How to Deal With Depression While Studying Abroad

Depression is common among students studying abroad in the U.S. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of American College Health found that some 45% of Yale University students from China reported symptoms of depression, and 29% reported symptoms of anxiety. 

You are not alone.

Depression can be debilitating, especially in a foreign country. All the stress of the new sights sounds and smells along with a whole new workload in a foreign language can cause some serious mental health problems. 

Facing your depression alone can be daunting. Hopefully, these tips will help you get through this difficult time:

Find Community

In 2017, Helen Gao, a Chinese international student studying in the U.S wrote a powerful op-ed that was featured in the New York Times entitled “Chinese, Studying in America and Struggling”.

The piece drew rave reviews and has been shared with millions around the world. Ms. Gao describes the loneliness and depression she felt during her graduate studies saying:

“Over time, the isolation of graduate school, the heavy reading load in a second language and the strain that distance put on relationships with people in Beijing all began to add up.”

Ms. Gao touched on some important points that every international student must deal with, but what stood out to me was her loneliness and lack of a sense of community. 

If there is one thing you can do to improve your experience while studying abroad it is finding a community that will accept you with open arms. Whether that means joining a student organization, playing intramural sports, or reaching out to a local organization for your countrymen; community is a necessity.

Find Someone To Talk To

Finding someone to talk to as an international student should also be one of your first options when dealing with depression. This is another thing Helen Gao touched on in her piece. At times, finding someone who can relate to you in a foreign country can be difficult. 

I recommend trying to find someone to talk to who comes from your culture, that way you won’t be forced to try and explain your point of view.

As Ms. Gao puts it:

“How can Chinese students convey the texture of their thoughts and moods in a foreign language when the language barrier is a cause of their stress and inhibition in the first place? How do they communicate their nostalgia for mouthwatering homemade Chinese dishes when the sympathetic therapist may not have ventured beyond Panda Express?”

So, find someone to talk to, but someone who will understand where you are coming from. Whether that means talking to a new American friend, old friends online, family members, or someone at your University’s health center, it’s crucial to let out your emotions in a safe place where you feel understood.

Make Sure Your Finances Are In Order Before You Leave

According to recent research in Psychology Today mental health issues – including depression, anxiety, and certain forms of psychosis – are three times more likely to occur when an individual is in debt.

Unless you come from a wealthy family, the reality is before you leave to study abroad in America you will have to secure international student loans and (hopefully) scholarships. That means, statistically, you will be three times more likely to suffer from depression than you would be at home.

Making sure your finances are in order before you leave your home country is a great way to mitigate the chances of developing depression while studying abroad. That means, at a minimum, creating a spending budget and loan calendar to help you stay on top of all your expenses.

Take A Mental Health Day

Taking a mental health day is another great way to combat depression as an international student. Sometimes, taking a day to forget about your studies and just relax can be a lifesaver. 

Don’t just stay at home and wallow in self-pity though, get out and get moving. Try going to see a movie, visiting a local museum or even taking a spa day at a natural spa-like Soap Lake Resort. Anything you can do to break up the monotony of your studies will help you feel rejuvenated. 

Taking a mental health day may have been looked down on in the past, but things are changing, be honest with your professors about how you are feeling and they will surely be more than willing to give you the time you need to feel better.

Know When To Seek Professional Help

Finally, if things are getting really bad, it’s important to know when to seek professional help. 

The moment things turn from a general sad or anxious mood to suicidal thoughts, it’s time to seek help right away. In the U.S, unlike many countries abroad, mental health is seen as nearly indistinguishable from physical health. You should feel zero shame about seeking professional help while here.

No one will look down on you for talking to a mental health expert. In fact, just the opposite many in the U.S see the ability to be honest and open about your emotions as a sign of true strength. 

And remember, you aren’t alone, there is always help available. Unfortunately, many international students aren’t aware of this. According to a recent survey of international students, just 61% of international graduate students surveyed were aware of the availability of mental health services, versus 78.6% of domestic graduate students. 

Mental health is one of the biggest challenges each and every human on this planet faces. International students aren’t alone in their mental health hardships. Each of us finds our own way to deal with the pain of life, but it’s important to remember as an international student—above all else—there is always someone out there willing to help.

Helen Keller once said:

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Don’t be afraid of your hardships and depression, that’s the only way we can grow.

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