Free counselling offered to help returning Irish emigrants

‘The decision to return can be very stressful for people; they are uprooting themselves’

There are many practical hurdles returning emigrants face when they move back to Ireland - we hear regularly from readers about sky-high car insurance costs, difficulty getting a mortgage, or finding school places for their children, for example - but often the biggest and most unexpected challenge they encounter is the emotional readjustment.

An online survey of 400 recently returned emigrants, carried out by Crosscare Migrant Project in 2017, found that reintegrating into Irish society was more difficult than many expected, with one in five citing it as a "significant" challenge. Some said they had experienced "reverse culture shock", similar to when they first emigrated and had to adjust to a new country and culture abroad.

In an effort to help ease the transition, the Irish Abroad Online Counselling Service (formally called Cabhrú), which has provided free online counselling to Irish emigrants since 2016, has extended its service to people who have recently returned to Ireland from overseas.

Those who have moved back in the past three months can avail of six sessions with a qualified therapist, conducted through VSee, a fully encrypted online communication app designed for health services that ensures client confidentiality. The service is provided by the mental health charity Helplink.

"The decision to return can be very stressful for people as they are once again uprooting themselves and trying to adapt back into a culture that possibly has changed quite a bit since they had to emigrate," says Helplink chief executive Lochlann Scott.

“Things like moving a young family home has also has many issues, even things as simple as getting insurance to drive a car on your return, all these things and more can affect people’s wellbeing and mental health.”

Since launch in 2016, the service has provided almost 1,000 appointments to Irish citizens living in 17 countries worldwide.

The most common issues that arise with clients include loneliness, anxiety and stress, as well as addition issues with alcohol and gambling, and depression.

Helplink is working with other emigrant organisations including Crosscare Migrant Project, the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, and Safe Home Ireland. It received funding for the Irish Abroad Online Counselling Service in the past from the Government's Emigrant Support Programme, the GAA and An Post, but is currently seeking support from new sponsors in order to keep the service going.

For more information on the service, and how to apply whether you are living abroad or back in Ireland, see helplink.ie/iaocs/irish-abroad-online-counselling-service