Mental and Emotional Health While Abroad

There are many factors involved in ensuring a safe and successful program abroad.  To get the most out of your experience it is important to be prepared.

While you get ready to go abroad we encourage you to consider using the support services you have at your home institution; an academic advisor, a department office, a health clinic, a counseling center, a career center, a student government association, a residence hall association, etc. If you know what you need to stay healthy, then it will be easier for you to make sure that those things are available to you while abroad.

A successful study abroad experience requires preparation, which includes planning so your mental health and emotional well being are cared for throughout your entire program.

The stress of adjusting to an unfamiliar culture, different time zones, a change of academic environment, being far from friends and family, and adjusting to a new system of support services (and perhaps one that is not as robust as you might find at home) can bring about a variety of unexpected and potentially overwhelming reactions. We have compiled a list of resources to help you prepare to maintain your emotional health while you are abroad.

Helpful tips before you travel:

  • Meet with your counselor to talk about coping strategies if you feel unsteady prior-to or while abroad
  • Meet with your psychiatrist to make sure you know what to do if things go wrong, and to manage the most fragile times in your journey
  • Understand the importance of rest and sleep when experiencing jetlag (learn how to manage your medication when you are in a different time zone)
  • Talk with your teachers and program staff to explain that you may need certain accommodations while abroad and tell yourself that it will be okay!
  • Feel confident that you have prepared yourself to travel abroad, and start packing!

Did you know the U.S. State Department has resources available for students studying abroad?

United States Department of State – Resources for Study Abroad

We also recommend checking out these articles on mental health and how to come up with a workable plan during your time abroad.

Mental Health Prep with Mobility International USA
Mental Health info through the CDC

Regarding prescription medication and precautions you should take, a good practice is, “if you have a condition that requires regular medication, bring an extra quantity with you and pack it in your carry-on, just in case your checked luggage gets lost. Just remember to keep it in its original container and clearly labelled — you don’t want to create the impression you’re carrying drugs which haven’t been prescribed to you. In fact, you should check with the local embassy to make sure that your medication is acceptable to carry into the country. Some countries may consider your prescription medication to be illegal.” Read more here.


Her Story: Studying Abroad With A Mental Illness

The student theater group called Stanford Theatre Activist Mobilization Project (STAMP) recently solicited anonymous true-life letters from classmates living with depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health problems. The group then dramatized the accounts as monologues in their theater production, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. This monologue comes from a letter submitted anonymously by a student who spent a semester in Kenya while dealing with clinical anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Helpful tips while you’re abroad:

  • Drinking alcohol can severely impact the effectiveness of medications, and the body’s ability to self regulate. Please always take care of yourself.
  • Always feel free to talk with your onsite staff! They are experienced, and trained to listen and help!
  • If you prefer to talk with someone else, your onsite staff can help you find the right person. They can help set up a conversation with a counselor, or a professional therapist in-country; they can also help liaise you with your home university’s student support office if you wish to speak to someone on your home campus.
  • Get out there! Meet new people, exercise, eat well, get plenty of sleep, and live a healthy lifestyle. These small things can really make a difference!
  • But really, sleep is important! Sleep deprivation affects your mind AND your body!
    • When studying for a test or practicing a skill, the rest periods are just as important as the practice periods. When you sleep, your brain keeps working on the material, synthesizing the information.  
    • Sleep is also a requirement for mental and emotional resilience. When you are sleep deprived, it is much easier to fall into negative thinking patterns and moodiness, both of which then make it harder to get good sleep at night.  
    • Inadequate sleep can set the stage for depression, and make it much more difficult for someone dealing with depression or anxiety to recover.  It can make it much more difficult to concentrate, learn new information, and remember what you are studying.
    • Sleep deprivation can lower your immune functioning, making it harder for you to fight off a cold or the flu.  
    • Sleep deprivation has been linked with unhealthy weight gain.  
    • Sleep deprivation can affect your reaction time, motor skills, and coordination.
    • Other possible effects of sleep deprivation include hand tremors, headaches, and increased blood pressure.