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Mental Health Issues on International Students

Mental Health Issues on International Students


Each year more and more students from Asia, Europe and all other parts of the world come to the US to experience the college and university life in a foreign country. International students, who come from many different countries, present a particular group of youth. Mainly, the conflict of the norms that were common for their native countries with those that they face in the United States is always a serious complication for their adjustment to the academic and social life. Such changed norms can be based on various aspects and cause misunderstanding with professors and group mates. As a result, cultural shock, performance rate issues, friendships and other stresses can have a highly negative impact on the overall mental health of the students and lead to a serious crisis on the psychological level. With the difficulties to diagnose the somatic disorders caused by the cultural shock, the government and the universities should provide special support to the international students regarding their personal and academic interests. In order to find out how to prevent mental health issues, it is important to investigate their underlying causes more deeply. Hence, the aim of this paper is to find out the reasons for the mental health possible issues and prove that as they are primarily predetermined by the cultural and social norms changes. The paper will also offer approaches to their treatment since the beginning of the studies as well as preliminary preventive measures that are the most effective.

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Trends of Students’ Mobility

With the world globalization, more and more young people come to the United States to live and study. International students form a good potential for the developed countries to diversify the “generated income and the revenue…from overseas” and to “attract the foreign skilled labor” (Vebrik et al. 3). Therefore, the last 10-15 years have changed the “global higher education landscape” and international student market tendencies considerably (Vebrik et al. 3). The new infrastructure and capacity of the higher education led to the increase of the international students in the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Austria. According UCLA Center report, the USA is the most beloved destination of the international students: “17% of all foreign students worldwide are attracted to this country.” (Cheng 1) Some of them are aimed at receiving a good education and returning to their native countries; the others hope to stay in the US on the permanent basis. Mainly, the desire to come back to the habitual life, friends and relatives is the main motivation to come back home. In contrast, the desire to grow professionally and earn better is associated with the US. Defining the international students as those, who are not American citizens, immigrants or refugees, the statistics shows that their number has increased by 3,7% during 2012 and is still growing (Cheng 1). Among the top three leading countries that provide foreign students to the US, South Korea, China and India should be pointed out. Additionally, students come here from Saudi Arabia, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, Turkey, etc. Being the temporary inhabitants of the country, international students usually live with relatives, homestays, family friends, siblings or alone. Even though the presence of some close people can make them feel some support, their moving to a completely strange country always makes them experience common predictable problems that can and should be prevented.

The Challenges International Students Face

The challenges that the international students face in a new country are mostly predetermined by the cultural shock and necessity to get adjusted to new rules and norms. Some unspoken rules of behavior, different academic norms, educational system, searching for new friends, performance pressure, racism and stereotypes, language aspect, missing family and lack of the mental support services are the common things that can lead to somatic stress and some other mental issues. Hence, the main task of the international students is to adjust to these changes and “learn to cope with the exigencies of the university environment.” (Araujo 2) According to Araujo, there are several variables that predetermine students’ stress level. Firstly, language proficiency is significant for quicker acculturation and makes the level of stress much lower. Fluent knowledge of English is a ticket to efficient academic and social adjustment. Secondly, social support from peers, family or faculty demonstrates the “enhancement of psychological well-being.” (Araujo 4) The next influential fact is the length of staying in the foreign country. The longer students stay in the US or any other country, the less their mental state is exposed to the cultural shock-related stress. It is interesting that students from Asian countries show lower adjustment abilities. According to Liu’s research, such pattern is connected with the fundamental differences between Chinese and American cultures (Liu 70). Among other issues, “filial piety” contributes to the aggravation of the social connectedness and communication problems of the Chinese students (Liu 75). As in any other case, discrimination and stereotypes become significant obstacles to a comfortable and settled life in a new country. Generally, Africans, Asians, and South Americans perceive more prejudice than Europeans (Araujo 4). International students, who suffer from the cultural shock, are much more vulnerable to prejudicial or discriminatory treatment than those, who already got used to the new life. The next influential variable contributing to the psychological state of such students is establishing relations with new people and primarily Americans. More social contacts cause better adjustment and higher self-esteem of the foreign students (Araujo 5). Finally, homesickness that can be stronger or weaker depending on the personal characteristics and peculiarities of the new environment is also influential for the acculturation and mental health of international students. All of the above-mentioned features have a crucial influence on the academic success and overall quality of life of the students. Therefore, there are interventions that are aimed at preventing such problems or at least minimizing them.

Existing Interventions

Considering that all of the above-mentioned issues are closely interrelated with psychological state of students, counseling is the first step on the way to “understanding and resolving a problem or difficulty” (“About CMHS”). The primary support of people usually comes from their close friends or relatives. Mainly, the loss of the possibility to communicate with these people the same way it was possible previously makes international students need some other “support systems” (“About CMHS”). Academic, health, emotional, or psychological problems need to be solved and discussed. In counseling, a professional becomes a person who listens to the student in the safe environment and helps to find the most appropriate solutions. Regarding the fact that physical state is very often related to the emotional one, professionals of Counseling and Mental Health Service are exceptionally helpful in supporting the well-being of the international students (“About CMHS”). Many American universities provide free of charge culturally sensitive services that become helpful for young people of different nationalities. During the last decades, the number of such support programs in the US has grown considerably. The Support for International Students provided by the American university offers counseling, individual appointments, videos dealing with numerous possible difficulties including religion companions search, struggling with prejudices, language barriers and homesickness, and many other difficulties (Center for Global Education). Florida International University offers the program entitled “International Circle” that allows an international student to discuss the challenges they meet in groups (CGE). Some other innovative programs are offered by New York University that is mostly focused on depressions and mental health; Tufts University with its “Counseling & Mental Health Service”; University of California providing “Dialogue and Support Group (CAPS)”; University of Minnesota with its “International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS)”, etc. (CGE). All of these counseling programs are quite similar and focus on the international students’ stress or other mental health issues concerns. The main basis for the international students’ support follows the norms of education, normalization, socialization, empowerment, which are the main principles of the effective counseling and mental health interventions.


When one deals with the mental problem of culture shock, it is essential to regard all of its stages. According to Cheng, they are honeymoon (excitement), crisis, recovery and adjustment (Cheng 3). The main aim of the mental health support programs for international students is to minimize the second stage and save them from frustration, hostility, communication difficulties, etc. The primary steps that can be taken are addressing the cultural concerns, foreign language, and distance. In such a way, orientation activities with preceding preparation courses make students ready to changes. Academic advising and practical assistance by living arrangements is helpful from the very beginning. Social support and language accommodation can decrease the number of obstacles that negatively impact young people. Individual approach and earlier efforts aimed at preventing the problem contribute to its quicker salvation and avoidance of numerous complications.

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International students form a quite impressionable group that often meets various difficulties on their way to acculturation in a foreign country. The mental health professionals have to understand the interests of this group. Mainly homesickness, language proficiency, discrimination and various other types of psychological issues are those that should be analyzed separately in order to improve the mental state of young people. Not only other students and professors should stay friendly and helpful for the students who have left all their close people in another country, but the universities have to provide professional help. There exist special programs that are aimed at helping international students to deal with their concerns individually or in groups. Some students can suffer more from the challenges they meet, and the others are less vulnerable. Nevertheless, providing preliminary preventive measures and further support to the above-mentioned group should be defined as a duty of the countries that welcome international students.

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