The Role of Peer Support and Mental Health Abroad

Two young professional women in Jordan
Peer support is often underutilized, but can be an effective safety net for many students learning to adjust and adapt to a new culture when studying abroad.

Increasingly, study abroad programs are looking at ways to build in support systems and safety nets for all students, including training peers to support students with mental health conditions. Some programs focus on just 2 – 3 hours of a peer support curriculum while others offer 6-week programs that meet once per week prior to going abroad.

Effective peer support programs focus on teaching students

  • How to be empathic
  • How to handle initial resistance from the person you are concerned about
  • How to identify ‘pink’ or ‘red’ flags
  • How to offer assistance to people through real conversations about the way in which we all struggle, and
  • How to use active listening and open body language.

Study abroad programs can include training for peers to serve as allies and a source of support for students in crisis. Exchange providers can also create a ‘buddy system’ for all students whether they are experiencing crisis or not so that a safety net exists for all students.

Teaching peers and students - what is good mental health?

  • Flexibility and adjustment, responsive to the moment and to challenges
  • Resilience and ability to persist through failures
  • Self-awareness and inward reflection
  • Hopefulness, self-efficacy, belief in oneself to get through struggles and that change will come
  • Capacity for stress tolerance
  • Coping skills and strategies
  • Reality-testing about what is real and what is perceived or interpreted.

In addition to setting up peer support programs, you might want to consider other preparations by downloading the access information form and advisor guidelines and pulling in mental health experts to to get started. See Documents on this page.