Mental Health is part of the many discussions you usually have when talking about going abroad – especially if you’re like me and you have depression – both regular and seasonal, as well as anxiety with a side of insomnia. My family, along with my therapist, believed in me. As long as I stuck with my coping mechanisms, I could survive and have a great time. They were right, but I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy. I picked one hell of a place to study with seasonal depression when the weather is mostly cloudy and rainy.
If you have a mental illness, one thing you need to make sure of is that you bring enough medication for the whole term you’re abroad, including vitamins. Melatonin, in the USA, is commonly sold as a vitamin and you don’t need a prescription for it, but in other countries, you do need a prescription and it might be hard and a bit costly to get that prescription. So, if you take Melatonin to sleep, I highly suggest packing enough for your term and then a bit extra just in case. If you use Hemp as a supplement for your mental illness, you would need to check your country’s rules based on it, but I also suggest bringing enough of it to cover your term as well.
Another thing I suggest is bringing a few things you know you rely on back home as coping mechanisms, or purchasing them once you get to your study abroad location. I packed the Twilight Saga DVD collection and Gravity Falls, along with my Bible and one of my favorite books, “Just Listen” by Sarah Dessen. Once over here, I purchased 6 more books and a coloring book to help me when I needed the necessary distractions and didn’t want to curl up with Netflix or Disney+.
(Fun fact for my US people, Hulu and a lot of Amazon Prime choices are not available outside of the US.)
When you are planning how to pack your luggage, I suggest you take a moment and make a list of things you do to help yourself, see what you need to pack, and then what you should get once you are over here. If there is a stuffed animal who helps you get through the night or a favorite hoodie or jacket that is your go-to make sure you pack that.
I cannot count up how many times I have watched Shrek this semester and how many times my roommate has caught me watching it. It’s my go-to anxiety movie because it always makes me laugh and I love the soundtrack. Find what makes you smile or laugh and definitely don’t be afraid to lean on it as a crutch while you are away.
Homesickness is a big thing, especially if you are like me and have not been away from your parents for a whole semester. I used to see my parents like 5-6 times during my semester back home, with random Sunday lunches or a weekend home to do laundry, and now I haven’t seen them for almost 5 months, so I do miss them. One thing that helps is when I call home and video call with my mom, as well as keeping up with my external family’s video call group to see my dad and other relatives. It’s okay to admit that you miss them, and it’s okay to admit that you miss the food too! I am so looking forward to cinnamon rolls and biscuits from my mom’s kitchen. My family also got a new dog, so I do have a lot I look forward to seeing when I go home. There are a lot of things I do miss, but one of the things I keep telling myself is that when I leave next month I am going to miss this place and want to be back, so I need to enjoy the time I have here and take moments where I just need to stop, take a breath, and enjoy where I am.
Sometimes looking back at how far you have made it is a useful tool. I know younger me, who didn’t think she was going to make it past high school, is smiling up at me and who I have become. I know the me who was struggling to survive in the early years of college is pretty proud that I left toxic friendships and situations to go see the world and to live instead of just survive. That’s something that has happened to me while being here: usually, with my depression, I feel like I am surviving day to day, but while being here I have noticed I am living. Now there are days and weekends when I have noticed I am back in survival mode and I am on the struggle bus, but being here and being able to experience something new and travel has reminded me of the joys of living and I feel like I am slowly beginning to reclaim myself from the depths of my depression.
You may be able to relate to this article or you may not, but I just hope when you choose to study abroad you can experience life and face life’s challenges head-on, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help when you need it. There are a lot of us who study abroad and still see a therapist back home virtually, and you will find your people abroad who you can confide in and they will sit with you and ride out the storm with you.
If you would like to talk more about mental health abroad, please feel free to comment and reach out to me.
The world awaits…discover it.