Challenging mental health myths for international students

Blog for students
18 May 2020
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Studying and living in a new country, away from your friends and family and potentially speaking a second language can be an extremely distressing time, particularly during these times of uncertainly and restrictions due to the Covid-19 restrictions. You may feel isolated, lonely or anxious. You might feel overwhelmed by exam stresses, worried about making friends in a new culture or concerned about money. 

We work with international students throughout the UK from all over the world and know that talking about feelings of stress and anxiety can be difficult.  We want all students to be able to voice their worries, so that you’re able to find support and to overcome struggles you may face. 

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, there are number of myths and attitudes to mental health that we’d like to challenge for international students:

‘But I’m embarrassed, I shouldn’t feel this way.’ Findings from a 2015 NUS Survey show that 4 in 5 students in higher education experienced a mental health issue in the past year.  So you’re not alone, it is likely that some of your fellow students are also experiencing similar issues
‘I don’t want my family to know’ or ‘I don’t want it on my record.’ Any staff at your institution that you speak to about issues will keep the information to themselves. It won’t be shared with your family or friends and it certainly won’t go on your record 
‘I’d never talk about it in my home country.’ In the UK the importance of being able to speak about mental health and mental health vulnerability is slowly being recognised. That doesn't mean that it is always easy to talk about but it does mean that it is getting easier to find sources of help, guidance and advice. 

We spoke to one of our trusted colleagues, Alison Barty, Head of Counselling Service at SOAS. She’s provided these top three tips:

1. Talk to someone at your institution. If it is difficult to talk about it you could always start with an email. People to talk to include your personal tutor or advisor, international student advisor or other student support staff.  If you can manage to speak in person perhaps it is easier to start with talking about how you are doing in your studies and letting the person know that you are feeling stressed or unwell.  Remember too that a lot of universities have a Student Nightline which is a confidential phone or email service which you can approach anonymously for advice

2. Try not to isolate yourself. Talking to others can be difficult if you are feeling depressed or anxious but make an effort to keep coming to your university or college, attend classes, spend time with other students

3. Having a bit of a routine is good for your mental wellbeing. This includes trying to have a regular sleeping pattern and meal times. Try to include some physical activity whether sport, dance, singing or walking and perhaps somewhere you visit regularly such as a park, local grocery store or a coffee shop

Thanks to Alison Barty for her help with this blog. For other support and advice please visit Student Minds. For resources and information about Mental Health Awareness Week please visit the Mental Health Foundation.