Depression in the Dark: Mental Health Advice While Studying Abroad in Scandinavia

February 20, 2019

When I accepted my ISEP Exchange placement at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), I did have a few concerns. Namely, how the dark winters of Northern Europe could impact my mental health. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, and like a lot of people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, my depression gets worse in the winter time. It gets dark earlier, it’s cold and gloomy… And I’ll admit, I have struggled during my time abroad. Even native Finns do— According to Timo Partonen of the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), “some 85 percent [of Finnish adults over 30] notice the change of seasons in their behavior or well-being in some way.”

So, here are a few tips for taking care of your mental health abroad, whether you join me in the land of polar nights or travel to any of the other amazing ISEP locations!

1. Medication.

If you have it, make sure you continue taking it. Make sure you bring enough to last you through your study period, or plan to acquire more. In my case, I could only bring 90 days of my medication into the country. I brought my prescription information along with me, and was able to acquire a Finnish prescription from the Student Health Services at UEF. One trip to the pharmacy later, and I was all set!

2. Get help.

Don’t be afraid to seek out a therapist or just have a vent session with your friends. Finland has a crisis service available for foreigners for everything from difficulties adapting to a new culture to crises such as suicidal thoughts. Most Student Health Services also offer mental health services.

3. Go outside, and enjoy the sun!

Right now, we get about five and a half hours of daylight in Joensuu. Whenever I’m not in class, I try to go out for as long as I can. It’s cold, yes, but I know I’ll appreciate it later!

4. Take care of yourself.

Take a break. Go for a walk. If you can’t make it to your lecture or don’t have the energy to meet up with your friends, enjoy the small victories. You got out of bed. You took a shower. You made a meal. Every little thing counts!

5. Remember that this isn’t permanent.

If you aren’t enjoying your time abroad, it might just be a bad week. It will be over before you know it. Try to enjoy your day to day, and next thing you know you’re on your plane home! Call a friend or family member back home, talk to them about what you miss and think about how soon you’ll be doing that! For me, it’s a Starbucks study date with my best friends, or a Target trip with my older sister!

Wherever you choose to study abroad, always remember to take care of yourself. You’re here to study, yes. But the grades don’t matter nearly as much as your well-being.

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