Mental health can make or break Japan for you.
Mental Health Support Lines –
- Remember that your first line of support can always be your Prefectual Advisors (PAs). PAs are perfect for local support, and can be your first option in a crisis. They’re wonderful and kind, and at least consider them before heeding a secondary resource!
Peer Support Group (PSG): 050-5534-5566
- Run by JETs, for JETs, PSG serves as a listening and support service from 8PM-7AM every day of the week
- PSG is 100% confidential and anonymous. Your name and personal information will not be asked for
- Run by JET volunteers, its purpose is to provide an ear and support when you’re in need. Some possible reasons to call include:
- PSG believes that no problem is too small, so feel free to contact them with whatever you need!
JET Online Counseling Service
This service is specifically for current JET Programme participants and is free and confidential. They offer counseling from trained counselors over Skype and through web mail. To access this service, you must request the login information to access the website from your CO (your CO will not be involved in the counseling process after you receive this information from them).Once you receive the login information, you may access this service through these websites:
- Web mail counseling: https://www.kokoro-soudan.net/en/
- Skype counseling: https://www.fismec.co.jp/hiroba/en/secure/
Professional Counselling Services:
- CLAIR offers subsidies for professional counselling costs incurred by JET participants for 50% of the cost incurred up to 30,000 yen per year per participant. You can find out more information about the Mental Health Counselling Assistance Programme at jetprogramme.org or by contacting a Prefectural Advisor. We respect your privacy and regard all inquiries as confidential unless stated otherwise by you.
- Kumamoto Shinri Counselling Centre (くまもと心理カウンセリングセンター） A Mental Health Clinic in Kumamoto City that offers counselling service. One doctor (Dr. Kazumi Kutsuna) can offer services in English. Appointment is necessary. Appointments can be made over their website (sinrisoudan.sakura.ne.jp), by phone or via fax. She is not a psychiatrist so she can’t prescribe medicine. Address: Japan, 〒860-0805 熊本県熊本市中央区桜町2−37 錦桜町ビル 6F Phone: 096-322-2288
Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL Japan): 03-5774-0992
- Similar to the PSG Line, but operates from 9AM-11PM daily (free).
- Is NOT JET affiliated in any way.
- Long-term and more in-depth counseling available at a cost (03-4550-1146, appointment needed).
Other supports include friends and family back home. Sometimes all you really need is an ear to listen to, and they can be great for that!
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder):
Some of you from the more northern parts of the English-speaking realm may scoff at Kyushu winters (I’m looking at you Canadians, Alaskans, Scottish North Highlanders), but no matter where you’re from, by the time February comes around, not only have you had enough, but your mind’s taken a beating as well. Here are some symptoms of SAD, and some ways to avoid it.
- Loss of energy
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
SAY NO TO SAD!
- Do Physical Exercise. ENDORPHINS FOR THE WIN!
- Get Outside. Ride a bike! Go see friends! Bring your dictionary to a bar and study! Sometimes a change of scene can help (Bonus points if where you’re going is heated)
- Light Therapy: Get a “Light Box.” These aren’t just UV lamps, regular light bulbs, or heat lamps, so make sure you get SAD specific ones. Just 30 minutes a day, usually in the morning, has been shown to help with SAD symptoms.
- Diet. SAY NO TO CONBINI’S! Eat well, cook your own food, and failing that, make sure you keep your supply of fruit and veggies up. You’ll feel better about yourself and your lifestyle.
- Counselling: Professional help can be a good idea, especially as a last resort!
You’ve heard of this baby. It’s a loaded term, and packs the power to make or break your stay in an incredible country. It will hit you, and hopefully this guide will help you roll with the punches and show culture shock you’re not to be messed with!
Culture Shock is a four-stage cycle triggered by difficulty adjusting to a new culture. There’s a trend, but most people go through these different phases a number of times. This may force you to re-examine the assumptions and social behaviors which were once thought absolute, and may throw you off and disorient you.
Knowledge is power, so here goes:
The four stages of Culture Shock
- Initial Euphoria (Honeymoon Period). Anything new is intriguing and exciting:
“AAAAHHHH, LOOK AT ALL THE VENDING MACHINES. MMMM SQUID. GIVE ME DRIED SQUID. ALL THE CHILDREN ARE SOOOOOO FRIENDLY.”
- Irritation and Hostility (Culture Shock). Feel homesick and have a negative attitude towards the host culture:
“Why is everyone staring at me??? They’re all so rude, why can’t they just be normal, like the backwoods Canadian farmers/ West Coast American hippies/ London Metropolitan aristocrats I grew up with.”
- Gradual Adjustment. Start to adjust and the culture seems more familiar:
“The other day I went for udon and rocked out that all-kanji menu like it was my job! I own this city, and I’m going to write a kick-butt blog post as soon as I get back from ikebana practice”
- Adaptation and Biculturalism. Completely adjust to the host culture and may even experience Reverse Culture Shock upon return to home country:
“I think I’m going to apply for citizenship.”
“I can’t believe I’m back in New Zealand Suburbia. Why in the world are the roads so wide? Also, I can’t believe I have been sitting in this restaurant for three minutes and no one has served me. The least they could have done was yell ‘welcome’ at the top of their lungs.”
Signs of Culture Shock
Everyone is affected differently by Culture Shock. Be aware that Culture Shock is not depression, and recognizing Culture Shock is an important step toward dealing with it.
You may experience some of the following
- Free-floating anxiety. Anxious but don’t know why.
- Lack of self-confidence.
- Lack of energy or interest in life.
- Panic attacks.
- Loss of initiative and spontaneity.
- Excessive anger over minor things.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Strong desire to associate with people of your own culture or nationality.
- Excessive amount of time spent isolated, avoiding exposure to the foreign environment.
Coping with Culture Shock
Give it time! If you are experiencing Culture Shock, it does NOT mean that you are doing anything wrong. It is a natural reaction that many people go through.
Try the following to help deal with Culture Shock:
- Eat well.
- Try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or tactical breathing.
- Explore your neighborhood.
- Develop your network of friends here. Don’t isolate yourself.
- Don’t cut yourself off from the Japanese community around you.
- Keep a diary or journal. Write down why you came to Japan, and refer to those points.
- Learn to say “no” to things you don’t want to do and keep some time for yourself.
- If a lot of your trouble is coming from the inability to speak Japanese, study!
- Talk to people. Friends, family, support lines.
A Few Thoughts on Culture Fatigue
This information was presented to us at previous PA conferences, and we wanted to share some of the tastiest bits with all JETs as we thought it was particularly useful during this potentially difficult time of year. It’s also very interesting!
Coming to Japan means you must learn new patterns of behavior and figure out how to navigate social situations. In our home countries we know how to have a conversation and how interactions are supposed to work. We get a small dose of satisfaction, a small buzz, a little psychic boost from an interaction gone well. But in a different country and culture, interactions must be learned. We don’t get those doses of satisfaction that come from a conversation that is “complete” or “whole”, but rather little shocks that are the result of things not going the way we are used to. These shocks accumulate.
Culture fatigue describes the cumulative effect of constantly being confronted with these little shocks. ‘Culture shock’ implies one big jolt, but for most people it’s the small, sometimes even imperceptible aspects of life that build up and cause culture fatigue.
Some common things that can get at people: being compared with past JETs, foreigners; being stared at; getting asked the same questions over and over; smoking and drinking; sexism.
This graph is often used to express the cycles we go through in a different culture:
But in reality it may feel like:
It’s normal to feel crazy at first. Usually over time the severity of the dips and peaks becomes less.
Ideas on Coping
Coping with culture fatigue requires mourning. You lose something by coming to Japan. When you come to a different culture, it’s like going to a circus and looking at yourself in one of those fun mirrors that distort your image. You look at yourself and you don’t recognize yourself. You’ve lost the normal you. People see you differently than you are used to being seen, and you may even see yourself differently. You need to mourn your loss (the loss of family, friends, and your own identity). Just like any time you experience grief, it’s important to acknowledge what you feel and move on. Over time, the mirror image gets more familiar, and hopefully you come to like what you see.
Moving to another culture is a big transition. Think back to other transitions in your life (university, 1st job, etc.) Try drawing a graph with time on one axis and how you felt on the other. Chart out how you felt before the transition to after the transition. Chart about 15 months (3 months before the transition to 1 year after the transition). What patterns do you see? Also, what did you do to cope with challenges of transition? The things that worked in the past are most likely to work for you now.
Adjustment is an intensely personal experience. Often children, when they are taken to another country or culture, revert back to behaviors that they had grown out of (which drives their parents nuts). Similarly, when the social carpet gets pulled out from under our feet, we may revert back to old ways and habits that we struggled to get over. In technical terms this is called ‘regression in the service of the ego.’ A helpful strategy to help with adjustment: write out what about Japan particularly bothers you. Not so you can bash Japan, but because it’s important to know where Japan bothers you. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, how riled up you are or aren’t when you make your list. Instead of thinking ‘Why do they always do that?’ trying thinking ‘Why do I always react like this when they do that?’ Sometimes it helps to pick where not to adjust so you can adjust more fully in other areas. It’s also important to know and accept your personal style. Are you introverted or extroverted? Optimist or pessimist? Do you talk slow or fast in conversation? What do you say to yourself when something good happens? Something bad happens? Do you think through problems or feel them out? Knowing yourself can help you figure out how to cope and adjust. Keep in mind that whatever worked for you before will help you now. Use your experiences as a way to know yourself better and learn what’s important to you.
Here’s another metaphor: We are like a jewel, and culture is like the light. When light comes from a different source or angle, the jewel looks different. Sometimes just a little change makes the jewel shine, and other times it makes it look dull and unimpressive. It’s not the jewel’s or the light’s fault, it’s the result of the interaction. It’s not Japan’s fault, it’s not your fault. It’s the result of the interaction between the two.