International Student Mental Health

International Student Mental Health, published in New Directions for Student Services, describes the mental health status of international students in institutions of higher education, unique challenges these students face and their impact on mental health, and suggestions for ways to address these challenges. This chapter, written by Susan L. Prieto‐Welch has several suggestions, including awareness of institutional climate, acculturation challenges, and the impact of cultural values are relevant for anyone in the institution who assists international students.

Suggested Strategies

Prieto‐Welch stresses that in considering issues relevant to international students, we must understand the context of those issues. That is, international students arrive at the institution in which they’ve enrolled and must perform in and adjust to a cultural, social, and political context that predates their arrival. It is paramount to acknowledge and be mindful of issues of racism, discrimination, and microaggressions that exist the country overall and in the specific local and institutional communities to which students belong. Institutions will have to address any prejudice, discrimination, and microaggressions on campuses; understand their roles in preventing and/or promoting the negative effects these can have; and implement ways in which campus communities can be educated about these, while welcoming the international students on to campuses.

Some of Prieto‐Welch’s suggested strategies in providing mental health services to international students include:

  1. Awareness of acculturation challenges the student faces, academic expectations the student may have, and the real limitations the international student may experience (including in many cases needing to be a full-time student in order to maintain visa status). Including being aware of the various ways American rugged individualism can manifest in college environments and might dampen sense of belongingness for international students.
  2. Knowledge regarding collectivistic values and helping the student find ways of developing relationships and enhancing social support (both from others who share cultural values and from domestic students); includes encouraging educating domestic students on experiences of international students across campus.
  3. Being more active, welcoming, and directive to international students, particularly at first.
  4. Helping the student develop awareness and understanding of their identity development (culturally and racially) and situating that experience within the current student identity.
  5. Being mindful that the student might experience instances of racism and discrimination, validating and processing these with the student, and if appropriate, inviting intentional dialogue about the challenges.
  6. Being mindful of language proficiency, as well as differences in patterns of communication (including nonverbal communication and how it is interpreted through cultural lenses), which may be in the service of interpersonal harmony in the therapy relationship.
  7. It is important for mental health providers to also be clearly aware of ways in which the institution and/or larger community may be less than welcoming
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The full version of International Student Mental Health is published in the book:

College Student Mental Health: New Directions for Student Services

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