Student Mental Health & Well-Being

 Photo by Lisa from Pexels

Summary

A key aspect of Education Abroad is the experience of adapting to another culture. The cultural immersion process requires psychological flexibility in the face of different customs, beliefs, and living conditions. These new situations may trigger culture shock while studying abroad, marked by symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, homesickness, and difficulty eating or sleeping, to name a few. The adjustment process, with all its ups and downs,  can be an overwhelming experience for many.  Sometimes, these changes can trigger changes in emotional and mental health and can exacerbate preexisting health conditions.

You are encouraged to seek assistance if you need mental health support or have any questions at all. Views, cultural attitudes and beliefs regarding mental health vary greatly around the world, as do the types of resources that are available. Some host countries have a broad range of services, including access to English-speaking or Western-trained providers, while others have more limited options.

We have compiled a list of resources and information to assist you in your exploration for the right Education Abroad program. We also have provided these resources to ensure you can make an informed decision and navigate concerns and considerations.

Information was resourced and adapted from: Ryerson University- Go Abroad pageDiversity Abroad, and Go Overseas page. 

  • What is my study abroad destination's cultural attitude towards individuals with mental health issues?
  • In what ways should I prepare to adjust to living in a foreign country? (i.e., housing, food, culture, language, healthcare, etc.)
  • How do I care for my mental and physical health? Can I incorporate these routines into life abroad?
  • What activities nurture my mental health? Can I maintain these practices while abroad?
  • Do I have specific coping mechanisms that will assist me when I am abroad?
  • Do I have access to the medications I need abroad? If I need to bring them with me, what is my insurance policy on the amount of allowed medication? Do I have the support I need to monitor my medications?
  • Will I need to access therapy abroad? If I use medical/psychological resources at my home institution will I utilize those resources abroad? Does the institution I am travelling to offer these resources? What is the financial cost of these resources?
  • What barriers might I encounter (both in planning to go abroad, and while abroad), and how will I overcome them? What support do I need to help overcome these barriers?

Medical tips:

  • If you take prescriptions, ensure that you have enough for the duration of your stay
  • All medication should be stored in their original containers with labels attached and visible
  • Carry a letter from your physician that describes the medication
  • Carry all essential medications in your carry on
  • Ensure your medication is legal in your destination country
  • Research how to access medical care in the host country that might be specific to your needs
  • Communicate any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns to your Travel Medical Insurance provider to ensure appropriate coverage for your time abroad

 

How to Manage Mental Health Abroad (tips):

  • Plan and prioritize: Having a plan in place eliminates unnecessary stress, making your time abroad the exciting experience it should be. Review ‘Questions to consider when preparing to study abroad.’ By reflecting on the aspects of your day-to-day life that bring you a sense of comfort and stability, you can confidently decide which part of the world is the best fit for you.
  • Know your limits: Fear of missing out is a common concern in nearly any study abroad experience. With new people, places and activities seeking your attention, proper self-care often gets placed on the back burner. While it’s important to immerse yourself, knowing when to say “no” is key to avoiding burnout and feeling overwhelmed. Whether it’s reading a book, trying mindfulness or practicing a hobby, schedule some me-time in your week to stay refreshed and relaxed.  
  • Embrace cultural differences: Although researching before you travel is an important pre-departure step, remember that things will inevitably be different than home — and different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Being open-minded and going with the flow will help you feel less out of place in your new surroundings. Making local friends, attending a cultural event, joining an activity or team, eating traditional food or taking public transit are a few simple ways to start living like a local while fully appreciating what your new culture has to offer.
  • Find or Build A Community: Depending on your current position abroad (student, intern, or otherwise), you may start to experience a bubble effect that may not be a true reflection of daily life around you. Participating in local organizations enriches your experience, improves your cultural awareness and language ability, and provides you with a completely new set of friends and community that can provide you with alternative perspectives and connections
  • Create a self-care plan: Speak to the university councilor or your councilor to develop a self-care plan. This could consist of regular calls with family and friends back home, weekly journaling and self-reflection, and other techniques to take care of your mental health. You could also consider creating a plan that you could follow in an emergency, including numbers to call and people within your program in your home community and host community that you could talk to about steps to take to make yourself feel safe.

 

Tips for Finding Mental Health Treatment Abroad:

If you find yourself experiencing symptoms and are ready to find help there are quite a few options open to you. First and foremost, your school, workplace, or study abroad program usually provides extensive international health care benefits, including coverage for mental health services. However, it is important to consider that these hospitals, while able to provide a high level of care, are subject to local laws and restrictions, and are sometimes less able to provide the care or medication that you need. It is important to note that some countries have different views on mental health and depression.

If you are studying abroad at a local university, mental health centers can sometimes be found on campus for an affordable price with professionally trained visiting and/or local professors.

If mental health resources are difficult to find in English, consider online therapy options. Now more than ever people are using online versions of counselling and therapy to assist them with their mental health issues. If you need to wait or are having trouble finding care, try to take care of yourself in the interim and reach out to your support network. It’s important to give yourself extra time, without judgment or self-blame, to do things that may have been simpler to complete at home. Creating a routine, sometimes detailed to the point of having certain playlists for certain times of day can also help in building self-confidence and assurance until you gain the strength needed to embark on bigger adventures and projects. Navigating mental health is a continuous and rocky battle that can be temporary or long-term, but the best thing you can do is recognize your symptoms and don’t be too afraid to seek help.

ServiceContact InformationAbout
Vancouver Island Crisis Line1-888-494-3888 24/7 Support
Crisis Chat VI CrisisText (250-800-3806) 

6-10 pm, 7 days a week

First Nations & Inuit helpline & chat1-855-242-331024-7, culturally competent counsellors, services in English, French, Ojibway, Cree, & Inuktitut