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Lonely in the glamorous city?

Updated 26 May 2017

Dr Rash Bassim of the Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai explains how and why many expats suffer from depression.

Are you living in one of the most glamorous cities in the world with lots of people passing by every day in the street, metro stations, malls, cafés, beaches, parks and offices, yet you feel lonely? Do you feel that your days are swallowed up by work or feel tired of the endless thrive?

“I'm feeling down, lonely or distressed” and “I can’t find someone to talk to” are common statements in the expat vocabulary. Besides having a hard time with acculturation, people newly moving to cities crave their previous social networks and the warmth of a friendly smile or an understanding look from the eyes of a listening friend. The glamour of fancy salaries and a luxurious lifestyle fades away after a while and is never enough to fill the emptiness caused by the absence of social and emotional support of partners, family and friends because these are the things that actually keep us “well” in this world.

However, if these negative feelings persist and you are not able to establish a familiar lifestyle that looks like “you” and build a supportive social network, or if these feelings are hindering you from going on and are negatively affecting your functionality, you may be one of the millions around the world who suffer from depression which is widely reported among expats.

How to recognise depression

  • Feeling down, unhappy or sad most of the time

  • Unable to enjoy your time or feel the pleasure in many things as before

  • Feeling tired or exhausted most of the time irrespective of actual minimal effort being done

  • Having difficulties with your sleep (difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, or waking up early in the morning and unable to sleep again)

  • Change in your eating pattern (overeating or loss of appetite)

  • Becoming irritable most of the time, and easily breaking into tears

  • Difficulty focusing while working or studying, that is affecting your performance

  • Experiencing headaches, muscle tension, heavy breathing, etc. or other body symptoms that your GP has no medical explanation for

  • Feeling worthless, unloved, or that you do not matter to anyone

  • Feeling that you have failed yourself or your loved ones

What to do

If you or anyone you know is experiencing some or all of these symptoms, then help is needed. According to WHO reports, depression is the second disabling disease, just after ischemic heart diseases, and is expected to be number one in 2030.  It has unmeasurable emotional and personal cost, in addition to the economic burden that creates for society. Therefore, recognising or suspecting being depressed requires immediate attention and seeking professional help in order to be able to pull through and reach the other shore safely.

Recent studies have shown that depression is a medical disorder as much as diabetes or hypertension. There are actual changes in the brain chemistry as well as structural changes that are evident in the brain imaging of depressed people. As the brain is the maestro of the body, your emotions, attitudes and behaviours are affected. Meanwhile, biological changes are not the only factors. It takes more than biology to develop a depressive disorder when subjected to various stressful life events – it also often involves early life experiences, coping skills acquired through life, and the way those stressful events are perceived and reacted to.

While this may feel impossible to manage, it only seems impossible if you think that you became depressed as a result of some weak character, or decided not to seek professional help and carry out the job on your own. The good news is, as common and disabling depression can be, it is treatable with the proper psychotherapy.

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