Guide to better Mental Health at University
While studying abroad can be an incredibly enriching and enjoyable experience, it can sometimes take its toll. Ignoring your mental health and wellbeing while at university overseas can have negative consequences that you may not have considered. Living abroad comes with a series of unique stressors and challenges, such as academic pressures, being away from your support systems, adapting to a new culture, and the general uncertainty that comes with being in a foreign and thus unfamiliar environment. Here are some of the implications of neglecting your mental health and wellbeing while studying abroad:
- An increase in your anxiety and stress levels: Getting used to a new language, culture, and education system can be a lot to deal with. However, if you are having trouble keeping on top of things, failing to seek help can affect your academic performance and overall quality of life.
- Loneliness and isolation: Being away from your friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. This can make you even more hesitant to throw yourself into social interactions, which can exacerbate these feelings.
- Challenges with cultural adjustment: Studying abroad often means coming face to face with cultural norms and practices that you are not used to. Ignoring your mental health can make it harder to deal with these challenges and can lead to frustrations and misunderstandings.
- Academic impairment: Neglecting your mental health can affect your ability to concentrate, retain information, and perform well academically. Poor mental health may also lead you to procrastinate, hindering your academic progress even further.
- Strain on relationships: Failing to safeguard your mental health can negatively affect your relationships with your peers, roommates, and even tutors, as irritability and mood swings can impact the interactions you have with them.
- Consequences to your physical health: Mental health and physical health are closely intertwined. Neglecting your mental health can lead to changes in appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, and potentially a weakened immune system.
- Missed opportunities: Studying abroad offers a vast range of opportunities for personal growth, skill development, and cultural enrichment. Ignoring your mental health can limit your capacity to engage fully in these experiences.
- Shame and stigma: Some people avoid seeking help for their mental health because of cultural stigma around the issue, or through fear of being seen as weak. This can prolong suffering and is likely to make mental health problems even worse.
- Legal and financial implications: Mental health issues that go untreated may lead to academic failure, visa problems, or even legal issues in your host country.
- Lack of coping skills: Ignoring mental health can prevent you from developing healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stresses and challenges, which can affect your ability to manage difficulties in the future.
- Safety concerns: Not paying attention to your mental health can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as risky behaviour or substance abuse, putting your safety at risk.
- Long-term impact: Mental health issues that go unaddressed can develop into more severe conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders. These can have lasting impacts on your life, even after you return to your home country.
In essence, neglecting your mental health and wellbeing can have a cascading effect on various aspects of your academic success, hindering personal growth, achievements, cultural integration, and future career prospects. To avoid these problems, it is crucial that you prioritize your mental health and wellbeing while studying abroad. This can take the form of seeking support from counselling services on campus, practicing self-care, keeping regular communication with friends and family, taking part in social activities, and looking for professional help when needed. Cultural adjustment, academic challenges, and the overall experience of studying abroad can be managed better when mental health is given the attention it deserves. Making your mental health a priority while studying abroad is essential if you are to have a successful and fulfilling experience.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREPARE?
The right sort of pre-departure preparation plays a significant role in helping you safeguard your mental health while you are studying abroad. It will allow you to foresee challenges, develop ways of coping, and establish a support network, all of which will contribute to a more mentally healthy and positive experience. Here are some strategies to try:
- Cultural and emotional preparation: Learning about your host country’s culture, customs, and norms can help reduce culture shock when you get there. Knowing what to expect emotionally can equip you to handle the challenges of adjusting to a new environment.
- Research and education: Do some research about the education system, expectations, and workload of your host country. Knowing what to expect academically is an effective way of alleviating academic stress and pressure, or at least predicting what your daily life will look like.
- University orientations: A lot of universities roll out pre-departure orientations that offer practical information as well as covering the emotional aspects of studying abroad. These orientations can provide guidance on accessing support services, managing culture shock, and staying mentally healthy.
- Accessing resources: Make yourself aware of the mental health resources available both on-campus and more widely in your host country. This includes counselling services, crisis hotlines, and support groups.
- Building a support network: Before you relocate, try to connect with people who are also studying abroad, at your institution or host country. This network will give you a sense of community during the adjustment period.
- Accessing support systems: Make sure that you maintain regular contact with your friends, family, and mentors back home. A strong support system can be a major source of emotional stability during challenging times.
- Developing coping strategies: To manage stress and anxiety, identify healthy coping strategies, such as exercise, journaling, mindfulness, and creative outlets.
- Setting realistic expectations: Consider the ups and downs of studying abroad to set realistic expectations. This can help you manage disappointments and focus on the positive aspects of the experience.
- Financial planning: Financial stress can impact mental health. Create a budget, and plan for unexpected expenses to reduce financial worries.
- Language skills: If your host country has a different language, try to learn at least some basic phrases before you get there. This will boost your confidence and ease communication.
- Time-management skills: Time management techniques will help you strike a good balance among academic, social, and self-care activities.
- Self-care: Make looking after yourself an integral part of your daily routine through taking regular breaks, doing hobbies, and taking some quiet time to relax and recharge.
- Physical health: To support overall wellbeing, remember the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep.
- Flexibility and resilience: Learn how to embrace uncertainty and develop resilience when facing challenges. Train yourself to view setbacks as learning opportunities.
- Emergency preparations: Make a list of emergency contacts, medical facilities, and safety measures in your host country. Being prepared for unforeseen situations can reduce anxiety.
As can be seen above, there is no doubt that mental health and well-being are critical factors in determining how well humans function. This is particularly so during times of change, with all its potential stress. By making comprehensive pre-departure preparations that address the practical, psychological, and emotional elements of studying abroad, you will empower yourself to proactively manage your mental health, make the most of your experience, and thrive both academically and personally while overseas.
Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023
Author: Susie Gordon