Guarding against Depression

by Cherry Hart

What can TCAs (Third Culture Adults) do to guard against depression?

We’ve been so lucky to live around the world! We’ve been exposed to so many different experiences that others can only dream to see. So why are TCAs at an increased risk for suicide and depression?

It is important to know that a lot of change or transition can contribute to depression. Knowing about it ahead of time means we can be on the lookout. SO…here’s what to look for!

Symptoms of depression

  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions

  • fatigue and decreased energy

  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness

  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism

  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping

  • irritability, restlessness

  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable

  • overeating or appetite loss

  • persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

  • persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings

  • thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

If you experience any 5 or more of these symptoms on a regular basis for a period of more than two weeks, chances are overwhelming that you are depressed. Don’t despair! Help is on the way!

The Fabulous Four: Everyday strategies to facilitate emotional health

1. Eat nutritious food

Nutrient-rich food arms your body with the building blocks it needs to preserve physical and emotional health. Emotions are regulated by brain chemistry. Those brain chemicals are built with the nutrients we feed our bodies. Returned missionaries find it hard to eat well. Restaurant food we’ve been missing is often calorie- and fat-dense, and nutrition-sparse. Good, healthy fresh fruit and vegetables are some of the most expensive grocery items in the U.S. Also, favorite family recipes from overseas just don’t taste the same! It is easy and cheap to fill up on bread. However, along with good, whole grain bread, it is necessary to include fruits and vegetables every day. Eat from salad bars at restaurants when possible.

2. Get sufficient sleep

Our brain chemicals are built during sleep. Adequate sleep can provide our bodies with the therapeutic power of “re-creation” and repair. Sleeping in a new environment can be challenging. Shut out any light with heavy drapes or other material. This also muffles sounds that may disturb healthy sleep patterns. Most importantly, set aside time for at least 8 hours of undisturbed sleep. This takes planning and commitment, but it is worth it. Remember, you are arming yourself for the “long haul”.

3. Get exercise

Walking is often the most common means of transport in countries outside of the United States. In many cities, bus travel is the norm. When living in the States, TCAs who are used to walking everywhere find themselves sitting around. Intentional exercise gives your brain the opportunity to release endorphins that will help to give you a brighter, more hopeful perspective on life in general, as well as speed up the process of metabolizing those nutrient-rich foods you’ve been so careful about eating.

4. Meaningful interaction

It is important that each day includes some sort of meaningful conversation. This includes more than short exchanges with grocery store clerks or cafeteria staff. Meeting new people, joinging a home Bible study group, or getting to know the people who live in your neighborhood describes this type of emotionally helpful interaction. Latest neuroscience research (Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul, 2010) has revealed that meaningful interaction with a person who really “knows” you can change your brain! This interaction is comprised of more than an exchange of words. It includes a sense that your true inner self is being understood and “known” by another. If this type of interaction is not possible where you are, Skype provides an opportunity for ATCKs and TCAs (Third Culture Adults) to talk deeply with a dear friend, even though they are far away.

What if I have the symptoms of depression?

1. First, introduce the Fabulous Four into your life immediately. Try to follow these guidelines without wavering for 3 to 4 weeks. If you are starting to feel more like yourself again, you have successfully warded off depression. However, keep a keen eye on yourself and pay attention to feedback from others. Often sufferers of depression do not realize how they are behaving. Others sometimes observe irritability, lack of concentration, a general sadness, or other symptoms that the sufferer does not perceive in him/herself.

2. If after 3 or 4 weeks you have not seen a marked change in the way you are feeling, consult a doctor. Depression does not fix itself. It does not go away by itself. If it is the result of insufficient neurotransmitter absorption in the brain, you will need medical help. This is not any different from a person with diminished thyroid function obtaining a thyroxin prescription. In Christian circles, we have somehow tied depression to a lack of faith. Nothing could be further from the truth! If caught early, medication is not necessary for an extended length of time. ACT NOW!

3. Talk honestly with someone you trust about how you are feeling. It is helpful to have the help of a counselor who can assist you as you negotiate the difficulties of adjustment and the challenges that you face daily.

Remember that InterMission members are here for you! Just contact us and we will set up a time to Skype with you.



American Psychiatric Association, (2000). Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Arlington, VA.

Thompson, C. (2010). Anatomy of the soul, Nunn Communications, Carrollton, TX.