Mental HealthAlthough 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 anything in your health history in regard to mental health conditions. Maintaining good mental health while abroad is just as important as taking care of your physical health. Disclosing this information will help you plan with others so that the necessary support will be in place when you go abroad.
Traveling abroad and adjusting to another culture can be a stressful experience even as it’s also an enjoyable one. It’s not unusual for such stresses to lead to a flare-up or reemergence of a mental health condition.
A few words of advice before you depart:
- If you are currently being treated for a mental health condition, 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.
- Make sure you have a supplemental insurance policy for your time abroad that will cover mental health services, especially counseling and other outpatient services.
- Research mental health services in your host country. You should do this well in advance of your departure, rather than after you arrive in your host country and may then need immediate support. Be aware that mental health support services vary worldwide. It is absolutely essential for you to know if, what, and where the services you may need are available. Be sure to look for counselors/therapists at your host site who are able to provide services to you in whatever language you are most comfortable.
- Well in advance of your departure, work with your mental health practitioner to develop a plan to continue treatment while you are abroad. Usually it is 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. often prohibit psychotherapy practiced across international lines.
- Submit a complete and accurate medical history including all current medications on the pre-departure forms provided by AU Abroad and/or the program provider.
- Review and follow the advice on Prescription Medication Abroad. In many countries amphetamine-based medications used for attention deficit disorders are illegal or highly restricted. Research the laws and regulations in your host country and make arrangements with your current mental health provider for you to use alternate medications if necessary. 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 in different countries so 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. Normal symptoms may include feeling vulnerable, fearful, anxious, confused, and sad, and are usually transitory – lasting no more than a few weeks. For tips on how to adjust to culture shock, see the links under the resources header below.
- More serious 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
- 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.
- My SSP APP: AU has partnered with LifeWorks to provide students with the “My SSP” app. The “My SSP” app provides solution-focused, culturally informed support for students studying in DC or abroad. This app can be used for finding community referrals or to receive ongoing support. The app is free and available on both Android and iOS platforms.
- Individuals experiencing a crisis may use this list of suicide prevention numbers and safe centers: https://save.org/find-help/international-resources/
- Dealing with Culture Shock