Study Abroad and Mental Health

I’m going to get even more personal for this post as mental health (or lack thereof) is something I’ve been struggling with as of late. I’m not making this for sympathy, writing is my way of wrapping my mind around what’s going on while letting everyone else know about my experiences abroad, as well.

This last month and a half or so has been especially difficult for reasons I’d rather not get into. A series of emotional beatings on top of being away from my family and friends (don’t get me wrong, I have great friends here, but it’s not the same) has left me feeling really low. Although I seemed to perk up on my Italy trip, towards the end of my holiday and coming back to university was an extremely difficult time. I rarely found myself leaving my room, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t focus on anything and I was grossly oversleeping. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before, so I sought out help.

My university has a free counseling service, but weekly sessions weren’t available for another month at the time I was looking to go. Instead, I went to a one-off appointment, not really knowing what to expect. When I explained to the counselor how I’ve been feeling and what I’ve been going through, they decided to fast track me to weekly sessions. I was told it would still be some time before I could really talk to someone, but this put me ahead by about a month, and for that, I’m grateful.

I had an initial interview where I regurgitated what I’ve been going through over the last month so I could be matched with an appropriate counselor. I was reminded it would still be some time before I could being my session and to perhaps see a nurse for other options in the mean time. I went straight to the health center where I, again, spoke of what I’ve been feeling and the nurse recommended some self-help books (as if I look like someone who reads for fun) and told me to try to go on walks (thanks, I’m cured). I wanted to further discuss medication, so I saw a doctor a few days after that prescribed me anti-depressants Sertraline. At first, I didn’t notice a difference, but after about two weeks (when my dose was increased), I felt a hell of a lot worse. Apparently, this is common in anti-depressants, so I’m holding out for some more positive results.

I’m on Sertraline mainly for anxiety, but I’ve also been told I’m experiencing signs of depression and post traumatic stress disorder. I’ve always been a worrier, but it wasn’t until I came abroad (or even up to six months before) that I was starting to think I have anxiety. What I feel a lot of days recently can best be described as this: my mind is constantly worrying and analyzing every little thing, but my mind and body feel too drained to do anything about it.

I feel like being abroad for this whole rigmarole rather than being at home has made for a quite different experience. Some days, my slough of problems keeps me from doing things I want to do from going to lectures to seeing friends. When I can’t do these things, I get worried that I’m not making the most of my time here, which makes me even more anxious. When I have personal problems here, it sets in that I’m away from my family, friends and everything I know at home and that makes me even more upset. It’s a vicious cycle. However, I’m lucky enough to be at an amazing university that values mental well being and makes their services known and accessible. It’s not all rain clouds and misery, though. With the support of my family and friends, I’ve been working hard to get back on track. I’ve been eating more, staying on top of schoolwork, going on runs and generally being more productive.

I used to think there was something seriously wrong with me for feeling this way, but more people live and struggle with depression and anxiety than you think. I know there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, so I don’t think of me as a depressed person or an anxious person. I’m just a person living with anxiety and depression. I’m still me, so please treat me as such.

I understand a lot of you read this and might feel helpless, especially from across oceans, I know I would, but that’s okay. I don’t necessarily need your help, I just need your support. To me, the difference is that helping is a more active role while supporting is a more encouraging role. If you know someone struggling with depression or anxiety like myself, a “How are you?” goes a long way. I may not answer in depth, but it means a lot to know that someone else is thinking about my well being. It’s the little things that remind me that I’m loved that go a long way.

With proper coping mechanisms, I’m sure I will be able to make the most of my time left here and look back on this as a growing experience.



  1. Joan foster
    April 26, 2016 / 5:15 pm

    Please know that you are not alone in the way you feel!! You are very loved and know that every day I think about you and pray for you!! I am happy to hear that you are getting the help you need! I hope you get to celebrate your 21st birthday in a fun way!!
    I love you with all my heart!!

  2. Mom
    April 26, 2016 / 10:03 pm

    My dear Rachel,
    I am so proud of you for knowing your body and dealing with issues. You have all of our support, and of course all of our love. I cannot wait to hug you and hold my little girl again. Continued prayers for you. Love you so much, mom.

  3. Charlene Redpath
    April 26, 2016 / 11:15 pm

    Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
    Dear Rachel,
    It doesn’t matter what someone else says, thinks, or does. What matters is what YOU say, think and do.
    We are all looking forward to seeing you in June.


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