Mental Health and Being an International Student

Today, as part of World Mental Health Day I would like to share my story and my own struggle with my mental health as an international student. Hopefully, this can be helpful to you in some way and that through reading it you will know you are not alone.

First of all, I would like to say that mental health issues affect all kind of students, this includes British students as well as international students.

One of my biggest worries, when I came to the UK, was making deep and meaningful friendships. I found amazing people who I wanted to connect with, but I struggled to express myself as I wanted. I struggled to be myself. This led to a few episodes of feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

After a while, I developed some physical symptoms that drew my concern. My heart was beating faster than usual, my eyes were a little bit teary and I felt more sensitive than normal. From all the issues I had to learn and deal with as a new international student, my mental health seemed the last thing to worry about. It was not until I developed these physical symptoms that I went to see my doctor. Once I explained my symptoms, my doctor asked me how life was. She asked me how long I had been in the UK, what big changes had happened in my life in the last 2 years and asked me if I had friends who I could talk to. 

I was puzzled, I did not understand the reason for these questions. She continued to explain that when people go through a season of stressful change in life, the body goes into some kind of “adrenalin” mode. Your body needs that adrenalin to cope with all the big changes, but once things have started to settle down a little bit, this adrenalin decreases. In some way, your body leaves you on your own to cope with the rest of the journey. 

It made sense to me. A change of country. A change of friends. Leaving family behind. Starting a university degree in ANOTHER language. Cooking your own meals. More time alone. The pressure to pass exams… etc.  

It’s certainly been a lot to take in. Big changes can be negative or positive, but still big changes. Your body and mind need the time to take everything in. I realised it was time to acknowledge more about my mental health. 

There is plenty of helpful advice on how to cope with your mental health, but for me, the most important thing was finding people who cared, people who I could trust, and people to be vulnerable with. Where could I find these people?

Thankfully I had International Café at my university, and I absolutely love it. International café is a safe place where international students can disconnect from their busy schedules and come together as a family of students. It is full of people that work hard to provide a safe place for you to be yourself, no matter your background, your religion, your English skills, etc.

If you don’t have an international café near to you, I would recommend these other resources:

  • Student Minds – Support and resources, specifically for students.

  • Mind –  Some ideas for how to cope with student life.

  • Your university student union – They will have many services which will be of help to you.

Mental Health might seem a scary thing to talk about, but it doesn’t have to be. In my own struggle with finding some stability in my emotions, I discovered the wonderful gift of friendship and of being vulnerable with people I trust.

My dear friend, let me encourage you in your journey. No matter how overwhelmed you feel, there are people out there that care and who want to help you. You don’t have to do this alone!

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash.

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