Migrant depression. Why me?

About one year ago I found myself beginning to enjoy living my new life in Stockholm. But… I expected to love it from the very first day! So, what happened to my dream? 

I had dreamt of studying in Stockholm at Karolinska Institutet for more than 4 years, and I just needed to make all the possible and impossible steps towards getting there. I got an SI scholarship which allows me to study here, I got a great place to live from KI housing, and I met the very best class in the world. So, how is it possible to not enjoy it to the fullest? 

Migrant depression

I had never heard about this term. And, I never imagined that it might happen to me! Come on, I’m living my dream and it looks exactly like I planned it. However, I didn’t expect that immigration (even temporary) might be such a heavy stress. Later, I learned that moving to another country can be as traumatizing as a divorce or the loss of a family member. 

When you leave your home, your family, your traditions, weather and even familiar food, it may impact your emotional status. Your new life might be overwhelming and you may find yourself frustrated and sad. 

How to fight this condition? 

I would start, as a true public health professional, by saying that prevention is always better than treatment. 

It may sound like a joke for a newcomer, but building a network is essential. It’s always easier to get along with your country mates who know the culture and speak your language. They probably had the same experience with immigration and can share some tips or just feel and sympathize with your struggles. 

Go back to the roots

Remember that a Master’s program is a long journey that will take 2 years. Sometimes I felt like I’m drowning in assignments and I forgot the initial purpose of doing it. Do you remember your motivation letter when you applied to KI? Would printing it out help you? Or maybe, a list of bullet points attached to the mirror in your bathroom would work?

Run, Forrest, run!

Or do physical activity. Even a promenade in the evening may help you to deal with sleep deprivation. If you can take a walk or do some outdoor training,  when the sun is still shining, that’d be even better. A few rays of sunshine always cheer us up. And the more fit you feel, the better your mood 😉 

Keep yourself busy. 

You might find yourself in a situation when your studies take all of your time and thoughts. Start attending events in the university, there are also plenty of free events in English in the city. Try learning Swedish (see my blog on SFI and link to it here), this might become a fun hobby – to understand what’s written around. You might get a new social group and even new friends. They may help you to unwind from the school routine.

Balance and relax.

Talking about my own experience, I took the previous advice too seriously and didn’t have free time at all. And that’s a common strategy 🙂 Trying to straddle both worlds (or even more) didn’t work out well for me. So, this year I cut off many responsibilities and activities and concentrated on the essential ones. Taking one day completely off, without thinking about studies and work is a priority now. 

Talk about it. 

“Say it, out loud” (Edward Kallen, “Twilight”). It is always better to find someone with resistant ears and help you get rid of your negative emotions. Writing down your thoughts can be a therapy too, if you are not ready to share with a human. In the beginning I always felt ridiculous about putting my thoughts on paper. Later on you get used to it and can check on how your condition has been changing. Which takes us to another point.

Ask for help.

Sweden is known for its high attention to mental health. Therefore, you might start with the student health center right in KI! It’s good to share your thoughts with a professional and maybe be referred to a specialist. I think I learned how to deal with stress about studying only during my second year. And it was nice to talk to a professional about my worries. 

Overall, I’d say that starting my master’s program was one of the best decisions in my life, but the reality hit me hard and I was not completely capable of my own mental state. Now I know how to track the negative thoughts but back then I was not able to realize when I needed help. But there’s a bright side of the moon that’s called “immigration” 😉 (However, I only say so because I haven’t started the statistical analyses if my thesis ha-ha)

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