So today I got walking around Mexico City in the morning.
I went to this street food place that I always seem to go to these days because of how great the food is and the variety they have.
But when I showed up at around 8 AM, the lady working there this morning happened to not be ready yet.
And told me she’d be ready in 20 minutes.
So I left to come back later as I decided to take a walk outside.
And simply get into my own head thinking about every little thing that comes to mind.
One of those things happened to be about mental health.
It’s a topic that you sometimes see expats or “digital nomads” bring up in online discussions.
“Does living abroad improve your mental health?”
In part, I think sometimes these other foreigners blow smoke up their ass because sometimes it feels like some of them talk too nicely about how it impacts their mental health.
As if living abroad isn’t going to have any negative repercussions.
Here’s a screenshot of one such conversation.
Though, above everything that came to mind when I got thinking about it today, my conclusion is that it is likely to improve your mental health overall.
But I do see risks to your mental health that come from living abroad also.
Let’s dive into each topic that comes to mind before getting to the final verdict.
The Structure of Work
The first thing that comes to mind right away is the structure of work and how you spend your free time.
As I wrote in this article here, it is extremely easy to literally become a house vegetable if you don’t have much to do.
Not having much to do can stem from not having any major responsibilities basically.
No children, no house and no 9-5 job.
If I’m being honest with you, sometimes I’ve envied the idea of getting a 9-5.
But then I realize that a 9-5 means I actually have to work those specific hours of 9 am to 5 pm.
I don’t like waking up in the morning.
Anyway, the reason why it seems envious, to a degree, is the fact that it keeps your mind preoccupied.
You have a set structure to your day where you are preoccupied and are not isolating yourself at home with too much time on your hands.
Which can be problematic!
On one hand, I like to think that having all this extra free time has made me stronger mentally as I can spend more time reflecting on the past.
You know, some people need days where they can reflect on stuff!
The problem though is when, from my experience, you have way too much free time.
In which then you basically isolate yourself in your apartment all day drinking a shit ton and falling deeply into a very dark depression.
Being honest with you, I’ve had moments like that. A bit better these days right now though.
I haven’t had a drink for almost a month now.
And I have been getting better by going outside more and being more active with the few people I know down here.
And I’ve gotten a lot better so far.
All around, it helps a lot to talk with people.
Which, though it sounds like a bitch thing to say, can be more difficult to do when you spiral down into a very dark depression.
And for someone who is relatively more introverted (despite my love for hooking up), it can be easy to go on days without saying hi to a single person.
Outside of the lady at the OXXO when I need more Oso Negro Vodka.
But, to be fair, I think my case is a little more extreme in terms of the shit I get thinking on about.
I’m not sure really how much of a risk this is for some people but it could be!
I’ve heard a few other expats complain about this also but not many.
So it’s a tough one.
In a way, you can argue that not having this structure can be beneficial to your mental health in all of the free time it gives you.
The lack of stress from having a boss and all that.
With also more free time to do whatever the fuck you want and have a kick ass life.
Assuming you get off your ass and do that anyway.
So I agree entirely!
But it can also send you down a very dark place if you isolate yourself while working from home.
Similar to how you have to be more responsible of your finances when you are self-employed living abroad…
You also have to be more responsible of your free time and how you spend it.
So, in large part, I think this can be a major win for your mental health given the lack of boss, colleagues, responsibility of having to wake up in the morning, no commute, etc…
And having that extra time for reflection is nice.
But just don’t let it consume you.
And, ultimately, this should be a very positive impact on your mental health.
Next, we have money.
Where every expat talks all day about how cheap it is to live down here.
Look, if you aren’t retired with a social security check, you need income obviously.
If I was retired with a social security check from the start, then I’d probably wouldn’t have had as many financial issues trying to pull this off.
But living down here and making it work financially isn’t as easy as it sounds.
It took me a few years to figure it out.
And, without question, had I focused on a career in the US, I’d have a lot more money in the bank account by now.
Still, I have more freedom I guess and all that somehow or at least that’s what expats say.
I do think though that this is similar to the previous topic brought up.
Which is that it heavily depends and can swing both ways in terms of how it impacts your mental health.
Where you are struggling to put food on the table…
Then I’d say your mental health probably isn’t looking very good.
Mine wasn’t the best during that time.
A lot more stress and not very much time outside figuring out in front of my laptop “how the FUCK am I going to put money in my BANK ACCOUNT?!?”
Anyway, I’m at the best point I have ever been financially right now.
So the stress isn’t there.
And, given the lack of boss or colleagues, I’d say the money thing has impacted my mental health nicely right now.
Especially given that low cost of living.
If your cost of living is 500 but your income is 495, I’m going to say your mental health is taking a hit.
If your cost of living is 1,000 but your income is 2,000, then you’re probably in good waters.
Case in point: Yes, the low cost of living helps but don’t forget the other part of the equation – income.
The Fear of Failure
This is an aspect that can really fuck with an expat.
Where they either fear failure or have failed temporarily to live down here.
Consequently, they have to go back home with their tail between their legs to figure out how to make it work so they can come back.
I’ve heard stories of other expats going through this.
As I wrote here, I feared failure once!
Didn’t fail but almost did!
And, from those I have known, it’s apparently not uncommon for expats who failed in their first year or so to hit a major depression and life crisis when they get home.
All around, this will likely make you feel better.
Coming from Iowa where 100 million people die a year from the snow…
Well, it’s nice to have more sun!
Granted, we have a shit ton of sun during the summer so we like our extremes back home…
Funny enough, I actually do miss the snow a little bit.
Mostly because I haven’t experienced snow really for some odd years now.
There’s a part of you that does miss home or at least I do.
Granted, in all seriousness, I think it’s more of a nostalgia thing than a real interest in wanting a real winter.
With enough experience with snow under my belt, I can tell you it gets old after an hour or so.
It looks nice!
Then it gets old.
So I wouldn’t mind an hour of week of snow for a month in Mexico but nothing more than that.
And, in my experience living back home, I always did feel a little bit more depressed during the winters.
It never fails.
So, for me personally, I think the lack of snow and more sun has helped a bit.
I remember when I first arrived to Bolivia years ago…
On my first night living in a city called Cochabamba, I wasn’t too happy.
Mostly because I missed family and friends back home.
It was the start of my time running around South America basically and I knew I was going to be away for a bit.
Still, I got over it.
I looked at myself in the mirror and said sternly “Stop being such a pussy ass bitch!”
Then my reflection reached out and punched me in the jaw.
“That’s right fool! Enjoy yourself! You’re in SUDAMERICA!” my reflection said.
“Yes sir!” I wept.
In all seriousness, I did just that.
And had a great fucking time.
Made new friends!
Still, there’s something to it at first where you miss folks back home.
Well, you can’t ever not miss your family home can you?
The friends disappear slowly as you get new ones, I suppose.
With a few still in your life whenever your back home.
And the family?
Well, if you stick around long enough down here, you might start your own!
You’ll still miss the one you got back home anyway.
So, in a way, I kinda see this as a negative but I think you learn to deal with it appropriately.
Some handle it easier than others anyway.
As your family back home will have to as well as they miss you.
Don’t forget that either.
I’ve never done therapy.
Thought about it once on a night laying in my bed alone watching some random movie like Goodfellas here for the 50th time with vodka in hand…
Anyway, when I considered it, I saw therapists down in Mexico City for like 30 bucks an hour?
I have no idea how much it costs in the US but I know my sister does.
If I remember right, I think she paid like 200 an hour or some shit?
So it sure seems cheaper down here.
Let’s go with that 200 number.
If she went once a week…
I could have one for every fucking day!
Be homie with my therapist.
“Yo whats up homie? You down for another day of hanging out? I got your 30 dollars RIGHT HERE BRO!”
So, in a way, I guess this aspect of living in Latin America can make your mental health improve.
It’s cheaper to get help if you need it I guess.
Assuming you speak Spanish anyway since I imagine the cheaper therapists don’t know English.
And, obviously, the cost depends on the country you are in.
But you get the idea.
To be fair, this wasn’t really my idea to mention this.
But in the comment section of that Facebook thread I cited above, someone said it helps because they can avoid politics.
I guess this is for the political autists out there.
Anyway, reminds me of this article I wrote here of foreigners escaping to Latin America to avoid politics back home that they disagree with.
If politics upsets you that much, I guess it helps a bit to avoid it by coming down here.
Easier to ignore the local politics also if you don’t speak Spanish and don’t give a fuck about the local politicians (even if they have more liberal or conservative views than the ones who hate back home).
Fear of Insecurity
Next, we have this great comment here.
Speaking as a guy, I can’t talk about what it is like to travel as a woman.
Though I can say, at least in Latin America, that it is generally speaking less safe down here than small town Ohio or something.
Still, I don’t think the insecurity down here has really impacted my mental health in anyway.
In some sense, I actually feel safer down here than back home for reasons.
Anyway, I can say that I have felt an uncomfortable feeling seeing cops at night in Latin America.
Ever since I got robbed, I don’t trust them as much and get suspicious seeing a cop vehicle nearby.
But I don’t think that has any relevance to my mental health.
For others, facing moments of danger or extorsion or whatever might have a worse impact on you mentally.
Finally, we have this aspect to it all.
We all know what I mean.
Gringos who move to Latin America to “escape” something.
Similar to what you see in this same comment again saying how the author has to “deal with all of the mental problems I had while at home.”
Speaking from experience, I wouldn’t say I ever tried to escape anything by moving to Latin America…
Though, as I wrote in other articles, I did move to Ohio in large part because I wanted to get away from stuff at home that is a very private matter.
Anyway, I ended up in Latin America anyhow because of circumstances regarding travel opportunities and the rest is history.
Have I escaped anything?
As she puts it above, you don’t escape it.
And, as I wrote much earlier in this article, it sticks with you and can be deadly with too much free time in your hands.
Stuck all day drinking vodka and isolating yourself.
But, as the author above puts it, living abroad can be wonderful in terms of giving you more free time to develop healthy habits to deal with whatever bothers you.
Having said all of that…
If we are being honest…
Issues like sexual assault are not really the issues that most people think of when they think of a “gringo expat escaping.”
Most people think of the “loser back home” idea where said gringo couldn’t get laid or a good job back home.
Thus, they escaped.
Look, as I wrote here, I don’t necessarily consider these guys to be losers.
Granted, I guess you could argue that they might’ve been back home.
At least from a dating sense – yeah, that’s noticeable among some folks down here.
Work wise? I’d disagree here.
Granted, it depends heavily but I almost feel like getting a good job back home is easier than being self-employed making money online.
But given the low cost of living, it could work out better for you outside your home country.
Depends heavily on your circumstances.
Either way, I’m not going to judge these folks and call them losers.
If they are genuinely happier abroad because of strictly better dating or work opportunities, then great for them.
Not my problem.
Granted, if your only reason to live down here is specifically to chase tail, then I’d argue that, in the long run, it is not likely to work out for you.
But if you are happier now because of that, then great.
Do what’s best for you.
And, from what I have seen among other guys who are down here because of that, many of them do seem happier!
So, sticking to the topic, this form of “escape” does seem to make some folks happier.
If your escape is on a more serious and darker topic though like said before…
Well, like I said, I know that it can be easy to fall into a dark place because of that past…
But, like that comment said, it can also be much easier to improve your mental health and work with it easier abroad than back home if you develop the healthy habits with all your extra free time.
Finally, we have the effect of being the outsider in Latin America.
Granted, this can be mitigated to a degree by making friends with other gringos who are like you.
Many do that.
Though said gringos, in most cases, do go back home and you’ll miss your friends eventually.
And dealing with the locals in the variety of circumstances that come up…
Well, the feeling of an outsider can impact someone negatively.
You have to learn to get over it.
Embrace the fact you are an outsider and don’t feel the need to be like a local but also adjust to the local culture in whatever healthy ways you can.
Anyway, the other aspect to the “outside” effect is when you are a racial minority.
I do think that can have a negative effect on you overall mentally.
Though, at times, being white can mean being treated more nicely down here.
On the other hand, you also have folks looking to fuck you over because you are a white foreigner and seen as an easy target.
The cops who want to extort you, the panhandler looking to harass you for money, some scammer and whatever else.
Anyway, it’s been my experience that being a racial minority where seemingly no other white people exist can be the worst.
It’s tolerable to be a racial minority as a white person though in areas where just enough white people exist (white locals especially) in which you don’t feel like an alien from Mars.
As long I don’t feel like an alien from Mars, it’ll be fine.
Probably why I haven’t settled for living in a small town in South Korea or something.
Anyway, let’s wrap this up!
So what’s the consensus?
Overall, I’d say that, for some people, living abroad in Latin America can be worse on your mental health if they can’t adjust to life down here.
However, assuming they can adjust to life down here, there’s a few other key points to take away.
First, you aren’t going to escape whatever problems you had back home. It might be easier to come to terms or handle those problems down here….
But you’ll never escape them entirely.
Second, for me personally, the biggest issues have been the issue of Structure and Money.
The money issue is solved entirely.
It doesn’t bother me anymore.
I’m doing great financially (great for me anyway).
It did suck major ass though when I was struggling!
So my mental health wasn’t as strong then but it’s cool now on that front.
Nowadays, it’s more of the structure that I’m working on.
Which is ironic because, when I struggled with making money, I had lots of structure!
What did my structure look like?
10 hour days in front of a laptop.
Sleep for 6.
The rest for hanging out with a girlfriend at the time.
That was it basically.
Nowadays, because the money is rolling in easily and my bank account isn’t $12.37 anymore..
It’s been a lot easier to have more free time.
But more free time has been in a dark place the last some odd months drinking a lot and thinking about shit alone.
Though, like I said, I’m getting better at it.
And, as I said, I really think that the lack of structure can actually be a huge boost to your mental health if you, as that one chick said, develop healthy habits.
Anyway, my final verdict is that, for most people, including myself, living abroad in Latin America can be helpful to your mental health.
Especially, and most importantly, if you do it right.
Well, that’s all I got to say.
Enjoy this video also of the struggles some expats can face when living abroad (in this case in a country like China).
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Thanks for reading.