The most common mental health conditions cited by expats include depression (13 per cent) and anxiety (11 per cent). However, of those expats who reported mental ill health, it was found that over a quarter (28 per cent) self-diagnosed their condition using the internet.
Given the importance of professional advice when it comes to mental health, AXA said that it was ‘should come as little surprise’ that those who self-diagnosed were less confident in how their condition was being managed. Only 26 per cent of expats who had self-diagnosed felt that their condition was being managed ‘well’ or ‘very well’, compared with 49 per cent of those who had been diagnosed by a healthcare professional.
AXA suggested that the prevalence of internet diagnoses among expats could reflect a lack of understanding or confidence in their local healthcare landscape. They noted that only a third (35 per cent) of expats felt that the public healthcare system in their adopted country provided timely mental health support. Consequently, 59 per cent said that they would look to friends and family for support instead.
Rebecca Freer, Head of Marketing at AXA Global Healthcare, comments: “Working out how a new healthcare system works can be challenging, especially if that support looks much more expensive than at home or if you’re trying to approach it in a foreign language. When the internet can seem to offer fast and credible sources of advice instead, it’s easy to see how it can look an attractive alternative.”
Dr Leena Johns, Chief Health and Wellness Officer atMAXIS Global Benefits Network (an insurance network co-founded by AXA and MetLife) added: “Often when we search the internet to check our symptoms, we’re hoping to be reassured that something we’re experiencing is normal. But what if that reassurance leads us to skip a visit to the doctor when we should be receiving medical attention? Or what if the opposite happens and the things we read online are considerably more serious than we’d like to see? These kinds of results can ultimately be dangerous, as they could make us frightened of hearing bad news and avoid seeing the doctor altogether or have a negative effect on our mental health.”
Dr Leena Johns concludes: “Given the risks around self-diagnosis and misinformation online, multinational employers should consider providing tools and services to help their people have easy access to information and treatment. We’re seeing a large number of employers implement telemedicine, employee assistance programmes and more to ensure their employees have access to high quality healthcare, wherever they are.”
AXA Global Healthcare offers access to fully qualified psychologists to members via its Mind Health service, launched in 2021, which is accessible through its Virtual Doctor platform.