We are committed to supporting study abroad for all students. This support includes students who are managing various mental health concerns. Just as cultures differ, so does the degree of access to counseling and mental health services in the many countries and communities a student might consider for their study abroad experience. Certain medications that are legal in the United States may be illegal in other countries. Many students have successfully studied abroad with existing mental health conditions, but not every study abroad experience is a good fit for certain types of care.
Before you go abroad, there are several steps you can take to make sure your experience is as successful as possible.
- Meet with your mental health care provider here in the United States. Discuss whether now is an appropriate time to study abroad; talk about ways to plan for culture shock. Identify what kind of accommodations you may need and how you plan to get medication/treatment while abroad. Talk over methods for keeping in touch with your care provider if possible. Discuss an emergency plan in case of any crisis that could occur while abroad.
- Talk to your support system that you have at home. Plan how you will be able to get in touch with friends and family while abroad. Talk to them about how you can best be supported with your mental health while abroad. Is there anything specific you want your support system to check in with you about?
- Research cultural practices and mental health in your host country. You may also wish to do this before you select your program. Just like in some places here in the United States, stigma may still exist around mental health and people may have different perspectives regarding mental health. It is important to look into how mental health is generally viewed in the host country and what types of care are available there. This is also a great topic to discuss with your Study Abroad Advisor if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Research your host country in general to prepare for what culture shock you may experience while abroad.
- If you feel comfortable, disclose with your Study Abroad Advisor. They can tell you more information about opportunities for meeting others (host family, buddy program, other U.S. students, etc.) and also what kind of support or care options are available on your program. See more details below.
- Review this website about medication and international travel if applicable. Remember some medications that are legal in the U.S. are not legal in other countries and you may not be able to take them in country or have them sent to you.
- Contact your insurance company to get enough of your medication for your entire time abroad. You should not plan on getting prescriptions filled while abroad or having the medication mailed to you.
- Work with CISI, the UW-System sponsored health insurance, to find names of English speaking psychiatrists, psychologists, or counselors in your host country.
Disclosing Mental Health History to Your Study Abroad Advisor
We encourage you to disclose your mental health history to your Study Abroad Advisor (SAA), if you feel comfortable. It can be helpful to identify indications of when things are getting difficult for you and what you find most helpful and supportive. All of our advisors want to support you in order for you to have a productive and rewarding experience abroad. Disclosing your history will NOT keep you from participating on a program.
There are many benefits to disclosing to SAA they can:
- Help you find a program where you will be able to succeed academically and personally (academics, environment, housing, on-site support, etc.)
- Give you more information on mental health in host country (medical care, emergencies, etc.)
- Ensure your needs are met through any program changes (duration or other) while abroad.
You can also ask about these accommodations or procedures without disclosing your specific situation by asking questions like:
- What is the schedule for the program?
- What plans are in place if a participant experiences a physical or psychological emergency?
Possible questions to ask SAA before you go:
- How is the cultural and academic setting different from UW–Madison?
- What kinds of student health centers/hospital services are available? (Anything similar to UHS?)
- Are services available in my native language?
- Can you write a letter for me to my insurance company explaining I am studying abroad?
- Will CISI insurance cover any medication/treatment I need while abroad?
- Are there pharmacies nearby if I need to get medication abroad?
- What kind of on-site support will be available who has experience working with mental health?
Your SAA is available to you upon return as well to discuss your program and how you are adjusting to life back in the United States.
Possible Questions for Mental Health Care Providers
- What possible changes in my mental health might I experience while studying abroad?
- What suggestions do you have to stay healthy?
- How much of my medication can I take over at a time/how can I access my medication abroad?
- Can you provide me with documentation for travelling with medication?
- Are there medications I would need to take abroad (e.g., anti-malarial medication) that could interact with my current medication?
- How can I adjust my medication regimen to a different time zone?
- Can we keep in touch while I’m abroad, and if so, how? (Phone call, skype, e-mail?) If not, do you have recommendations for my care?
Adjusting to New Culture (While Abroad)
- Don’t isolate yourself. Explore your host city, don’t just stay in your housing.
- Keep in touch with friends back home but also reach out to people in your host country.
- Journal. This can be good for tracking mood and if you’re experiencing culture shock or something more. If you will have access to a smart phone while abroad, there are also great mood tracker apps.
- Recognize your limits and allow yourself to take time for self-care, even if it may take away from an excursion or activity.
- Remember to eat and get enough sleep. Jetlag and exhaustion can impact mood.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, be mindful of your use. Alcohol may affect you differently when in another place.
- Expect to feel upset, nervous, frustrated at times and recognize ways to cope. You will face similar challenges abroad as you do here, so again — journaling to track how long these feelings last can be very useful.
- Remember, culture shock is natural. Low points may not necessarily be your condition worsening, or may not be related to your diagnosis at all. High points do not mean that you are “cured” and should stop any use of medication, if applicable.
- Reach out for support. Your Study Abroad Advisor and others back on campus are still here to support you.
Preparations for Traveling with a Mental Health Condition
Handling Mental Illness While Abroad Blog Post