Steps to Prepare for Study Abroad if You Cope with Depression

It’s unfortunate to note that depression is on the rise among young adults, especially for students on college campuses.

In 2011, a nationwide survey by the American College Health Association found that 30 percent of college students reported that they felt so depressed at one point that it was difficult to function.

Study abroad educators are increasingly focus on these issues with their foreign students. Depression can play a major role for students as they consider their plans to go overseas — whether it’s because they are currently being treated for it or because it runs in their family. While these concerns should be taken seriously, they don’t need to impede your study abroad plans.

If you are concerned about how your depression may affect you while abroad, here are some steps you can take to prepare:

Think about timing.

There are varying lengths of stay and times of year that you can go abroad, so consider which would work best for you. Make sure you leave ample time to prepare what you need to go. For instance, some providers and universities require that students send letters of recommendation from supervisors or professors that discuss your mental health, maturity, and attitude about spending time away from home. This isn’t meant to keep you from studying abroad, but rather to inform the program about your needs because they care about your health and safety.

Make sure to get encouragement and advice from your support group as your prepare your application — talk to your parents, professors you trust, and a study abroad advisor about when would be the best time for you to go overseas in terms of your mental health concerns. You may want to consider taking a short trip before you commit to spending a semester abroad. This will give you a chance to see how you cope with being in a new place.

There’s no rush to make your decision. There are even study abroad programs for college seniors, so take your time.

Open up to your study abroad advisor.

Because of health care privacy regulations, your study abroad advisor will not know your mental health concerns unless you share them with her. Advisors have a great deal of knowledge and experience helping students with study abroad plans, and if they don’t have the answers to your questions, they probably know someone else who does.

You should also take advantage of the mental health facilities that your campus offers. Its staff can help you make sure you are on the right track to making your study abroad dreams a reality.

Make an appointment with your psychologist.

In addition to the treatment plan you already have with your psychologist, ask to create one that allows you to prepare for studying abroad and to cope while you are away. Talk about your triggers and how you deal with them currently. How would these strategies translate if you were in Argentina? Tanzania? Germany?

If you are taking antidepressants, talk to your psychologist or psychiatrist about how you can get enough medication in advance to take with you while abroad, or how medication can be shipped to you. Be sure to have a note to show customs agents that you have been prescribed your medications by a doctor.

Discuss any issues that you anticipate may come up while you’re overseas — adapting to a new classroom, living with a host family, confronting new and challenging situations. Brainstorm coping mechanisms that will help you overcome these struggles.

Research care options in your country of choice.

Find out what kind of mental health care you can expect in your country of choice. For instance, is there an English speaking psychologist on your new campus? Is your insurance accepted for mental health purposes overseas? If not, is there additional travel insurance that you can purchase for this purpose? Will you be able to schedule regular Skype appointments with your at-home doctor? Or will you try to see someone at the university’s mental health facility instead?

In addition to the plan you set up with your current psychologist, set a care plan that you will use once you are abroad. Contact university officials with questions, and research the options available to you. Traveling on your own will test your independence, so addressing these concerns in advance will help you get the most out of your experience.

An earlier version of this article, "How to Deal with Depression While Studying Abroad," written by Carrie Niesen, was first published on Go Overseas.

Check out this list of frequently asked questions about study abroad.