Coping with Mental Health While Abroad

Aug 1, 2018 4:30:00 PM / by Allyson Barnes

Allyson Barnes

Allyson Barnes is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An Anthropology, Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, and Studio Arts major at University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

In this week's post, Allyson opens up about mental health and shares 4 ways she coped while studying abroad.

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Going abroad is something that has become somewhat of a staple for the American student. It’s broadcasted all over campus and it is so strongly encouraged for students of any major. As an anthropology major, finding somewhere to go was easy, but it was a matter of finding somewhere that I wanted to go and where I felt safe and okay going.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Allyson Barnes - With My RoommatesMe and my awesome roommates!

I am one of many people with diagnosed severe anxiety and depression and I am being medicated for it. The stigma in our society is real and it exists, and it makes it difficult to talk about sometimes but I know that it is necessary. As a study abroad student, that poses an extra difficulty for me when making decisions about my program location, length abroad, etc...

The first hurdle I had to cross was deciding how long I wanted to be gone. Being gone for a long time is really hard for me because it means leaving all of my support systems behind, while also trying to adjust to a new culture and lifestyle. So I chose six weeks because it seemed like a happy medium between being gone for a couple weeks and being gone for a semester.

Choosing the time I wanted to be away for allowed me to narrow down my search for study abroad locations. A lot of locations only have study abroad programs for a full semester, so choosing a duration of six weeks leaves you with less options. I ended up deciding on Italy because I had visited once before when I was younger, and living in Florence would mean the world to me as an artist and art lover. Six weeks in Florence was what I decided on, and I was beyond excited but underlying that were also some nerves.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Allyson Barnes - My Daily and Awesome View-956236-editedAn awesome view I got on a daily basis while exploring the streets of Florence.

Packing my suitcases and getting through security and customs were somewhat difficult with my medication. You have to be extra cautious and make sure to bring all of your paperwork, prescription, and doctor's note to cover all of your bases so you don’t get into any trouble with customs. And that goes for anyone with medications looking to travel. It makes it a little hard, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I just made sure I had everything I could possibly need, so I had all of my bases covered.

Being abroad proved to be a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it, if you couldn’t tell from my previous blog posts. I thought I was living in a dream. But being away from home and my family and friends made things more strenuous for me. I’m so used to having my people from back home helping me when I need it, and let’s face it, culture shock can be intense and it made getting used to things even more difficult—especially since I didn’t know anyone I was studying with before I got there.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Allyson Barnes - On a Boat Tour of the Arno RiverOn a boat tour of the Arno River!

I found ways of coping, though. It certainly took a lot of effort, but I was able to help myself and get the courage to ask others for help too. The things that worked best for me to overcome my difficulties were:

1. To call and FaceTime my friends and family. They always knew what to say to make me feel better whenever I was homesick.

2. To get to know my roommates (or host family if that applies to you). They are your new support system while you are abroad, and I hope your roommates are as amazing as mine were.

3. Teach myself to cook. I learned how to make all sorts of foods popular in the area I was in. So...basically I made lots of pasta and bruschetta.

4. Explore the city and don’t be afraid to get lost. Honestly, the best time I had while I was in Florence was when I just walked around the city and got lost. It helped me learn exactly how to get around everywhere and where everything was. Plus, it led to me finding a lot of cool eateries.

I hope this gave you a good insight to what my experience was like for me. I thought that writing a post talking about my depression and anxiety could prove to be useful to other people interested in studying abroad. There are some difficulties that you may face like I did, but in the end I thought it was not only perfectly doable, but also so worth it. My advice to others in the same or similar situation as I was is: don’t think you can’t do it just because it’s difficult, because it is something you will be proud of yourself for when you accomplish a term abroad. And just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it can overcome you.

Thanks Allyson!

Allyson's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Health Abroad