Global Health Society on Mental Health: International Students

If you’re from the UK and study in UK Higher Education, you’re likely to count international students among your mates. In fact, about 1 in 5 students in UK Higher Education are from the EU or non-EU countries. Cultural differences, language problems, different health beliefs and being away from home, for example, are some of the reasons why students from outside the UK often need extra support when it comes to their mental health.

So if you’re worried about any of your international friends’ mental health, what can you do to help, especially when you feel they may be struggling?


1 Get to know your friends

Starting the conversation with people from other countries and cultures may feel a bit scary at first. Don’t worry, a simple “How are you?” can help people to open up. If you listen more than you talk and try to better understand the person, you’ll soon be chatting away. Be gentle and supportive, and respect people’s privacy. To learn more about what it’s like to have a mental health problem, you can read personal stories on the Time to Change website (https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/personal-stories).

2 Be there for them

If you don’t understand everything or are not sure what to say, don’t worry about it too much. What’s important is that you’re there – that you show you care about them. If one of your friends seems to find life hard, see if you can do things together, perhaps by helping with practical things like shopping, preparing a meal or coursework.

3 Learn about common mental health problems

Find out about common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, which may help you understand what a friend with mental health issues may be going through. To get an overview, visit NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) and websites on young people’s mental health, such as Student Minds (www.studentminds.org.uk). You can also find general mental and physical health information on the free ESC Student health app (http://www.expertselfcare.com/health-apps/esc-student/).

4 Know where and how to get help

When you think your friend needs help, it’s good to know where to find support. A good starting point will be your university’s student support and welfare pages. If in doubt, make sure you know how to navigate the NHS. You can find useful advice on NHS Choices (http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/Pages/NHSServices.aspx) and the University of Bristol ‘Information for International Students’ page (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students-health/services/information-for-international-students/).

If your friend has language difficulties and finds it hard to say what is wrong, various translation tools are available that you may find helpful, such as the free Universal Doctor mobile app (http://www.universaldoctor.com/prod/en_GB/154/UniversalDoctor+Speaker+Mobile.html).

5 Look after yourself

Looking after a friend with mental health problems can be challenging. Make sure you keep up relationships with your other friends too and that you continue to follow your own interests. While you may want to help your friend as much as you can, remember that if you’re concerned it’s often wise to get additional professional support from a doctor, university counsellor, or other person trained in supporting people with mental health problems.

Learn more

For more information on how to support your friends with mental health problems check out the following resources:

By Dr Knut Schroeder and Dr Dominique Thompson

About the authors

Dr Knut Schroeder is a GP in Bristol UK and Founder & Director of Social Enterprise Expert Self Care Ltd. He has a special interest in supporting young people in making informed decisions about their health and created the free ‘ESC Student’ health app to help improve student health and wellbeing. @DrKnut | knut.schroeder@expertselfcare.com | www.expertselfcare.com.

Dr Dominique Thompson has worked for 17 years as a specialist student health GP, with a special interest in mental health. @DrdomThompson | https://www.buzzconsulting.co.uk

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