It is estimated that one in four young people experience some form of severe psychological distress – most commonly depression, anxiety and/or stress. Going to university occurs at a time of immense change and personal development, and studies have found that levels of mental distress are higher for university students compared to the general population. The situation may be even worse for international students and students participating on an overseas program, who are outside of their comfort zones and away from familiar support networks.
With increased awareness and the prevalence of mental health conditions growing amongst students, including a heightened frequency of mental health cases of students who identify as LGBTQIA+, we at CISaustralia recognise that this is a matter to be taken seriously. Australian universities are also taking mental health on as a university-wide responsibility and increasing proactive action and support, rather than reactively responding to a serious incident.
A growing focus on student mental health is important to break the stigma and silence around these topics. Yet, while there is an increase in reporting and documented cases, not all those who experience psychological distress have access to quality care. Travellers especially are often unable to access adequate emergency psychiatric care when away from their own physician and support system, and the availability of culturally compatible mental health services varies widely from country to country.
Below are some steps and tips to keep in mind as you consider an overseas program and prepare for going abroad with a mental health condition. At any time, the team at CISaustralia (both on-site and in the Gold Coast Head Office) are here to answer your questions and provide support – 24/7. Please Contact Us if you’d like to start a conversation.
See the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website for more information for Australian travellers with mental health conditions.
You can also find useful resources with the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), including topics related to Travel and Mental Health.
The following websites and service providers offer support, information and resources for a variety of mental health conditions:
While everyone feels sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time and sometimes without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious extended condition that affects one’s physical and mental health.
Signs and Symptoms
You may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, you feel sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities. You may have also experienced several of the following signs and symptoms across at least three of the following categories:
It’s important to remember that we all experience some of these symptoms from time to time, and it may not necessarily mean you’re depressed. Equally, not everyone who is experiencing depression will have all of these symptoms.
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where we feel under pressure, they usually dissipate once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.
Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t go away and aren’t easily controlled – when they are ongoing and happen without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard to cope with daily life.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of anxiety are sometimes not obvious as they often develop slowly over time and, given we all experience some anxiety at various points in our lives, it can be hard to know how much is too much. Normal anxiety tends to be limited in time and connected with some stressful situation or event, such as a job interview.
The type of anxiety experienced by people with an anxiety condition is more frequent or persistent, not always connected to an obvious challenge and impacts on their quality of life and day-to-day functioning. While each anxiety condition has its own unique features, there are some common symptoms including:
These are just some of a number of symptoms that someone with anxiety might experience.
If left untreated, depression and anxiety can go on for months or even years. The good news is there are a range of treatments available, as well as things people can do on their own to recover and stay well.
Different treatments work for different people. If you are seeking treatment, it is best to speak to your physician or a mental health professional about your options and preferences. You can also try a few of the following ideas for lifestyle changes and social support. Most people find that a combination of tactics work best.
It’s important to remember that recovery can take time. Just as no two people are the same, neither are their recoveries. Be patient and go easy on yourself.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Staying well is about finding a balance that works for you, but there are some general principles that most people find useful.
Learning About your Condition
As with any health condition, the more you learn and know, the better able you will be to work out what is right for you. It’s important to learn the facts using reliable sources of information such as the beyondblue website, pamphlets and booklets. A number of other organisations provide useful information. It may be worth talking to your doctor or mental health professional about what you have read to make sure it is accurate and reliable.
Support Groups and Online Forum
Support groups for people with depression and anxiety can provide an opportunity to connect with others, share experiences and find new ways to deal with challenges from others who may have had similar experiences as you. Contact your local community health centre or the mental health association/foundation in your state or territory to find your nearest group, or try searching online.
Some people prefer to seek and offer support or share their stories via online forums. You can visit the Australian Government’s Head to Health website to find trusted communities.
Relaxation training calms your body and mind, which in turn helps to reduce anxious thoughts and behaviour. It may also help you feel more in control of your mind and body.
There are several different types of relaxation training, such as breathing exercises that teach you how to slow down and regulate your breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation which teaches you how to tense and then relax specific groups of muscles. Another type of relaxation training involves thinking of relaxing scenes or places. Relaxation training can be learned from a professional or done by yourself.
Free recorded instructions are available online. There are also a number of apps that focus on relaxation and mindfulness – search the Apple Store or Google Play and see what works for you.
Family and Friends
The people close to you can play an important role in your recovery by providing support, understanding and help, or just being there to listen. It can be hard to socialise if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, and many people tend to withdraw or avoid social contact. But spending time alone can make you feel lonelier and cut off from the world, which in turn makes it harder to recover.
It is important to try to get out and spend time with your family and friends. Keep saying ‘yes’ to social invitations – even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. If you don’t feel like talking and interacting, try an activity where you don’t have to make conversation, like watching a movie or playing a sport.
It can help to talk about how you are feeling with someone who is caring and supportive. Even if you are not looking for support, it can still be helpful to let family and friends know what you are going through, so they are aware. This can help them to better support you.
Staying connected improves your wellbeing and confidence, and doing some physical activity has the added bonus of helping you keep fit and tackle stress.
Recovery and Staying Well
Recovery is a unique and individual process that everyone goes through differently. However, there are some common emotions, or stages of recovery, that many people may experience:
Recovery goes beyond focusing on managing distressing symptoms; it is also about having choices and being able to create a meaningful and contributing life. Remember to focus on what you want and why you want it, don’t be afraid to work for it while giving yourself room for setbacks, and seeking help when it’s needed.
CISaustralia is committed to ongoing professional development in the area of mental health. Between December 2016 and January 2017, all CISaustralia staff attended a training package on ‘Mental Health First Aid’ provided by Patricia Contente – Licensed Social Worker and Certified Trainer for Mental Health First Aid. The three sessions formed part of an extended training package to provide staff with a greater insight into mental health challenges and how to best approach and assist our students.
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