Mental Health and International Students

Leaving your comfort zone can take an emotional toll on anyone, but it can be especially trying for international students. They are faced with a unique set of challenges, like adapting to the US, homesickness, language/cultural barriers, visa status issues, financial concerns and general pressure from family to be successful.

Mental health advocates, institutions and international student advisors around the world, constantly work together to promote public awareness about mental health. One main area of focus is to help end the stigma surrounding mental health, treatment and recovery. Stigmas are negative and can hinder a positive recovery from any mental health condition.
There are two categories of stigma associated with mental health: social stigma and perceived/self-stigma. Here’s each at a glance:

Social Stigma

Unfortunately, some people believe individuals with mental conditions are weak in character or even potentially dangerous. Additionally, international students may come from countries that have cultural-based perceptions about mental health and/or seeking treatment. This social stigma can result in discrimination, isolation or exclusion from family and other social circles.

Perceived or Self-Stigma

Some students have feelings of shame or embarrassment when they experience mental health problems and might try to hide or internalize their symptoms. This perceived or self-stigma can be very damaging and lead to isolation from family and friends.
Obviously, stigma’s can have a negative effect and can hinder positive recovery from any mental health conditions. So how do we get past this? Awareness and education!
Raising awareness is critical to overcoming mental health stigmas. Unfortunately, people tend to fear what they don’t know and understand. Education and public awareness will be a tremendous help in overcoming this negativity. Some institutions have mental health awareness programs on campus to help educate students about mental health. They also employ mental health counselors and other resources to assist students. Student orientations are a great time to introduce any available resources to your incoming students.
Educating faculty and staff about these resources, including how to access them, can really make a difference. Faculty and staff should also be aware of mental health warning signs they should watch out for. In some cases, they become the “first responder” when a student begins exhibiting signs of a mental health condition (since they likely interact with students most regularly).
There are a few key warning signs that can be indicative that a student might need a little help. These can include (but are not limited to):

• Declining grades
• Missing classes, work and appointments
• Isolation from peers
• Change in behavior
• Alcohol or substance abuse
• Changes in appearance (weight loss/gain, poor hygiene)
• Too much or too little sleep

Encouraging students to seek counseling or other resources should be practiced. Easy access to resources can help students feel more comfortable seeking treatment when/if they need help.

NAFSA offers additional information about mental health and your international students. Please visit their site for more information.

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