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How to look after your mental health as an international student

There are lots of reasons why an international student might struggle with their mental health. The international student experience can be a thrilling and rewarding adventure. You will meet new people, experience a new way of life and learn in a different way. However, acclimatizing to a new nation, with a new culture, climate, and language can be devastating.

Dealing with the possible culture shock of starting life in a new nation, and living away from your family, friends and familiar care networks can make you feel lonely.

Why is student mental health so essential?

Mental health is a crucial issue for all scholars, not just those schooling overseas. A recent UK study has discovered that 41% of students think their mental health is poor, 69% of which stating that this has gone on for over two years. Even more disturbing is that 39% have felt suicidal.

Poor mental health can develop at any stage of life, but research tells us that university students are especially at risk. There are lots of factors that can make students more prone to mental illness, they include:

  • Financial strain – Lots of students find it difficult to provide their tuition fees and living expenses while at university. The pressure of managing work and studies, or getting into debt, can take a toll on your mental health.
  • Age – Students are usually at the age when people are most at risk of having a mental health condition. About three-quarters of adults living with a mental illness have their first episode before they turn 25.
  • Pressure to succeed – Many students feel under pressure to excel at their studies, and the fear of not succeeding, or disappointing family members can cause a lot of stress, which can result to poor mental health.
  • Lack of support – Moving to university, particularly for foreign students, can mean you are away from your friends and family. Not being around your usual support system can make you feel isolated and more at risk of developing a mental health problem.

However, you might be struggling for a number of other reasons. Just because an obvious reason does not come to mind for why you might be suffering, does not mean you should not seek help and assistance.

What are the signs to look out for?

It is crucial to not forget that mental health is very subjective, and everyone can display entirely different symptoms. Detecting the signs can be tricky, particularly at university when you are going through a lot of change, but here are some signs to look out for:

  • Lacking energy or motivation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Lack of hunger
  • Eating more than normal
  • Unusual mood swings
  • Excessive intake of alcohol or drugs

This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, and just because you do not have some symptoms does not mean you should not seek assistance if you are struggling.

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What university support is available?

Many schools offer a broad range of services designed to assist and support students. These can include:

  • Counseling services – Many schools have trained counselors on campus who students can speak to about any issues they might be having.
  • Mental health workshops – On some campuses, you get the chance to participate in workshops and specialized programs structured to help you work on your mental health.
  • Student mentors – If you are a foreign student, having a compassionate mentor who you can talk to can really be helpful. Not only are the mentors someone to talk to, but they can also assist you to find the help you require.

Resources outside of university

The support provided away from your school will vary based on the nation you are studying in. Nations like the US and UK will have a broad range of services and offerings that can assist you, however, the quality and range of help might not be the same in other nations.

Listed below are some of the services available all over the world:

Student Minds 

Nightline 

Active Minds 

International helplines

Mental health self-care

Some things you can do yourself can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Student Minds recommends creating a Wellbeing Toolkit and provide a number of ideas from students that could help you feel better. They include:

  • Having a good sleep routine
  • Enhance your environment; take time outside or decongest your personal space
  • Participate in something you enjoy like a sport or volunteering
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Staying active
  • Spend some time with friends, or take some time to be alone if you need it

What to do if you’re struggling

For many foreign students, mental health is not something easily discussed. In some cultures, stigma is still attached to having a mental health illness, so it can be particularly hard to admit or even acknowledge that you have a problem.

If you are struggling with your mental health, it is really crucial that you speak to someone at your school. If you do not feel comfortable speaking to another person directly, consider sending an email, or talking to a friend first about how you’re feeling.

University life can be hectic, but it is crucial that you try to take time out to take care of your mental health. If you think something is wrong, or you find yourself struggling, do not be afraid to speak up and seek help.

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