Studying Abroad: Evaluating a Prospective Student’s Mental Health

When screening students for study abroad programs, it is important for you to ensure they have the capability to manage the challenges of their new life abroad. An inability to adapt to a new environment can result in a student feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and even guilty. For students with mental health issues that are not stabilized or have yet to be addressed, the additional pressures could worsen their health.

Access to a psychiatric history is often not available when screening students for school placements. Sometimes students may not even realize they have a problem. In these scenarios, there are questions you can ask to get a sense of whether the student may be at risk for a mental health issue and if the symptoms would interfere with their ability to prosper in a study abroad program, far away from the comforts of home.

Before you start asking questions, take a minute to learn a bit more about some common mental health problems. If your goal is to determine whether or not a particular student might be prone to a specific mental health issue, these questions about depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder (requires Adobe Reader) are a good place to start. It is important to note, however, that responses to these questions are not diagnostic. An interview with a psychiatrist or psychologist would be needed to determine whether a diagnosis was actually present. If, after you discuss the following questions with a student, you are concerned about a potential mental health issue, consider speaking to the student and parent about consulting with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

 

Depression

Two of the key symptoms of depression are persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest. Overall, look for responses that reflect a change in usual behaviour for a minimum of two weeks straight.

To get a sense of whether the student has been feeling down and disinterested, try asking these questions (requires Adobe Reader).

 

Anxiety

Anxiety is characterized by excessive worrying and sometimes physical symptoms (e.g., heart racing, gastrointestinal issues, sweating).

To get a sense of whether a student is worried too much or overly ruminative, try asking these questions (requires Adobe Reader).

Students who have coping strategies that help alleviate their anxiety will be better able to function in academic and social situations than those who don’t, so it is a good idea to inquire about this as well.

 

Bipolar disorder

A person who suffers from bipolar disorder switches from being depressed (as described above) to manic (where they demonstrate a significantly elevated mood and/or irritability to the point that it could get them into trouble).

To get a sense of whether a student is possibly manic, listening and observing (requires Adobe Reader) can be more helpful than asking questions. Look out for behaviours that suggest the student has pressured speech, distractibility, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities.

A mental health issue in and of itself does not mean a student can’t have a successful study abroad experience. However, it is prudent to recognize the symptoms that would make the transition too difficult, and essentially end up harming the student’s chances of success in the long run.

 


References

(Last reviewed December 17, 2013)

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2008). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml.
  3. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2012). Anxiety disorders. Retrieved from http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/a_z_mental_health_and_addiction_information/anxiety_disorders/Pages/Anxiety_Disorders.aspx.
  4. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2013). Facts for families: The depressed child. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/docs/facts_for_families/04_the_depressed_child.pdf.

Students

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