Preparing to Study Abroad
Whether you are currently being treated for mental health concerns or if you see them as something in your past, you should know that preparing for and participating in this new experience can bring about a return or increase in symptoms. Since it is always easier to prevent or respond to difficulties if they have been anticipated ahead of time, use this guide to prepare for mental health considerations and services abroad.
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, and areas of potential vulnerability. Disclosing mental health information helps you plan with others so that the necessary support will be in place when you go abroad.
Is study abroad a good fit? If you are currently involved with mental health services, discuss the advisability of participating in a study abroad program and issues related to cultural adjustment with your mental health practitioner. You may determine based on your current symptoms, postponing or making adjustments to your plans is necessary
While Living and Studying Abroad
While adjusting to a new culture, take care of yourself physically, including getting regular and sufficient amounts of sleep and food, even if it is difficult reestablishing a consistent schedule due to jetlag. Give yourself permission to feel bad. Negative feelings are normal, and you should process these emotions, rather than pushing them away and failing to address the cause. Don’t make any big life changes while abroad. It will take time to figure out how your new life experiences fit into your previous culture and life experience.
Do I need professional support?
If you are currently working with a therapist or psychiatrist, discuss this with them prior to departure. Some signs that may indicate the need for professional support include, but are not limited to:
- Heavy alcohol or drug use
- Not getting out of bed
- Staying in a room alone
- Changes in eating habits
- Avoiding friends
- Not attending classes
- Decrease in academic performance
Remember, you know yourself best and should seek out assistance when needed.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I’m currently working with a counselor. What should I consider when exploring study abroad options? It is extremely important to discuss your plans to go abroad with your treatment professional. Particularly if you are taking any new medications, it is important that your condition stabilizes for a period of time prior to departure.
Will my health insurance cover mental health treatment while abroad? All UMW students are required to have international health insurance before going abroad. If your program does not provide it, CIE will enroll you in an iNext international travel insurance plan for the duration of your time abroad. It is important to contact your insurance provider ahead of time to confirm that your treatment needs will be covered. You should also check to see if your regular insurance provides coverage abroad, and whether your plan pays providers directly or requires you to pay and seek reimbursement.
Can I work with a mental health professional in the U.S. while I’m abroad, either via phone or email? Long distance contact typically does not provide adequate information for professional evaluation. In addition, licensing laws and liability insurance in the U.S. may not cover psychotherapy practiced across international lines. Find a mental health professional in your host country rather than relying on services providers in the U.S. Your international insurance provider can assist you in locating a professional in your host country.
I’m currently taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist. Can I keep taking this while I’m abroad? How do I get a refill? If you are taking a prescription medication, talk with your prescribing physician will in advance about getting the supply you need for your travel abroad. You can also contact your international insurance provider to find out if your medication is available abroad and/or legal in your destination country. You will want to bring an adequate supply in the original container, a prescription with your physician’s explanation of the condition, and the generic and brand names of the medication with dosage information.
If I disclose my mental health history to my study abroad advisor, will this jeopardize my ability to participate in a study abroad program? Students with pre-existing mental health conditions will not be discriminated against in the application or approval process. Any information shared with the Center for International Education, Counseling and Psychological Services, UMW personnel, or overseas study abroad program staff will be used to assist you in making the best decision about your study abroad plans.
- Mental Health America
- International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)
- The Center for Global Education
- Travel Medicine
- Top Ways to Reduce Homesickness Abroad
- Why Feeling Homesick Abroad is Ok and What To Do About It
- How to Deal with Culture Shock While Abroad
- Culture Shock
- Reverse Culture Shock: What it is and How to Respond