A Foreign Wife of a Saudi Speaks Out on Depression


It is not unusual at all for non-Saudis whether in the Kingdom as an expat worker or as a Saudi spouse or as an expat dependent spouse may indeed at one point suffer from depression. Particularly if one comes from a western environment and culture there can be difficulties in adjusting to the more conservative nature of Saudi Arabia. One foreign (western) wife of a Saudi shares candidly about her experiences with depression and offers wise advice from her own experiences:

Assalamu alaykum,

I just want to touch on the topic of depression a little bit.  I’ve lived in the Kingdom 16 years and have experienced bouts of sadness/depression.  Alhamdullilah, I’ve been able to get over them fairly quickly and get on with my life – this without much help or understanding from anyone.

I had post-partum depression after the birth of our fifth and last child; and it wasn’t until I neared the point of a nervous breakdown (well . . . maybe not quite . . .  but I definitely wasn’t feeling that great) that my husband and family finally said to themselves:  “Oh, this lady really does need help.”  Duh!!  Having just had a baby without my mother or family around for support and not having been home for a visit for four years really contributed to my depression.  Yes, I think I was depression_by_vesuviahomesick big time, and the change in my hormones just made my body go berserk.  So I went home by myself for a month and got myself together.  My husband was the one who encouraged me to do this but my in-laws certainly raised their eyebrows.  They made me feel incredibly guilty about leaving behind my 11 month old baby girl.   I came back a totally different person, however, and it was the best thing I had ever done.  After all the sacrifices  I had made over the years, it was about time I thought about myself.

When I was in the midst of my PPD,  one of my husband’s nieces said, “Saudi women don’t get post partum depression.”  I was like, okay, . . . whatever.   Still today I feel a bit embarrassed and disappointed that I didn’t handle  myself better.

Culture shock was at the root of some of my depression in the beginning as well.   I looked forward to experiencing a new culture and was quite excited at first.  However, I most definitely was not prepared for the extent of the cultural dissimilarity I encountered.  I was so involved in the moving process that I did not even think about preparing myself emotionally.

The first few months were exciting and new.  But eventually this blissful feeling wore off.   The exciting elements no longer seemed to compensate for the things I missed about home.  I started to become bitter, resentful, homesick, and depressed.   I don’t really blame my husband or his country – Saudi Arabia is Saudi Arabia and the culture will always be the same.  So I’ve just had to buckle up and accept things as they are.  It would have been nice if my husband’s family had understood a little bit better what I was going through; but, in all honesty, nobody knows what you go through unless they’ve lived far away from home for an extended period of time themselves.

I was incredibly lonely, as well, in the beginning.  Meeting others who were going through the same things as I or who could even speak English was a huge challenge.  Alhamdullilah, all has changed for the better.

But isn’t it funny how the homesickness works both ways.  What I mean is . . . we get excited to visit our family and friends back home; but as they attend to their daily lives and you realize they don’t really care about your photos or stories about life in Saudi, things can get a little depressing.  After a period of time in the States, I always feel a desire to return to Saudi.

So how have I coped?  Well . . . I’ve tried to learn the language to the best of my ability.  I try to focus on the positives.   I keep active.  I keep in touch with my family at home and try not to dwell on the negative aspects of life here in Saudi.  I try not to isolate myself.  I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself to fit in.  I’ve realized I don’t need to change everything about myself to fit in.  I don’t need to give up my identity or culture.  I just need to be myself and not live up to everyone else’s expectations.  I know I was trying to adjust or change too many things all at once, and I had to slow down.

Not being able to cope with living in a foreign country can be a crippling blow to one’s self-esteem.  It can also ruin one’s family life.

I’ve read that most people go through three phases of adjustment.  The first phase is elation and optimism, followed by frustration, depression and confusion, and finally adjustment to the new culture.  How long each phase takes varies from person to person.  Perhaps some of us never reach the third phase.

I went through periods of time where I became stubborn  . . . didn’t want to try and learn the language anymore, didn’t want to play along with the norm, etc.  Why?  Because I was afraid of losing my own culture and identity.  It took a while, but I finally realized that adjusting to a new culture wasn’t going to detract from my own personality.  To be flexible was to be strong.


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