Life is often full of new changes and challenges. While these can be exciting, they can also be difficult. An exchange program is often one of the deepest challenges the students and interns who participate in them have ever experienced. As unprecedented numbers of young people are struggling with their mental health, student mental health awareness is essential — and urgent.

Participating in a cultural exchange program is an exciting opportunity. These programs are also the first time that many participants are away from home, in a foreign country, without their familiar support network. For students and interns in these programs, it can be challenging to adapt to a world of new demands and changes.

We understand that conversations around mental health can be hard. It can be difficult to acknowledge when we’re struggling, and even harder to seek help. This is especially true in light of diverse cultural norms and stigmas surrounding mental health. However, these difficulties are more common than you might expect. Every year, more than one in four adults in the United States struggles with their mental health. 

These rates are even higher among young adults, and the unique blend of challenges surrounding exchange students might put them exceptionally at risk. At Intrax Global Internships, we take the wellbeing of our interns seriously. We want every intern to have an incredible exchange experience full of learning and growth, and we understand how difficult it is to thrive when you’re going through a rough patch. That’s why we aim to make sure the entire Intrax family can access the support they need.

Wondering how to start seeking mental health services, or how to get a friend or coworker the help they need? In this article, we’ll break down some resources for exchange students, global interns, and anyone else who may need a little extra support. We’ll also take a look at why student mental health awareness is so important, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students Are Struggling With Mental Health, and Exchange Visitors Are No Exception

Student mental health has declined significantly in recent years. Rates of depression and anxiety continue to climb among high school and college-aged students. With so many young people struggling with their mental health, raising awareness is a more necessary task than ever before. 

The complex, unique set of circumstances surrounding exchange students means they may be even more likely to struggle with these feelings. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  1. Cultural isolation
  2. Homesickness
  3. Imposter syndrome
  4. High-pressure environments
  5. Analysis paralysis

Exchange Visitors Are Impacted by Cultural Isolation

Imagine living in a place where almost no one else speaks your native language, practices your traditions, or shares your experiences. Furthermore, imagine what a shock it would be to leave home and transition to this unfamiliar world. An overload of new experiences can be exciting, but it can also be isolating. This is the reality that many exchange visitors experience, and it’s easy to see why it can impact their mental health.

Many interns and international students feel a sense of “otherness” since those around them do not share their cultural background. In fact, many people may treat them as a novelty rather than trying to engage or get to know them. They may also still be perfecting their language skills, which makes every interaction more mentally taxing. This can all make it harder for an exchange visitor to connect with the people they meet during their stay. 

However, humans are inherently social. We crave support and communication. When it’s difficult to connect with the people around us, it can quickly grow into feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. For an exchange visitor who is not only in an unfamiliar place, but also feeling isolated, their mental health can quickly begin to suffer.

How Homesickness Affects Exchange Students and Interns

Homesickness can be difficult for anyone living away from home for the first time, even if they only move down the street. The effects of homesickness can be exponentially harder for someone whose first experience moving away from home takes them across the world.

Many global interns and exchange students are roughly college-aged. For many of them, their exchange program truly is their first time living apart from their family. It can be isolating to feel separated from their familiar network of friends and family. Plus, a J-1 visa duration can be for a year or longer. Whether it’s for a summer internship or more than a year, this extended period of homesickness presents its own challenges.

While experiencing life in a new place is part of the purpose of exchange programs, it can still be difficult to adjust to a new culture. When the familiar locations, traditions, and customs an exchange visitor grew up with are suddenly absent, it can make them deeply miss home. That’s why feelings of homesickness and cultural isolation often go hand in hand, and why both can contribute to a student struggling with their mental health.

Imposter Syndrome for Global Interns

At some point in their life, many of us will struggle with feelings of “imposter syndrome” - a nickname for the sensation of doubting your own abilities and questioning your success. This is a big issue for any early-career professional or student. 

As we begin to grow, tackle new challenges, and even fail from time to time, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of self-doubt. This is especially true for exchange students and international interns. On top of a world of fresh challenges and experiences, they’re also often discovering new aspects of their own identity. A sense of self-discovery is often positive, but it can also lead to deeper feelings of existentialism. This can all heighten the self-doubt and anxiety that imposter syndrome creates.

Internships and Study Abroad Programs are High Pressure Environments

Work, school, and internships can all be deeply demanding, especially for competitive global positions. Global interns and exchange students are often surrounded with these high pressure situations, so their stress and anxiety can quickly begin to build. 

International students and interns have typically traveled from across the world to take a position in the United States. They end up in a delicate balance between the pressure to make a good impression and perform well while still finding the essential time to take care of themselves. These demands can quickly start to impact an exchange student’s mental health.

Why Analysis Paralysis Affects So Many Young People

Beginning a new career or educational program is filled with decisions, like:

  • What should I major in?
  • What should my specialty within my field be?
  • Should I take a job or an internship?
  • Should I try to extend my current internship?

These decisions can be truly life altering — and yet, they’re decisions that global interns and international students are making from the ages of 18 to 26 years old. These decisions can start to pile up and feel insurmountable, which creates feelings of “analysis paralysis” in many young people.

All of these choices are as stressful as they are important. They’re also exacerbated by factors like cultural isolation and homesickness for international exchange program participants who may be removed from their usual support network. Many of these factors play into one another, creating a feedback loop that can rapidly worsen an exchange student’s struggle with mental health.

Student struggling with mental health sits on couch with hands clasped together.
Photo source: unsplash

Student Mental Health During the Pandemic Hit an All Time Low

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the mental health of adults of all ages. The U.S. Census Bureau found that, after nearly a year of dealing with COVID-19, 40% of American adults reported struggling with symptoms of depression and anxiety. This came as a capstone to a decades-long trend of worsening mental health, a pattern that may have continued as the pandemic marched on.

There are many reasons why the global COVID-19 pandemic universally worsened our collective mental health. It led to a lack of socialization and, therein, feelings of isolation and depression. The fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic were also difficult for many people, especially in the face of such staggering losses.

With all of these worldwide problems piling up, poor mental health became a student pandemic in and of itself. Socialization is an important part of learning, and it was inaccessible for much of the pandemic. The trauma of having their sense of safety and security in the world altered may have also had a lasting impact on many young people. 

For the interns and exchange visitors struggling with the mental health student pandemic, COVID-19 made the situation even more complex and challenging. Dealing with the pandemic itself became an adverse experience, and also generated other traumas for many. 

With worldwide losses numbering in the millions of lives, everyone was impacted by COVID-19 in some way. The difficulty of living through the pandemic was worsened for many international students and interns who were isolated from their family across the world. For many, the prospect of returning home was removed for months at a time as travel bans were instated. 

It’s no wonder that student mental health during the pandemic plummeted. As the world works towards recovering from COVID-19, we must also raise awareness about its lasting impacts on our collective mental health. Increased awareness and acceptance is an essential step on the road towards helping a world of students, interns, and exchange visitors begin to recover.

Why and How to Promote Mental Health Awareness as a Student

With so much stigma and cultural baggage surrounding mental health, we understand how difficult it can be to talk about. But, as long as these stigmas are influencing healthcare decisions, it means many people won’t get the care they need. Especially now, as young adults are becoming more prone to struggling with anxiety and depression than ever before, it’s essential that we start having difficult conversations about mental health. 

Untreated mental illnesses can have serious consequences. Students and interns who struggle with their mental health may become overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and isolation. They may begin skipping their internship, work, or classes. They may drop out of school. 

In the worst-case scenario, they may even resort to self-harm. Suicide has been the second leading cause of death for young adults for over a decade, with attempts rising by 44% since 2009. By raising awareness for mental health, we can all begin to reverse these trends and empower young adults to seek the help they need.

Wondering how to promote mental health awareness as a student or international intern? There is plenty you can do to support these efforts. 

  1. Get involved: Research mental health charities, foundations, or organizations in your area, and find out what you can do to help.
  2. Advocate: Encourage your school or workplace to share resources they offer for students or employees, or advocate for them to begin offering more.
  3. Organize: Consider organizing an event, like a panel or an information session, to raise awareness. Student Mental Health Awareness Week is the second week in May, and can be a great time to spread the word.
  4. Reduce stigma: Working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness is a global effort. By engaging in open and honest communication surrounding these topics, we can all do our part. It can help the people in your life who may be struggling to know when others have gone through something similar.
  5. Check on your friends: If you think you recognize warning signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness in your friends, classmates, or coworkers, don’t hesitate to check on them. This helps us all work towards reducing the stigmas surrounding mental health, and may be the lifeline your friend needed.

Sometimes, the most important step you can take starts with taking care of yourself. There are lots of different ways you can do this, like:

  • Taking a student mental health day by relaxing and filling your time with things that bring you joy
  • Asking to reduce your workload or class schedule if you begin to feel overwhelmed
  • Recognizing when you need some extra help
  • Seeking out resources that can guide you towards better mental health

Mental Health Resources for Exchange Visitors, Interns, and International Students

Are you an exchange visitor, or do you know one in need of mental health support? Whether you need free mental healthcare, digital services, or a provider that’s in your insurance network, there are many excellent resources available.

At Intrax Global Internships, the health and wellbeing of our interns is our top priority. We’ll share some links and resources that may help you work through a difficult time, find some extra support, connect with a healthcare provider, or respond to a loved one in crisis.

  1. J-1 Visa Health Insurance: Learn more about the coverage and health insurance options for exchange visitors on a J-1 visa.
  2. Mental Health Resources: Explore this list of websites, apps, and other digital mental health services, many of which are free or low cost.
  3. Student Zone Video Overviews: Find videos on essential topics related to mental health obtaining medical care in the United States.
  4. Student Zone Insurance Center: If you’re a participant in an Intrax Global Internships program, check out this link for information about how your Envisage Global Insurance program works.
  5. SAMHSA: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides many publicly funded services for those struggling with things like substance abuse and mental health. Their website includes links to local service finders and national helplines.
  6. Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator: Find specialists in your area who are ready to help you improve your mental health.
  7. How the U.S. Public Mental Health System Works: This guide may help you determine if you are eligible for public mental health services in your state.
  8. If you are a student or intern at a college or university, your school may provide counseling or other mental health services. Get in touch with your Student Wellness Center or Health Services Department to find out more.

Need Help, or Know an Exchange Visitor Who Does?

Although many cultures stigmatize discussing mental health or seeking treatment, we believe that raising mental health awareness is essential. When the challenges and changes of life start to feel overwhelming, seeking support can only impact your life in positive ways. That’s why we wholeheartedly seek to support any member of the Intrax family who needs some extra support. 

By advocating for mental health services and awareness, we can all work towards dismantling these stigmas and creating a more empathetic world. The wellness and success of our interns is our top priority, and mental health is an important part of this. 

If you need guidance in navigating the United States’ healthcare systems or finding a provider, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Intrax team. We’re always available to support our interns. 

You can also find out more about insurance, healthcare systems, and how to obtain essential mental health services with these resources:

Featured Image: Unsplash

Posted 
May 23, 2022
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