Indiana Daily Student

Oversea-ing health

We Say Universities should prioritize student health abroad

Studying abroad is a great way to differentiate yourself as a student, possibly cheaper than a semester’s tuition at IU, and apparently a major threat to your mental health. \nDuring the annual conference of the Canadian Bureau for International Education last week, several officials stressed the mental health-risks associated with studying abroad. Students who are miles away from home may endure long periods of extreme loneliness and cultural isolation, which can lead to severe mental health problems including depression, suicide and other psychotic incidents.\nIn order to combat this problem, some at the conference, such as Lynne A. Mitchell, who is director of international programs at the University of Guelph in Ontario, suggested setting up mental health aid programs. These programs would work on the same principle as first aid, giving non-professionals the tools to deal with an immediate mental health crisis instead of waiting for that crisis to blow out of proportion. \nIU should be mindful of this suggestion, especially given the recent acknowledgment that we are one of the top schools for international education in the country. Being a university in the top 20 nationally, both in terms of international students here on campus and IU students in study-abroad programs, means that we should be wary of the health risks associated with such programs. \nHowever, there are also risks associated with putting too much of our mental health care in the hands of those who are not trained professionals. Even trained psychiatrists, if not careful, can do more harm than good to their patients. \nSome also pointed out the risk to student privacy. Students going to see counselors shouldn’t have to worry about the confidentiality of things said in confidence. It is true that when someone talks about topics such as suicide that information can no longer be private but the line between being distraught and being dangerously distraught is not always so clear. If, in an effort to increase access to mental health resources, non-professional counselors are employed, how are these counselors supposed to accurately judge whether what a student says is dangerous or not? \nDespite these risks, this Editorial Board is largely in favor of expanding mental health services, even through non-professional means, both to international students here and to our students abroad. The risks are real, but as long as mental health aid programs are structured in intelligent ways, they clearly have benefits.\nThere is still no substitute for professional help when it is needed, but giving staff involved with international programs the tools they need to help in a crisis will help identify those who need help in time to prevent further breakdown. Calls to have counselors attached to the international office, where international students whose culture does not include counseling may feel more comfortable, are probably also long overdue.\nStudying abroad is going to become more important, not less, for college educations. We need smart policies to keep the students involved in these programs healthy.

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