Being vocal about your mental health is okay: an international student’s perspective

Image source: Getty Images photo by Chris Madden

Mental health is one of the most neglected aspects of students’ life (particularly international students), maybe because of its stigma. Also, we never openly discuss it with anyone or are encouraged to discuss it. An emergency like COVID becomes more critical as we are detached from in-person emotional and social support, be it from our family members, peers, friends, and mentors (Bhojwani et al., 2020). It is as important as your physical health and as essential as your necessities, like groceries, food, and water. At the end of the day, everyone wants peace of mind. Isn’t it? So, it needs to be talked about and discussed.


According to World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) International college student initiative- “approximately 75% of all lifetimes mental disorders have their onsets before the age of 24, and these early-onset cases are related to poorer clinical and functional outcomes than later-onset cases. Additionally, college years are associated with a significant increase in risky health behaviors, such as excessive alcohol and cannabis use, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Collectively, these disorders and behaviors are associated with low academic attainment. Even though effective treatments exist to address these debilitating issues, only a minority of students with mental disorders obtain treatment (p. 01).”

Challenges in terms of mental health for international students:

  • Firstly, being an international student is a huge challenge, adapting to a new environment and culture and dealing with studies, work, and social life. It is not easy to deal with in a new environment (Bhojwani et al., 2020).
  • I see a couple of other challenges, including limited social and emotional support, unnecessary stress due to financial burden, social security, the pressure of managing studies and employment together and living inside four walls in a city that you may or may not be aware of. You might not have friends or enough people to talk to. This situation could lead to depression, anxiety, acculturative stress, social isolation, and help-seeking behaviors (Nguyen et al., 2019).
  • With limited or no awareness about the existing support at the university and ways of accessing them, students often take drugs to deal with their mental health issues and are frequently exposed to substance abuse.
  • Also, staying away from your family is another enormous challenge. Considering the global impact of COVID, we have been through much stress thinking about our families’ well-being back home. It is challenging to deal with such a situation, and with access to no or limited support, it seems easy to say I am fine although deep down, you are going through tremendous stress that could lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues (Bhojwani et al., 2020).

What universities and students should do to overcome these challenges during COVID or otherwise better:

  • Facilitate a healthy, comfortable, and safe environment for students to share and discuss their mental health.
  • Operationalize more opportunities/alternatives to cater to the financial burden during COVID so that learning is not affected and unnecessary financial obligation does not add to the existing stressful situation.
  • Promote counseling through peer support and expert counselors, as students might find it comfortable sharing with peers, but trained counselors could help them navigate these situations.
  • Create more opportunities for interaction among international student groups. Let’s not limit ourselves to a particular student group, be more welcoming and inclusive, and include the entire student community.
  • Promote virtual opportunities to speak about such issues and look for innovative ways to engage international students.
  • Ensure social security and healthcare access to international students like others. Make the international students aware of such facilities and how to access them.
  • Promote 1on1 counseling services for an extended period. It should not be restricted to one or two sessions. Many students might need it for a more extended period.
  • Promote and ensure home counseling for students with certain limitations who are unable to move out of their houses.
  • Connect all other international groups on some platform to share ways of dealing with such a situation. Students can learn from one another.
  • Conduct more and more programs to make students aware of such support and ease of access within universities. 
  • Since the studies have moved online and international students attend classes across different time zones, it becomes difficult to cope with the pressure of studying. More than pressure, it impedes their process of socializing with other students, meaningful international exposure, and participation in class discussions (Xiang et al., 2020).
  • Make it a participatory process: Students are experiencing much online fatigue, so host town halls for international students to discuss their mental health and how they want to learn to make the learning experience worthwhile.

Let us create a learning space that helps cultivate better psycho-social development and meaningful learning experiences for international students.



Bhojwani, J., Joy, E., Hoxsey, A., & Case, A. (2020). Being an International Student in the Age of COVID-19. Navigating Careers in the Academy: Gender, Race, and Class, 47.—2020-Volume-3-Issue-2.pdf#page=50

Nguyen, M. H., Ho, M. T., Nguyen, Q. Y. T., & Vuong, Q. H. (2019). A dataset of students’ mental health and help-seeking behaviors in a multicultural environment. Data4(3), 124.

World Health Organisation. (2020). The WHO World Mental Health International College Student (WMH-ICS) Initiative. Retrieved


Xiang, Y. T., Jin, Y., & Cheung, T. (2020). Joint international collaboration to combat mental health challenges during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. JAMA psychiatry77(10), 989-990.  

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