By Monica Rix Paxson
One important component of healthcare and well-being for expats in Mexico is social networking. Not only is it a good idea to learn Spanish and make Mexican friends, it can be vitally important that you also have expat friends who speak your native language and who you can count on in emergencies. This is both for your mental health, but also to help you in times when you need medical care.
In Mexico it is expected that family members will accompany you to the hospital, often spending the night with you and providing some level of personal care. It is good, as a foreigner, for you to have friends who would stand-in for your family if you are hospitalized, and for you to do the same for them. If language is a barrier, having a friend who can translate in an emergency could be life saving.
The culture of Mexico is centered on the family. You can expect that when there are holidays—particularly those holidays around the Christmas, Easter and school holidays—virtually all of your Mexican friends will tend to vanish as they celebrate with their extended families, often choosing this season for vacations as well. If you are without expat connections, you can be left very much alone during the holidays. Many expat communities plan parties or other activities at this time to help those of us who might otherwise be alone.
Social isolation can contribute to two medical problems for expats: untreated depression (sometimes leading to suicide), and alcoholism.
It is estimated that suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for expats from the United States in all countries. USA Today’s analysis of State Department statistics — which show only the date and city where a suicide occurred — found that a suicide abroad is reported an average of every two-and-a-half to three days. Every year, Mexico is, by far, the country where more Americans commit suicide than any other. The suicides are typically of young adults and the elderly. Last year, 26 American suicides there were reported to the State Department in Mexico. In reality, American suicides abroad are probably much more frequent. The State Department says many American deaths abroad—regardless of cause—are not reported to it. Of course, there are many reasons for suicide, but for some, particularly for the elderly, social isolation can be a factor.
This is also true for alcoholism, another serious medical problem affecting some expats. One factor may be that the social life in expat communities in some parts of Mexico is based primarily on the activity of hard drinking. Without other options, some expats join in without considering the consequences. Nearly all the large cities in Mexico and those with significant expat populations have regular meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous conducted in English.
Of course, there are better options than making drinking the focus of one’s social life, and there are many expats here who actively engage in charity work, teaching, establishing libraries, and sharing their extensive know-how and experience in a plethora of meaningful ways. Connecting with local people who can provide healthy friendships and a sense of community is important and relatively easy to do, particularly if you connect with other expats: many expats friendships start online. You could begin to do this before you move to Mexico so that by the time you arrive you’ll be well on your way to integrating into a new community quickly, aware of who is who and what opportunities exist to share and contribute.
Monica Rix Paxson is author of the Guide to Social Networking and Expat Groups in Mexico, an eBook available for immediate download containing practical advice about how to develop your personal connections as an expatriate living, working or retiring in Mexico. Monica’s Guide to Medical Care in Mexico is a comprehensive how-to manual for anyone seeking healthcare in Mexico.