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Tackling Depression when Studying Abroad

Staying away from home and family in a foreign land can push you into depression. Here's how you can tackle it.

Mahesh Ramani

Self-belief and confidence can be used to effectively combat depression. Do not feel shy to ask for help, speak to others, listen to what your friends say; immerse yourself in on-campus activities.

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“You're the kind of person
You meet at certain dismal dull affairs
Centre of a crowd, talking much too loud
Running up and down the stairs
Well, it seems to me that you have seen
Too much in too few years
And though you've tried, you just can't hide
Your eyes are edged with tears
You better stop, a-look around
Here it comes, here it comes
Here it comes, here it comes
Here comes your 19th nervous breakdown…”

These are iconic lines from the song - ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ by the popular music band ‘The Rolling Stones’. The song goes on to talk about how depression affects people and it strikes an individual without a warning. 

This article examines the emotional problems that Indian students have to handle when they go abroad for higher studies and stay away from their family for an extended period of time. We shall also look at some tried and tested methods that can help students tackle depression. Read on….

Depression - ‘The Silent Killer’:

Based on research conducted by the American Psychological Association - APA; it was observed that suicide rates are extremely high among people in the age-group of 15 to 34 years. Additionally, Asian-American students had a higher rate of suicidal thoughts than ‘White’ college students. The other disturbing trend was that when compared to Latin Americans, Asians were less likely to approach psychologists seeking help.

Depression among college students is not a myth but a disturbing truth. When a student receives an offer to study abroad at a preferred institution, it is the culmination of years of hard work and dedicated pursuit of fulfilling a dream. The initial euphoria and joy will continue till the student actually reaches his or her university and settles into academic life. That is when reality will kick in - no more friendly banter with family-members, a completely alien country and culture, miles away from home and not very sure about one’s classmates.

Many people classify these traits under one term, ‘culture shock’.After a few months students will make friends, get used to the weather and understand the local customs and culture and overcome ‘culture shock’.  

Depression is altogether a different beast; it rears its ugly head in various ways. Some symptoms that are common are - getting angry for no specific reason and speaking rudely to friends, drastic dietary changes leading to extreme weight loss or gain, smoking or drinking abnormally, skipping classes and withdrawing into a shell and not venturing out of one’s room. In extreme cases, depression causes individuals to indulge in acts of violence hurting themselves and others.

Fighting Depression:

We are not doctors or psychologists to prescribe medicines. Given below are some steps, which when practised can help students battle depression or better still ensure that they are not afflicted by depression.

1.Speak to your Family:

Technology has made communication much easier and affordable. Take time to speak at least once a week to your parents/family. 

2.Make Friends:

‘Blessed are those who have good friends’. 
A friend is someone whom you can trust. The ‘Student Orientation Programme’ organised by institutions is the best time to meet fellow students from other countries and make friends.

3.Residence Life:

If you opt for on-campus accommodation, you will be assigned to a Student Residence Hall. Residence life especially in American and British universities gives students a chance to explore options like - Greek Life, Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity and special events organised by the Residence Hall team. It is fun to be part of a large community of students from different cultures bonded in the pursuit of knowledge. Do not be shy, speak to people, make friends, the power of alumni networks is legendary! 

4.Seek Help:

All leading institutions have a separate ‘Counselling Team’, which offers assistance to students via qualified personnel. If you have the slightest hint that something is not right with you, or if your friends or classmates remark that you are behaving weirdly; then please go and meet your counsellor.

5.Music and Yoga:

Music has the power to calm to one’s nerves. This has been proved scientifically and there are lots of music albums that are labelled as ‘Healing Music’. Listen to something that you like and relax yourself. Yoga is again a tried and tested technique to find equanimity between body and mind. One need not worry about complicated body postures and ‘asanas’; even if you learn to breathe in and breathe out with awareness it will help you.

What Not to Do?

Do not opt for self-medication and use over-the-counter medication to drug yourself to sleep. Most accidental deaths that are reported across campuses in the USA and the UK are cases of accidental overdoses of drugs and alcohol. Never, ever do this to yourself!
Self-pity and self-doubt are two of the biggest problems that you will have to overcome. Do not lose to these villains of your mind!

Stay Positive:

Self-belief and confidence can be used to effectively combat depression. Do not feel shy to ask for help, speak to others, listen to what your friends say; immerse yourself in on-campus activities. You could join a music club or photography club at your institution, find something that will keep you occupied and will also help you develop your hobbies and skills. To conclude, remember the song - ‘Always look on the bright side of life’.

Have you studied abroad and battled depression? Or do you know a friend who succumbed to or overcame depression? Do share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Are you anxious about living in a new city?

Neha Jain Neha Jain,
Study abroad expert.
We offer pre-departure counselling to help you prepare for your life abroad. Request a call back or call us now on 1800 103 2581 / 1800 103 9634 (toll-free) for guidance.