s sites, along with private medical practices, do offer a lot of great information. For example, many sites recommend laying off the booze, getting more sleep, and exercising more. While this is hard for many of us to do, science has shown that alcohol, sleep deprivation, and lethargy all can exacerbate the symptoms of depression.

Seek out some comforts of home
Sometimes a simple meal from home, or hanging out with people from your country can be enough to boost your mood. This positive mental stimulation can really help you deal with any sadness you may be facing.

Bitching is OK
As an expat, you will likely find that small things like how slowly people walk on a Sunday, or how people queue, etc. can quickly drive you crazy. If you don’t vent, this could cause negative emotions to fester and multiple which could make any depression even worse. While not OK to do in public, it is OK to complain in private with friends, but don’t stop there. Instead, turn the thing that drives you nuts into a joke. By looking at it in a more positive light you will often find it easier to deal with the every-day.

Plan something to look forward to
While there is always something going on in Singapore, sometimes it will feel like you just need to get away from it all. As an expat in Singapore you are perfectly situated to do just that. Planning a getaway can often be a great way to deal with any negative pressures as it gives you a goal to work towards, and something to take your mind off of the current situation.

Skype dates!
As an expat, there is a good chance that you are thousands of miles away from your friends and family, which can lead to a feeling of loneliness and possibly sadness. One way around this is to schedule calls with friends and family to catch up and talk. If you had a great friend back home who always seemed to help you feel better, then don’t be afraid to call them. After all, while you are a long way from home, modern technology makes it easy to communicate.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help
If you find that you still feel depressed, it would also be a good idea to seek professional help. Be it a counselor, or doctor, it can be comforting to help talk about your feelings and learn if there are ways modern medicine can help you feel better.

Don’t forget about your health insurance
Anyone who has seen a medical professional here in Singapore will immediately know that it’s not always cheap as chips. Combine this with the fact that some health insurance plans simply don’t cover mental health issues and the price of treatment can lead to some forgoing treatment – something we strongly recommend against.

We recommend talking with a company like Pacific Prime Singapore, who specialise in expat health insurance. Their expert, and expat, staff can help find a plan that not only covers mental health, but also explain any stumbling blocks you may face regarding claim limitations. Contact them today to learn how they can help.