Working abroad with mental health issues
Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster! by Spadey09
So you want to work abroad? Earn your keep, boost your CV, test out teaching or humanitarian work for a living? But there’s one hitch, the kind of hitch that keeps over 1 million people in the UK from working at all: mental illness. But it doesn’t have to be like that; you should never, ever ditch the dream to pander to that serotonin level or that voice or those shakes! Hell, a year abroad can and almost certainly will make you stronger. Here are some tips and observations on working abroad with a mental health issue.
Finding a jobThe first and most important step is: be honest! You don’t need the hassle if, when your job starts, you forget to mention teaching might spark a panic attack, or for some reason you need a lot of time off. Speak to your potential bosses, and research help within the school or company you’ll be working at and, if there’s nothing, widen the search and discover the availability and cost of other options.
Don’t be afraid to push your limits but don’t push them so far you pop! I took on teaching with Social Anxiety Disorder and depression, and ended up getting signed off. Whilst it worked out for the best in the long run, that week was the closest I came to jetting off back to a safe warm bed in rural England and mum’s homemade soup. Look within your abilities! Don’t be ashamed to acknowledge when something will be a bridge too far.
StigmaIf you’re not one who wears their heart on their sleeve this won’t be a worry, but do consider how much stigma one can meet in the UK, and that we can be a model of social progression compared to other bits of Europe and the wider world for those in more exotic places. I worked at a university in Mexico, and reaching out for support was met with a mixture of sympathy, bewilderment and indifference. Research attitudes if you can! It should help you establish whether you’ll be up against anything, if your health does affect your work.
HealthcareSome positions outside the EU may provide social security access or access to a company or university doctor who might be able to help out should you need it for whatever reason, but TYA provides useful information on health care issues.
Planning the basicsDo all you can to secure a flat, and work out the basics and the logistics of where you’ll be living before your job starts. Knowing it’s the no. 12 bus at 8.05am to get you to work and how far it’ll be from your front door a month in advance might seem like madness but it’s one less stress. And if everything's organised, ready and waiting for you when you arrive, then you’re not trotting from place to place and that’s more stress you don’t have to deal with.
I got particularly lucky in that my boss happened to be friends with my landlord, but asking your boss for help will certainly not go amiss in any situation. The worst they can say is that they don’t know, or that they'd advise you not to rent in such and such a neighbourhood. I found the basic logistics horribly stressful to think about before I set out, but at home there’s that network of support for that, which you’ll have to build or go without when you get there.
So deal with as much stress as you can in advance, it’ll make those first few weeks so much easier to survive. Taking weekends away in other parts of the country were a lot of what kept me ‘sane’ while I was gone, but always plan ahead; again, it just takes the stress out, and each little trip you’ll see just how much you can do!