Mental Health and the year abroad

By Lola Bianchi, University of Guelph, Canada

So this is quite a hard topic to write about for me, it’s very exposing and although I am fairly comfortable talking to my friends about my mental health, it’s a whole other ballgame having to write openly about it on a university blog post!

Saying that, I do also feel like I am semi-responsible in sharing this as a lot of people also have mental health issues and I think one of the most daunting things about going on the year abroad is the potential impact it could have on your wellbeing. I have personally struggled a lot with my mental health here. I think I was at a point in my life where I probably should’ve stayed in Manchester instead of coming here, as it was the first time in my university life that I had started to feel very settled and comfortable. I had a pretty rough time in my first and second year, with a very toxic relationship, as well as having drama with my second year house and COVID. This meant that when I re-sat my second year it was only then that I had achieved a nice living environment in Manchester and I cut it very short by coming here. A lot of my friends either graduated last year or will be graduating this year, so it is also semi-frustrating knowing that many of my friends will no longer be students when I get home. But, it is a good opportunity for me to branch out of the current friend groups I’m in and find new friends who are still in uni!

Something I have also really struggled with is doing long-distance. Me and my boyfriend decided to stay together, and surprisingly have somehow made it work. We had a LOT of issues in first term, adjusting to the distance and figuring out communication methods/how to keep the relationship alive when there is the whole Atlantic between you. Yet, I think through it all we have both really grown and matured and have reached a really healthy and mature relationship dynamic which we probably would never have reached if we weren’t forced into having to adapt to the distance. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, however. Although we are at a good place now, it was only really after going home for Christmas that we were able to reset. In the first term, we had had many arguments and had been close to breaking up countless times, and I know for a fact that this has had a really negative impact on my time here. And although I am so happy we were able to make it work, I know a lot of people wouldn’t and I think it’s important to consider the dynamics of your relationship before committing to doing such a long distance. We didn’t get to see each other for 5 months almost and that is an incredibly long time to be constantly arguing, and it really brings both parties down and makes any mental health issues feel way more prevalent.

I also think I should bring up the fact that there is a lot of support abroad BUT accepting it or reaching out for it has been rather hard. Not necessarily because of structural issues, the university is very accommodating and accessible, but more so because I think when you do feel really really low it’s so hard to go get the help you need. This is especially hard when you are in an environment where you are alone and you don’t necessarily have a lot of people that you feel comfortable opening up to. I struggle with a mood disorder and my diagnosis carries a lot of prejudices and misconceptions so it isn’t something I have openly discussed with anyone here. This has further impacted my time here as I don’t feel like I have been able to replicate the support network I had at home. It is a bit naïve to assume that you can find as good friends in a year as you do across 3, but I also think it is in part my problem. I am sure I could open up to people and discuss but I don’t necessarily want to make other people feel bad and like I don’t enjoy their company. I have met some very genuine and loving Canadian friends, it’s just my own worries and concerns of what they will think that stops me speaking up.

I would say, though, that even though this year has caused a lot of issues for my mental health, I wouldn’t let that act as a deterrent from doing this. I have learnt so much more about myself and how to handle uncomfortable situations independently. It’s also been super eye opening to so many other things about Canadian culture and politics. I had previously considered moving here post-university, however, this experience has really shown me how essential it is to know the place you plan on going to. It has also showed me the kind of people I do get along with and how to spend time alone when you live in a city with not much to do. I would also recommend reaching for the help as early on as you can. Sometimes I wonder how different this year could’ve been if I had gone to get the help I needed instead of just retreating into isolation. However, no good comes from speculating, so all that I can really do is try to enjoy the time I have left, and share this experience for anyone else who is worried about their mental health abroad.

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