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  • Writer's picturefrederique STREF

Survey analysis of French expatriates living in NZ during the Covid situation

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

As a counsellor and therapist my role is usually to listen, but today I speak. Thank you for your participation in our recent survey regarding the experiences of French migrants living in New Zealand during the times of COVID-19.

The whole of New Zealand’s French migrant population is affected by NZ’s COVID mitigating travel restrictions. While this article does not dispute the necessity of these restrictions or their importance in respect of protecting the health of the New Zealand population, it is worthy to examine the effects of these restrictions on other important aspects of our wellbeing.

Our survey findings show that 50%, of French NZ residents feel that to leave the country would have a radical effect on their life. This is because the return to NZ fore these French migrants would border closure rules. For these people it would entail a move to another country, likely loss of job, among many other significant life changes. For majority of the remaining 50% the avoidance of such disruptive and momentous changes remains a challenging experience with long term psychological, personal and financial costs.

How to make a decision with the option of binary choices with such painful consequences? Of our study participants, 71% have not seen their family and loved ones for two years or more. The remainder have endured the same separations for at least 18 months.

Significant happy family events such as births and marriages have been missed by 78% of respondents. Celebrations with family are important memories, anecdotes and experiences that are universally part of the family experience.

''do you remember at Pierre's wedding'', ''it was at Paul's birth'', or ''when Jacques finished his studies''...

These events in our circle of family and friends are of capital importance and are synonymous with reunions, moments shared between parents and their children, grandparents and their grandchildren, but also between cousins... These celebrations allow us to reinforce the solidity of emotional links, and prevent weakening of social ties. The rituals of reunion, of union, help to strengthen the links and solidarity between the generations.

Furthermore, significant times of mourning and loss were missed by 22%. These participants were unable to return home in time to accompany a loved one at the end of life or to attend the funeral and periods of hardship in life. It is difficult to face up to the reality of death when a relative is in the final phase of life. Do we need to remind ourselves of the irreplaceable nature of intergenerational relationships?

The parent-child relationship when death is approaching is important, it is a reciprocal relationship and the strengthening of ties is manifested during a time of sharing of exchanged words. This is a fundamental exchange of transmission where the past, present and future are linked. Since the dawn of time, human beings, whatever the civilisation, have organised rituals of gathering around the deceased. (ref article on mourning published previously). Attending a funeral is often a first step in some way to begin the work of mourning because it confronts reality: observing and experiencing on the spot the sadness of some, the indifference of others, but in all cases it concretely marks a stage in this process.

I am therefore unsurprised by the findings that the vast majority of the French population residing in NZ are suffering from one or more symptoms of depression - constant weariness 32%, exacerbated susceptibility 26%, general apathy 21%, sleep disorders, overactivity, exhaustion, and addictive behavioural disorders such as alcohol consumption, food consumption or shopping 43%. Because yes, we are in a prison, a gilded one perhaps for 48%, but a prison nonetheless.

Then important questions arise which we would like to answer, to make decisions that maintain the illusion of control of our lives. We consider making drastic changes such as returning to our country of origin for 55%, our jobs, our careers 30%, or relationships 6%.

The very high level of stress that we have been subjected for months leads our bodies to revert to biological survival modes that demands additional energy and drains our nervous system.

The first lockdown of 2020 fundamentally interrupted our daily lives. It created stress that was first acute, then chronic because it has disturbed́ our organisations in a lasting way. It has disrupted our work habits, our social interactions and our leisure activities. Everyone has had to adapt to new constraints and these changes have already had a lasting impact on our well-being.

For several years now, we have all integrated the term "trauma" into our language to refer to a sudden, violent, shocking event that puts us in a state of stupefaction (car accident, illness, redundancy, divorce, moving house... ) and health professionals have been trained to intervene in the event of a crisis, either immediately, or progressively over the medium and long term.

What has been under acknowledged is the trauma that arises through experiences that are less readily identified events such as unhealthy relationships, workplaces or ongoing lifestyle changes such as those we have endured since COVID-19 imposed itself on our world.

It becomes necessary to find strategies to mitigate the mental burden of these measures. It is not easy to put one's thoughts into words by reactivating the elements of one's past. But, little by little, by going back to what makes traces, by hearing oneself say, other paths take shape. Then we feel it, we experience it: language, which alienates us, gradually gives way to the word that liberates.

The good news is there are things that we can do to endure and grow through this experience. We know that physical and social activities are excellent ways of building psychological and emotional resilience. Take up a sport, join a cultural group (even if only online) or seek out professional support by way of a psychologist, a counsellor or even a support group. Yes, we are all suffering through this time of unprecedented imposition on our former lives.

Bravo to those of us acting or reacting while we still have the strength. Nostalgia, melancholy, despair take hold in a subtle ways that we imagine will pass, that we underestimate. The time is always right to recognise this and to act. It is not the time for trivialising your own experiences but to reach out and take action in defence of your emotional wellbeing. Also, the better that you care for your own wellbeing the better equipped you are to support the wellbeing of your loved ones and your community as a whole.

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