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Coping with stress and homesickness

Three young students © YoungMinds

Studying in a different country can be exciting and invigorating... but it can be overwhelming on some days too.

If you are feeling anxious, stressed or upset – don’t worry. There is a lot of support on offer for international students in the UK.

Lauren Blenkinsop, 21, is studying History at the University of Leeds. Between her second and third years she is working as the Campaigns and Media Intern for YoungMinds, a charity which campaigns for better mental health and wellbeing for children and young people.

Here, Lauren offers her advice on staying happy and stress-free if you come to the UK to study.

What is mental health?

'Mental health is just like physical health; in the same way that you can get physical illnesses, you can also have mental illnesses. If you had a broken leg, you’d go to a doctor. Similarly, you should seek help if you’re experiencing mental health problems – for example, depression or anxiety.

'It is important that you look after your mental health, particularly when you’re away at university or college.

'This means making sure you take a break from your studies if you feel you’re getting too stressed, and talking to people if you’re having problems – whether that means confiding in friends or speaking to a tutor, an adviser or someone else at the university.

'You can find out about various mental health problems, their symptoms and specific and general help that is available on the YoungMinds website.

What help is available in the UK?

'UK universities and colleges know all about homesickness and exam stress – and they’re there to help.

'Most employ trained or professional people you can talk to about any problems you are experiencing. They understand that lots of people miss their friends and family, and that keeping up with work can be a challenge when you’re a long way away from home, and in a new country where some things might be very different – food, language, clothes, even the weather. They can give you advice or point you in the direction of other local services.'

Read more: Health and safety for new students in the UK

'There are often also help groups in the local area; ask your students’ union about what is available near you, or call one of the information lines listed below.

'You could also talk to your GP (‘general practitioner’, the doctor you see when you sign up for health services in the UK). They may be able to prescribe medication or refer you to mental health services for further counselling – for example, cognitive behavioural therapy sessions.

'Waiting lists for NHS mental health services can be long, however. If you wish to receive counselling or therapy privately you can search for a qualified counsellor at BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). With a bit of research you can find counsellors and therapists who specialise in treating students and young people, and some offer a student discount. Depending on who you pick, you can expect to pay anywhere from £30 to £75 per session, with a session normally lasting an hour.

Where should I go for advice?

'If you need advice for yourself or a friend, there are a number of routes you can take. If the problem is affecting your coursework, you should speak to your tutors or students’ union as soon as possible so that they know something is wrong. This means they can work with you to make sure your grades are not affected.

'You can go to the doctor for medical advice (you often need a medical letter if you need to make big changes to your study plans), or ask your students’ union about what support services are available. You can also call one of the helplines below.

What about homesickness?

'It is quite common to experience ‘homesickness’ (missing your home) when you move away, particularly when you move to another country. Don’t worry – this is completely normal. Many people find it helps if they get involved with social life on campus. Most UK universities and colleges hold events for international students, especially during the first few weeks – from ‘meet and greet’ events to campus tours.

'Some universities and colleges have international student societies. Even country-specific ones often welcome students from all backgrounds to their events. Why not go along to the German Society’s Oktoberfest event, for example, or a Chinese New Year party? You will be able to meet lots of other students who are in the same position as you, including people from your home country.

'Don’t feel you have to stick to international student societies, either. Remember: most students from within the UK have also their left home behind and want to make friends. From sports clubs to drama groups, there are many ways you can get involved. Having fun can be one of the simplest yet most effective ways to combat homesickness.

Where can I go if I’m stressed about exams?

'It is natural to be worried about exams or essay deadlines, but this shouldn’t affect your health. It is important to take breaks from your studies to give your body and your brain time to rest. This will not only lower your stress levels, but also help you to retain information. Some good ways to do this are by going for a walk, cooking a meal, chatting to a friend (not about exams!) or reading a book.

'If you’re starting to find it hard to eat or sleep, or you’re spending all your time in the library, don’t feel bad about asking for help. From student mentors to free cups of tea, every university and college is different, but they all have ways to support their students. As with any worries, student counselling or advice services are there to help.'

Useful contacts and further information

  • If you are interested in the work of YoungMinds, you can visit our website: www.youngminds.org.uk
  • If you are interested in getting involved with YoungMinds campaigning, visit: www.youngmindsvs.org.uk
  • For advice and someone to talk to, call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90
  • For mental health advice and support, and to find local services, contact either Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Illness on 0300 5000 927
  • You can also contact your students’ union, doctor or local AMHS (Adult Mental Health Service) to find out about what mental health services are available in your area. There is more information on the NHS website.
  • UKCISA also provides support to international students in the UK, and offers advice on coping with exams and homesickness.

The above telephone numbers are all UK-based. It is usually cheaper to call these numbers from a landline in the UK; prices may be higher if you call from a mobile phone.