• Andrew Insley

What should you do if you're suffering from depression in France?

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

This article was originally published on the Local France (www.thelocal.fr).

Many of the foreigners who move to France are making their dreams come true by moving here but it can, for some, turn into a nightmare. 

And while the same can to some degree be said for those moving to any country abroad, one factor that causes many foreigners' dreams to fade is that the romantic image people have of their life in France can be very different to the reality they end up with. 

Difficulties with the language and making friends, which are often linked, financial troubles and the strain moving abroad can put on your relationship with any partner can all affect your mental well-being when you move here. And, of course, there are those who have struggled with depression on and off their whole lives. Many people don't know what to do when they find themselves in this situation or how to go about seeking help to get better.

With that in mind, we asked readers of the Local France (www.thelocal.fr) for their tips on how and where to seek support and particularly if they knew of any help available to people who aren't fluent in French. 

Jonathan Hesford agreed that the language barrier can present a real issue when it comes to getting help. "It's definitely a problem. Non-French speakers have a hard enough time with dentists and general practitioners," he said.  "and when it comes to mental health, language and understanding are far more important. There are psychologues who speak English but it's not common and their ability to help in English is severely limited by their language skills. Other illnesses, such as cancer, have good English-language support groups. I'm not aware of one for mental health. Maybe its time one was created. There is definitely a need as isolation, financial stress, administrative pressures and foreign culture all add to pressure on our mental health."

Clearly the language barrier can present a daunting hurdle for many foreigners in France both in terms of being a barrier to making friends and integrating, as well as seeking help if you find yourself struggling with symptoms of depression which could have been caused by those factors in the first place.  Reader Kate Boyd Coughlan who lives in France suggested a website called Counselling in France (www.counsellinginfrance.com) as a good place to start if you feel like you need to speak to someone. 

Counselling In France offers information about qualified therapists and life coaches who provide a confidential service in an area near you, as well as which languages they speak.

English (and French) Helplines

Some people use helplines that are based in the UK like the Samaritans (www.samaritans.org) and while there is, of course, nothing to stop you calling those if you'd like to speak to someone in English, they may not be as well positioned to advise you on the next course of action if you'd like to seek medical help while living in France.

One of the services available in English but based in France is with us at SOS Help (www.soshelpline.org), and you can call everyday from 3 pm - 11 pm.

Call SoS Help between 3pm-11pm

A volunteer from SoS Help said: “For some it just doesn't turn out to be the great life that they thought they would have". They went on to say "People sell up, move to France with the impression that their French, which maybe they learned in school, will just come back to the them once they have arrived. They think it will be just like at home but with people speaking in a cute accent. But the reality brings a lot of disillusionment.”

Seeking medical help

If you decide that you would like to pursue medical help, you can visit your GP, tell them how you're feeling and ask for a referral to a psychiatre (psychiatrist) or psychologue (psychologist) both of which are commonly referred to as a 'psy' in French. 

Just like other health services in France, psychiatry is partially reimbursed by the French State and some of the rest of the fees may be covered by your top-up insurance (mutuelle).

Once you have a referral, you can find a psychiatrist in your area on Doctolib (www.doctolib.fr) which also helpfully lists which languages they speak. 

Meanwhile, if you see a psychologist (psychologue) they will be able to offer talking therapy but will not be able to prescribe medicine and their services are not always reimbursed by the state like other health services. 

It's important to be aware that getting the referral in the first place so be aware that it may take some perseverance. 

Local reader Laura Vavz pointed out that it is not always a simple thing to get the initial referral. "Getting an understanding and patient generalist is step one. It's not easy going through depression but language barriers adds additional anxiety. I had to change generalists for my depression due to my doctor misdiagnosing me for being homesick"

Another Local reader however had a more positive experiencing, "I got a contact for an English-speaking psychologist from my university, then I got a recommendation to an English-speaking psychiatrist". 

So, if you're studying in France or working for a big company it could be worth your while to find out whether the organisation has its own psychologist who can advise you on what to do next. You can also find lists of psychologists who will come to your home to offer their services.

Remember that you are not alone

It's important to remember that if you are struggling with anxiety or depression in France, you are not alone.  Several readers wrote to us either saying they had been surprised by the troubles they had had when they moved to France or how it was unsurprising just how many people go through them.  "The fact is that if you realise your dream and you then become depressed, it can be much worse as there is no longer something ‘better' to dream of in the future," said Don Lang.

"We all take our heads with us, so any problems are carried along to our new place. Moving doesn't help."

And reader Kate Boyd Coughlan urged people struggling with depression in France to think twice before packing up and returning home. 

"I think the decision to leave or stay will depend on the individual. For example, if you have a strong support network here, with good, supportive friends and family, with none of that back in your home country (for whatever reason) then staying would be preferable."

For more information on support services available to those suffering depression or other mental health issues see the SoS Help community page (www.soshelpline.org/community-and-events). The original article that this blog was sources from can be found here. With thanks to the Local for their permission to reuse.

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