Through a recent report titled Mental health and well-being in international education: Considerations for providing support to students and administratorsalong with a related webinar on the topic, the organizations joined forces to highlight ongoing concerns and offer recommendations to better support students and administrators.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, promoting awareness of student mental health issues and providing increased support within campus communities and within the international education sector in general has become more important.
Leah Mason, IIE Research, Evaluation and Learning Team Leader, said Pie“The IIE and the AIFS Foundation are committed to raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing within the international education community”.
Mason added that the research “highlights that the focus on mental health and wellbeing through the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the proliferation of proactive practices, tools and resources that can be life-changing for students and enable them to participate in international exchanges.
The joint report was based on a series of interviews with staff from IIE, AIFS and universities in the US. The findings were compared to recent research on international exchange students, such as the Open Doors report on international students with disabilities.
Mason and co-author IIE consultant Sarah Ingraham identified key findings as falling under the central categories of student support and administrator support.
In terms of support for students, study participants indicated the need for more proactive responses, including wellbeing support as a core component of exchange programs at an early stage. They noted that this can be accomplished by having prominent resources on program and university websites, at orientations, and during program activities.
They also emphasized the critical nature of effective communication with international students, including frequent check-ins, personal engagement, and creating a “courageous space” for disclosure.
The findings showed that the most significant barrier for students was the stigma that mental health issues often carry. As such, the report’s recommendations suggested maintaining an asset-based approach.
“While it can be difficult for students to disclose their mental health and well-being needs during the pre-departure period, respondents recommended building trust and de-stigmatizing early on to encourage an open and honest dialogue before a student leaves for a study abroad experience, whether in the US or abroad.”
The report and corresponding webinar also addressed the support IE administrators need to address students’ mental health issues as well as their own health needs.
“A commitment to sharing best practices, benchmarking successes and challenges, is critical to the future of our industry”
Mason told The PIE: “Our commitment goes beyond students to support counselors and practitioners who work with health professionals and others across their organization and to ensure we recognize the critical role their wellbeing plays in the success of the program by providing them with training and resources.”
Recommendations from both interview respondents and webinar panelists suggested that administrators set boundaries for how they support students’ mental health and well-being.
This includes enlisting the help of mental health professionals rather than administrators taking on these roles themselves. More training for administrators on dealing with student mental health issues was also warranted.
The topic of integrated support was also highlighted. “When all offices, departments, or units serving international students studying abroad can work together, it will greatly streamline efforts, create more robust networks, and strengthen the support provided,” the authors state.
“At a time when agencies and organizations are being asked to ‘do more with less,’ I personally strive to ask questions, be curious and reach out to colleagues to check in, learn and stay connected,” added Kelly Holland, Vice President of Institutional Partnerships at AIFS.
“A commitment to sharing best practices, comparing successes and challenges, is critical to the future of our industry.”