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Relocation blues? You are not alone
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Relocation blues? You are not alone

Shifting to a new city can contribute towards significant distress, leading to the precipitation of symptoms in a person who has the biological vulnerability to depression. Nevertheless, experts say there are ways to overcome this predicament

Understanding relocation depression

Moving to a new place comes with a lot of challenges. Shifting to a new city is accompanied by its own struggles, and there are several things that we need to take care of. Adjusting to a new neighbourhood and moving from a familiar environment to a completely unfamiliar one is a thing that needs to be dealt with care as it may lead to depression, say experts.

Kamna Chhibber, clinical psychologist, head of department, mental health and behavioral sciences, Fortis Healthcare says, “Depression is an illness which can be diagnosed if an individual experiences low moods or persistent sadness, experiences loss of pleasure and lack of interest in previously enjoyable experiences, has sleep and/or appetite related disturbance, tiredness/fatigue, concentration issues, thoughts of worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm continually for two weeks. These should interfere with the person’s ability to function in their occupational, personal and social areas of functioning.”

Can relocation lead to depression?

“Depression is an illness caused due to the imbalance in neurotransmitters. Psychological and social factors can be triggers for its precipitation. Relocation is one fact that can contribute towards significant distress; it can lead to the precipitation of symptoms in a person who has the biological vulnerability to depression,” says Chhibber.

“Relocation can impact a person if he/she is struggling to adjust to the new place, people or workspaces. It can affect people if they are unable to form social connections within the social setting they now occupy. It could also affect the person if the relocation is done under circumstances of duress. Further, if a person does not have adequate support systems or coping mechanisms, they may struggle to adapt to the change.”

This is what happened with Aanandika Sood. She moved from Chandigarh to Kolkata due to her husband’s job and she admits that it was not an easy endeavour. “I felt so out of place. The cultural differences were not easy to adapt to,” she says. “My kid was four years old when I moved to the city. I was not able to make friends and got comfortable only when my daughter started going to school and I started interacting with fellow moms.” She adds that things improved when she started exploring the city with her daughter.

A very prevalent problem

As per the figures of the 2011 census of India, migrants by place of last residence stood at 450 million (45 crores). This is an increase of 45 per cent from the 2001 census.

More recently, the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2020-21 with a sample size of 1,00,344 households found that 4.4 per cent of people moved for employment/ work (to take up employment/ to take up better employment/ business/ proximity to place of work/ transfer). The same report states that the total percentage of migrants accounted for 28.9% (rural and urban India).

In 2023, Preply, an online tutoring and language lessons platform conducted a survey titled ‘The Community Spirit Index: The World’s Friendliest Cities For Non-Natives’ in which 53 cities worldwide were evaluated based on their friendliness towards non-natives. While no Indian city was a part of the “friendly” list, Delhi and Mumbai were included on the “unfriendly” list.

Chhibber shares the case study of one of her patients who had moved to a big city looking for a better life and to support a large family belonging to a small city. She says, “They never realised that a move would involve as much transition and were unprepared for the impact that large changes can have. Despite having a good paying job, they [the patient] found themselves feeling quite lonely and struggling to share their experience with others who surrounded them.”

She highlights, “They hesitated to share their experience with the family back home for the fear that the family members would worry. So they decided that it would be best to keep their head down, work incessantly and not talk about how they felt alone, anxious and preoccupied about maintaining this new life and finding people and a partner. This was making them feel low and sad and created a lot of difficult thoughts which would keep them up at night. They found that they were taking longer at tasks at work and some concerns were being raised by their manager.”

“Thus, they decided to reach out to a mental health professional who worked with them on managing the emotions and thoughts relating to their move, facilitating the adjustment to the new settings and people, and helping them work on building their coping mechanisms and support systems,” says Chhibber.

Akshata Kelkar, a business development associate at Jaro Education, Mumbai, shares her experience of shifting from Mumbai to Bengaluru for her job. “The language barrier was influential. One kind of feels isolated because of that,” she says. She adds that for her, her family was her support system and emphasises that for the sake of a career, one tends to accommodate. However, she points out that her colleagues were very supportive and inclusive.

According to Prof Dipendra Nath Das, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, there are many reasons why a person feels frustrated after moving to a new city. A person usually shifts alone, as shifting with the entire family becomes expensive. He also points out that the living standard, which may not be the same in the new city, could become a cause of frustration.

How to tide over the dilemma

Das emphasises that migration needn’t always be an adversity; it fulfils a mutual need of the migrants as well as the natives. “The migrant gets a work opportunity, and the native gets a resource. Rather than focusing on the problems that come with shifting, the focus should be on the issues it resolves.”

Dr Ankit Gupta, a consultant psychiatrist at InnerPeace Psychiatry Clinic, CR Park, New Delhi, points out that isolation is the major factor in relocation, and this is especially true if a person is from a different culture. He suggests the following ways to deal with this:

  1. Visit social places and events: People should try and attend social events as much as possible. New friendships can turn into a social support system.
  2. Stay in touch with your family back home: Many people visit their hometowns only once a year; visiting more often actually helps. Families should also visit them often, at least in the initial days.
  3. Enquire about accommodation in advance: To avoid stress, people should enquire about the accommodation before moving in.
  4. Participate in office wellness initiatives: Taking part in office wellness initiatives is important because it helps one develop a bond with colleagues. People should not hesitate to ask for help from the HR team.

Chhibber is of the view that for a person having a difficult time transitioning and adapting to the change, it’s important to seek help and support from family, friends, colleagues or mental health professionals. Giving oneself adequate time to transition is important as is the need to keep focusing on the activities that are in one’s control. Recognising that transitions can be difficult is crucial and being patient with the self is imperative.

Takeaways

  • Relocation can impact a person if he/she is struggling to adjust to the new place, people or workspaces. It can affect people if they are unable to form social connections within the social setting they now occupy.
  • People should try and attend social events as much as possible and also stay in touch with their family back home.
  • Taking part in office wellness initiatives could help one develop a bond with others.

Share Your Experience/Comments

3 Responses

  1. I think I experienced it ,when I shifted to Chandigarh from Delhi… Dint know the term then, but it was probably that… Dint have friends, no job , hubby spending all the time in hospital… Got really really upset ??

  2. Very well written.It is true but one learns to adapt if you keep yourself involved in activities which makes u happy.All keeping in touch with your family helps a lot.

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