Among the globally mobile population, 20 percent of youth, ages 13-18, live with a mental health condition, reports the American Foreign Service Association. The book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by Ruth Van Reken, David Pollock and Michael Pollock, cites unresolved grief as one of the most urgent mental health issues facing TCKs and ATCKs.
I was always trying to be someone I wasn’t. I never knew who I truly was since I made myself fit into my environment based on my perception of others. It messes with your head.”
Van Reken and Pollock write that unresolved grief “comes from recognized and unrecognized losses a person has experienced that he or she has never mourned in a healing way.”
Leaving behind friends, family, pets, homes and places can all be forms of loss for people living in-between culture.
Sources of unresolved grief
Unresolved grief can come from a lack of: awareness, permission to grieve, time, comfort and understanding. Van Reken and Pollock discuss the many benefits of a highly mobile life and how the same mobility “creates emotional and psychological responses” that can weigh the global population down.
Gene Muller, a globally mobile individual, has lived on five continents and reveals the toll constantly changing cultures had on him. As a child, it was difficult for Muller to adapt to social norms and expectations that varied between cultures. “I was always trying to be someone I wasn’t. I never knew who I truly was since I made myself fit into my environment based on my perception of others. It messes with your head.”
For people straddling culture, Muller recommends realizing that it is okay to be yourself and that changing who you are is not required to fit in.
Adam-Jon Aparicio, M.A./M.Ed., is a Mental Health Clinician specializing in multicultural counseling. He explains some of the barriers of supporting mental health for the cross-cultural community. Based on his observations, marginalized communities often are not eager to receive counseling out of fear their experiences and feelings will not be understood. Aparicio states, “therapy can carry stigma associated with broken people” that deters individuals from seeking help.
Therapy can carry stigma associated with broken people.”
Rather than using therapy as a last resort, Aparicio stresses the importance of therapy as a prevention tool. Counseling before you have an event of turmoil can help individuals maintain emotional stability and learn how to be present in daily life. A highly mobile life can cause “distraction and delay sadness” in many people Aparicio says.
Also, Aparicio believes focusing on what is going on in the moment and addressing concerns early keeps your mental health in check.
Focusing on what is going on in the moment and addressing concerns early keeps your mental health in check.
Third Culture Kids outlines the grief cycle formed by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Emotions and behavior of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are ways grief is expressed. “The intensity of this process is related to the intensity of the loss…the more you love something, the greater you will feel its loss,” write Van Reken and Pollock.
Concerned about your mental health? Check out some of the services below specializing in support of cross-cultural populations to get started.