Supporting Individuals with Mental Health Disabilities Abroad

Traditional Moroccan artwork
Learn about the international educator's role in supporting students with mental health disabilities abroad.

International educators can have many questions about best practices for advising and supporting students with pre-existing mental health conditions, not to mention how they should support well-adjusted students who may still struggle while abroad.

How do we encourage education abroad students to disclose mental health concerns? What is the best way to head off crises? What are the strategies for finding appropriate referrals for individuals requiring services? Generally speaking, what steps should we take to support education abroadparticipants with mental health conditions on our programs?

Many professionals like you come to the table with these questions. It is no surprise. Mental health disabilities are probably the most well represented of the conditions that exchange participants bring with them overseas, sometimes consciously, though more often than not, without even realizing that they will struggle. Feelings of frustration, sadness, or stress are commonplace features for international exchange students who for the first time are learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture and re-examining their own worldview. However, in some cases these feelings can extend beyond what is experienced by the typical student. Those who have not experienced mental health difficulties before may feel ashamed if they cannot deal with it on their own, and they may delay seeking help. Less commonly considered is that they may not be able to seek help if they have other disabilities. Though people with physical or sensory disabilities are more likely to report having a condition like depression, they may struggle to access help if resources are not accessible.

That is why it is important for programs to do everything possible to encourage help seeking behavior and to connect students with supportive, professional and accessible resources. The main things to keep in mind are to:

  • Partner with the counseling center if you are affiliated with a university,
  • Identify mental health resources at each host site. If counseling resources are not available, determine how you will fill this gap through options such as remote counseling.
  • Establish a plan for staff to follow in the event of a mental health emergency
  • Be sure to purchase an insurance plan that covers mental health conditions at the same level as non-mental health conditions and ensure that suicide is not excluded from coverage. consider purchasing standalone mental health resources to supplement those provided by your insurance
  • Work to normalize mental health conditions in all phases of student advising and take every opportunity to inform students about all the ways they canobtain support
  • Provide training to all faculty and staff who will be working with students to identify a student in distress, reach out to the student with empathy and connect the student to resources
  • Encourage students to put together their own personal wellness plan
  • Encourage students to reach out for help.

Spending extensive time abroad can involve extra stress, as one encounters a foreign culture, language and way of life. KEEP ON reading for information on how to proactively support your students. The articles in the table of contents will cover a variety of topics including medications, locating providers and steps for international educators to follow to support students with mental health conditions abroad.