By Rae Wee
Acculturation, language barriers and different learning styles — these are just some of the common stressors faced by international students, according to staff psychologists at the University of Maryland Counseling Center.
In accordance with Mental Health Awareness Week, Dr. David Petersen and Dr. Jinhee Kang spoke at a workshop organized by the International Student & Scholar Services on October 12th.
During the workshop, titled “Confronting Mental Health Stigma in the International Student Community,” Dr. Petersen and Dr. Kang highlighted common issues faced by international students studying at the university that may affect their mental health, and reasons why they hesitate to seek help.
The issue of finances, in particular, is one of the major stressors that international students have to deal with.
Dr. Petersen explained that since many international students pay a great deal of money to study in the United States, they tend to have more at stake — failure to perform well in their studies may cause them to worry about losing their spot in the school or the fact that their education money is not being well spent.
This concern is echoed by Rishabh Choudhary, 24, a first-year mechanical engineering graduate student from India, who took up a loan to fund his studies at the university.
“As much as I don’t want to think about how money shouldn’t affect the goals I want to achieve, it always occupies my subconscious mind,” he said. “My performance will decide my future because I need to pay back my loan and if I don’t get good grades, I may not land a good job.”
As to why students do not seek help, Dr. Petersen said sometimes students are afraid that seeking help would indicate a sign of weakness due to their inability to deal with their mental issues alone.
“But I tell them that coming here [to seek help] is already doing it yourself,” he added.
While this fear affects both local and international students alike, the latter may also find it harder opening up to someone from a different background.
“They think that only someone from their home country will be able to understand their problem,” Dr. Kang said.
But Elaine Song, a scholar advisor at International Student & Scholar Services who was present at the workshop, added that apart from the emotional detachment, international students may disregard mental health as a priority for them as well.
“As an international student, you know, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you have the basics at the very bottom — you need food, you need shelter, you need sleep, and if you aren’t satisfied with those things, they (international students) won’t think about going to talk about their feelings and thoughts — it’s not a priority,” she said.
Regardless of the reasons, Dr. Kang stressed the importance of mental health awareness and seeking help when needed.
“[Mental health] is quite like physical health. When you are sick, your body is not functioning, and when you just keep trying to push yourself, it’s like driving a car without gas,” she said.
“So it is similar that when you just keep pushing, you will not be able to keep going and at some point you will just crash.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay.
Rae Wee is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.