The first thing I want to say is that if you are an international student and you are struggling with your mental health, please know that you are not alone. I suffered from depression as an international student. Apart from depression, there are other mental issues that students studying abroad have.
Some have anxiety problems and thoughts of suicide and self-harm. There are many others who have been clinically diagnosed with bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These conditions affect everyone in different ways. They affect not only students’ academic lives but also their social lives and how they see the world.
One of the most common problems faced is embarrassment. It is always difficult to ask others for help. Most of the time, victims do not completely understand what they are going through. At the same time, it is quite hard to know who to trust. So, instead of opening up, many stay up crying all night.
The beginning of my depression as an international student
When you are going abroad to study, all you hear about are the benefits and how lucky you are. It was the same for me. People kept telling me how envious they were of me and that I should make the most of the opportunity I had. Of course, I wasn’t going to disappoint my parents, and I wanted the best for my future. But at least someone could have warned me about the loneliness and homesickness.
When I first got on campus, everyone kept telling me how this was going to be the “best time of my life.” So when I started to feel a bit lonely and homesick, I didn’t want to tell anyone. It seemed as if everyone was positive towards me and I was the negative one.
So, what did I do? I stayed in my dorm room for weeks, constantly crying. My roommate didn’t know how to help, so after the first few days, I was pretty much on my own.
Managing mental health and academics
Despite how I felt, I knew I still had my academics to consider. Right from my elementary school days, there was always this great academic pressure. I always had to prove myself and there was no room for leniency.
As a result, I had to pick myself up and start attending classes. I struggled every day. There were times I had panic attacks because I was unable to fully concentrate on what the professor was saying. This triggered my anxiety because I knew I could not afford to fail. Whenever this happened, I would feel an itching and burning sensation in my chest.
The feeling of anxiety combined with the panic attack and depression meant that things quickly became worse.
I found I had to think straight and I began to forget things easily. Later on, everything I felt had a dangerous effect on my short-term memory, but I couldn’t help it. I was too tired to try fixing it, and everything I did seemed to take a lot of energy.
By the time assignments and projects started coming in, I had to deal with multiple deadlines as well. It was already too much and something had to change.
Getting help for my depression
After battling depression by myself without any significant progress, I decided to reach out to the college support services. I always knew I needed help, but I wasn’t sure of where to get it. One of the biggest reliefs I felt in college was when the counselor said to me, “Passing through all these for so long must be very difficult.”
I could barely hold back my tears. Finally, someone who understood how I felt. Someone who didn’t see me as weak or an attention seeker. The counselor advised me to sign up for the mental health care plan. There I was able to get a particular number of therapy sessions. I was also prescribed some medications.
The treatment and medications really helped, although I cannot deny that the period of adjustment was terrible. But overall, it was worth it.
College got better with the therapy sessions and medications. However, it was not immediately There were times when I would feel better for a while, and other times I would suddenly sink back into depression. But because I knew I had the counselor to talk to, I was able to pick myself up.
As my academic life began to improve, I decided to work on my social life as well. I knew I couldn’t totally depend on the counselor, and I didn’t want to. I wanted my college life to go as smoothly as possible.
So I found a student community of international students. They were very welcoming, and I was able to fit in pretty easily. Everyone was helpful, and before long, I felt like a part of them. They checked up regularly on members, held fun events, and made sure everyone was okay. It felt like a home away from home for me.
I also learnt to deal with my homesickness. Before going to college, I had not been away from my family for a long period of time, so it was only natural to feel homesick. To fix it, I tried to keep in touch regularly. We chatted, spoke on the phone, and even had long periods of video calls. During this time, they always felt very close to me, and I cherished those moments.
It was obvious that my mental health was improving, and it was great to hear the counselor say so as well. Everything seemed to be fine, and I am glad I got the help I needed.
A word of encouragement to others
At the beginning, I bottled my feelings up and it affected me greatly. I missed out on many freshman events because of how I felt. This affected my social life, and it later spilled over into my academics as well. For a long time, I struggled with panic attacks, anxiety, and severe depression. But I am grateful for the help I received. Talking to the counselor was beneficial, and I was glad I managed to take that step.
I really hope others that feel this way can see that they are not alone. In my experience, getting help is the best thing, no matter how small.
Although everyone feels embarrassed about it, mental struggles are nothing to be ashamed of.
In fact, many people are suffering from mental issues without admitting it. Some do not even realize it yet. As I talked to people about my experiences, I saw that many people suffered from what I did.
What they didn’t know was that there were people who wanted to help. I found help, and you can get help as well. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel. Or whether you think that there’s no way out of your depression, Always remember that you are not alone. Please seek help. Let others help you. You are important, and your feelings matter.