Studying Abroad with Mental Health Issues
When I told everyone that I was going to be studying Journalism and Russian, a lot of people didn’t think I was going to get very far. It wasn’t because they didn’t think I was clever enough or dedicated enough: they just knew that I’d had poor mental health for most of my life. They worried that this much stress could just prove too much. Sometimes even I wondered if I was doing the right thing. But, if you’re reading this article, then probably, like me, you decided that a few health problems weren’t going to stop you from doing those things that you always wanted – including your year abroad.
You might be facing one or two more challenges than everybody else, but a bit of preparation can really minimise any problems you could come across.
1. Medication and Prescriptions
If you’re heading abroad with a mental health condition, then you have two main areas that you need to look into, just as you would in the UK. The first – if it applies to you – is medication.
Sorry to sound like your over-nagging grandma, but there is no excuse for not getting medication sorted. If you need it in the UK, then you will need it abroad. End of.
This is where it gets tricky, because every country will have a different medical system. My only tip is to start doing your research early. Depending on your GP and how long you’ll be away for, one prescription from back home could be enough to cover you for a term – most doctors will give prescriptions for up to three months’ worth of medication, but this will depend on how long you’ve been stable on a certain drug.
If you’ll need to get your prescriptions abroad, start by asking a teacher you trust to help you out – chances are, they will have at least one student on long term medication every year and will be used to these kinds of questions. It’s not a ‘different case’ just because your medication is mental health related – a student with a long term condition such as diabetes would need the same help. Make sure you know as much about the medication you’re taking as possible, including any brand names it could appear on under. Wikipedia is a great tool, particularly as most pages will also be translated into other languages.
The second area that you’ll need to look into is support – if you think it’ll help to have someone to talk to and check in with every now and then.
If you haven’t done so before now, get in touch with either the disabled students’ support service at your university, which in most cases also deals with supporting students with mental health conditions. If they don’t, they should be able to point you in the right people.
Speak to them about the types of support they could offer you while you’re away, which will vary from university to university. If you can’t get through to the right people at first, then keep coming back – you deserve to get the support you need to study.
Student support is, unfortunately, often a maze of bureaucracy and it can end up being hard work. Add on top of that a lot of people don’t like openly discussing their mental health, and that trying to fight your way through endless forms and departments can equal a lot of extra stress – it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of students don’t get the help they need.
My only advice is to stay strong – this work now will pay off later. Mental health shouldn’t be treated differently to any other health matter – remember that you’re entitled to ask for help if you need it. Would a student asking for a help with a medical condition like asthma or hearing problems feel ashamed, or embarrassed? Then why should you?
My only final word of warning is to make sure you read your travel insurance thoroughly – many agencies need you to declare any mental health conditions you have, and not doing so will invalidate the rest of your policy.
Studying abroad is a challenge, for everyone – but it is also an experience you will never, ever forget. Talking about mental health can be difficult – but now is the time to start fighting those fears to make sure you will enjoy your year abroad to the full.