We are committed to supporting study abroad/away for all students. This support includes students who are managing various mental health concerns.* Just as culture differs, so does the degree of access to counseling and mental health services in the many countries and communities students might consider for their study abroad/away experience. For instance, certain medications that are legal in the United States may be illegal in other countries. Many students have successfully studied abroad/away with existing mental health concerns, but not every experience is a good fit for certain types of care.
Before you go, there are several steps you can take to make sure your experience is as successful as possible.
- Meet with your local mental health care provider. Discuss whether now is an appropriate time to study abroad/away. 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/away. Talk over methods for keeping in touch with your care provider if possible and when you plan to meet again once you are back. Discuss an emergency plan in case of any crisis that could occur while abroad/away.
- Talk to your support system that you have at home. Plan how you will be able to get in touch with friends and family members while abroad/away. Communication with others from home is a helpful way to feel supported while studying abroad.
- Research cultural practices and mental health in the host country/community. You may also wish to do so 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 learn how mental health is generally viewed in the host country/community and what types of care are available. This topic is also good to discuss with your Study Abroad Advisor if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Research the host country/community in general to prepare for what culture shock you may experience while there.
- If you feel comfortable, disclose your issues to your Study Abroad Advisor. The Advisor can share information about opportunities for meeting others (host family, buddy program, other U.S. students, etc.) and what kind of support or care options are available through your program. See more details below.
- Watch the video below, where Stout study abroad alumni share how they managed their mental health issues while studying abroad and what insights and recommendations they have for others.
- Review this website about medication and international travel, if applicable. Remember that 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 the 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, if you feel comfortable. It can be helpful to identify indicators of when things are getting difficult for you and what you find most helpful and supportive. All 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 in a program.
There are many benefits to disclosing to a Study Abroad Advisor, as they can do the following:
- 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 about mental health in the 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 the following:
- 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 an advisor before you go include the following:
- How is the cultural and academic setting different from UW-Stout?
- What kinds of student health centers/hospital services are available?
- 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 with experience working in the area mental health?
Your Study Abroad Advisor is available to you upon return as well, to discuss your program and how you are adjusting to life back in the United States.
Discussing Your Plans with Mental Health Care Providers
- What possible changes in my mental health might I experience while studying abroad?
- What suggestions or helpful tips do you have to stay healthy, both mentally and physically while abroad?
- 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, Zoom, email?) If not, do you have recommendations for my care?
Adjusting to New Culture (While Abroad)
- Don’t isolate yourself. Explore the host city, don’t just stay in your housing.
- Keep in touch with friends back home but also reach out to people in the host country.
- Track your mood so you can identify 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, and frustrated at times, and identify 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 advisor, the study abroad office, and others back on campus are still here to support you.
- Preparing to Travel with a Mental Health Condition
- Accessing UW Stout's Health Services
- Handling Mental Illness While Abroad Blog Post
*This page was prepared in collaboration with the Counseling Center. The Study Abroad Team wishes to express its gratitude for the collaboration, input, and support.