Mental Health and DEI in
Study Abroad Programs

In this article, we explore the significance of mental health support in study abroad programs and how to provide effective assistance to participants to ensure a successful program experience.

The world of education is rapidly evolving, and so are the opportunities for students to explore diverse cultures and perspectives through study abroad programs. These programs offer a unique chance for students to step outside their comfort zones, immerse themselves in new environments, and broaden their horizons. However, amidst the excitement and anticipation of international experiences, it is crucial to address an often-overlooked aspect: the mental health and well-being of participants. Let’s explore why prioritizing mental health through the DEI lens is essential and how educators can tailor their offerings to ensure the well-being of all participants.

Why Mental Health Matters

The transition to a new country, culture, and educational setting can be exhilarating but also challenging. Homesickness, culture shock, and academic pressure are just a few of the stressors that can impact a student’s mental health. Therefore, mental health support should be an integral part of study abroad programs. Here’s why:

  • Academic Success: A student’s mental well-being directly influences their academic performance. Addressing mental health concerns helps students stay engaged and focused on their academic curriculum during study abroad program.
  • Cultural Competence: Developing cultural competence is a central goal of study abroad programs. Participants who feel mentally well are better equipped to embrace and understand the host culture.
  • Retention and Satisfaction: Providing mental health support enhances program satisfaction and retention rates. When students feel supported and valued, they are more likely to complete the program and recommend it to others.
  • Equity and Inclusion: DEI principles emphasize the importance of providing equitable opportunities for all. Mental health support ensures that every student, regardless of their background, can fully participate in and benefit from the program.

Adapting Mental Health Support for Study Abroad Programs

Tailoring mental health support to meet the unique needs of diverse participants is essential for creating an inclusive and equitable study abroad program. Here are some strategies to consider:

• Identity-Specific Support Groups

Identity-specific support groups offer a structured and safe environment for participants to connect with peers who share similar backgrounds, challenges, or identities. Whether it’s based on ethnicity, gender, nationality, or any other defining aspect, these support groups provide a unique space for open, candid discussions about the particular issues and experiences that may arise during the study abroad journey. In these groups, participants can share their thoughts, concerns, and feelings without fear of judgment, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. Emotional support within these groups can be immensely valuable, as individuals facing similar challenges can offer empathy, practical advice, and a sense of solidarity.

• Pre-screening

While many study abroad programs typically request medical details from participants, they may omit inquiries about mental health. Students and their health care providers should be encouraged to provide as much information about both their physical and mental health, including prescription medications, so that in the event of a problem, the treating professionals can be aware of the history of the individual and respond accordingly (McCabe). Post-acceptance into a study abroad program, a brief mental health checklist can assist students in evaluating their overall mental well-being and determining if the program aligns with their needs to enhance their positive experiences while studying abroad.

• Comprehensive Pre-Departure Workshops

Comprehensive pre-departure workshops go beyond the basics of cultural adjustment and mental health awareness by offering practical tools to navigate the inevitable challenges that can arise during international journeys. By incorporating interactive discussions and real-world scenarios, participants gain a deeper understanding of how to manage stress, anxiety, and homesickness effectively. Through role-playing and group activities, students can practice problem-solving and interpersonal skills that will prove invaluable when faced with cultural differences and unfamiliar environments. These workshops serve as a proactive approach to equipping participants with the resilience and coping strategies necessary to thrive during their time abroad, ensuring a smoother transition and a more enriching overall experience.

• Mental Health Training for the Program Team

Mental health training broadens responsibility beyond counsellors to the entire program team. By providing training on recognizing signs of mental distress and offering initial support, the program team members become part of a valuable network of support that is readily available throughout the program. Equipped with the knowledge and skills to identify and address mental health concerns, program team members can serve as a first line of defense, offering immediate assistance and referrals to appropriate resources when needed. This comprehensive approach not only enhances the overall safety and mental health support system within the program but also sends a powerful message that the well-being of participants is a collective responsibility, reinforcing the commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

• Crisis Response Plan

A well-structured crisis response plan should be comprehensive, including emergency contacts, information on nearby medical facilities, and clearly defined procedures for addressing severe mental health issues during a study abroad program. It is important to communicate the plan to all participants, leaving no room for ambiguity. In the event of an emergency or a severe mental health crisis, having immediate access to relevant contacts and knowing the right steps to take can make a significant difference in the outcome. This plan not only serves as a safety net but also reinforces the program’s commitment to the mental health and overall security of its participants, allowing them to engage in their international experiences with confidence and peace of mind.

Prioritizing Mental Well-being in Study Abroad Programs

Study abroad programs have the potential to be transformative experiences for students, but they must prioritize mental health and equity to fully realize their educational objectives. By embracing diversity and inclusion and tailoring mental health support accordingly, program providers can ensure that all participants have the opportunity to thrive academically, culturally, and personally.
As educators and program designers, it is our responsibility to create environments where students from all backgrounds can flourish. By recognizing the importance of mental health through the lens of DEI, we can make study abroad programs not only intellectually stimulating but also emotionally enriching experiences that shape the global citizens of tomorrow. In doing so, we contribute to a more inclusive and equitable world of education.


If you’d like more information about our study-abroad programs or have any questions, we welcome you to connect with us.