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Mental Health

Maintaining good mental health while abroad is just as important as taking care of your physical health.  Mental health issues can affect anyone, anywhere.  Traveling abroad and trying to adjust to another culture is a stressful experience for anyone, and could lead to the emergence or reemergence of mental health issues.

Although the state of one’s mental health is a personal matter and responsibility, we urge you to be open with your study abroad adviser about your pertinent health history, including mental health. Disclosing mental health information helps you plan with others so that the necessary support will be in place when you go abroad.

A few words of advice before you depart:

  • If you are currently being treated for mental health issues, discuss the advisability of participating in a study abroad program with your mental health practitioner. You may determine that based on your current symptoms, postponing or making adjustments to your plans is in your best interest.
     
  • Research mental health services in your host country. It is advisable to do this prior to departure, rather than when you may need immediate support in your host country. Please be aware that mental health support services vary worldwide so it is important to know if, what, and where those services are available.
     
  • Work with your mental health practitioner to develop a plan to continue treatment while you are abroad. Be aware that is usually not possible to continue treatment with your US based mental health practitioner while you are abroad as licensing laws and liability insurance in the U.S. may not cover psychotherapy practiced across international lines.
     
  • Submit a complete and accurate medical history including all current medications on the predepature forms provided by AU Abroad and/or the program provider.
     
  • Review and follow the advice on Prescription Medication Abroad. Be aware that in many countries amphetamine-based medications used for attention deficit disorders are illegal or highly restricted so you will need to research the laws and regulations in your host country. Addresses as well as excerpted national statutes for most countries can be found at the International Narcotics Control Board.
     
  • Research the availability of medications in your host country. Supplies can vary widely from country to country so you need to make sure that you have a plan to access the medications that you need.

and while you are abroad:

  • Don’t stop taking your medications or adjust your dosage unless advised to do so by a medical professional. Students may have feelings of excitement and exhilaration when they arrive abroad and sometimes decide to stop taking their medication.  Don’t do this.
     
  • Understand that you may experience culture shock and/or become homesick. Symptoms may include feeling helpless, out of control, vulnerable, fearful, anxious, confused, sad and depressed and are usually transitory – lasting a few weeks. For tips on how to adjust to culture shock, see the links under the resources header below.
     
  • Some signs to look for that may indicate the need for professional support include, but are not limited to: heavy alcohol or drug use; not getting out of bed; suicidal thoughts; staying in a room alone; changes in eating habits; avoiding friends; not attending classes or marked decrease in academic performance

Resources

  • The American University Counseling Center provides free and confidential mental health services and consultations to students on campus. They are available to provide support and consultation prior to studying abroad and upon your return to campus. To schedule an appointment, call 202-885-3500 or visit Mary Graydon Center Suite 214.
     
  • Dealing with Culture Shock