Student Voices: An International Perspective on Mental Health | Work of Arts
Student Voices: An International Perspective on Mental Health | Work of Arts

Student Voices: An International Perspective on Mental Health

Radha Saikia reflects on the unique challenges shared by international students

Radha with her Week of Welcome volunteer team

With midterms slowly approaching and motivation levels quickly dropping, I’d bet that all my fellow international students would agree with me when I say none of us are thrilled about autumn ending.

BUT (bear with me) did you know that rates of depression rise significantly over the winter months? It’s this thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder (literally, SAD) and it’s believed to be caused by the lack of sunlight. Having lived all my life in India, this was something that I had never even thought of. But that’s even more reason for us to pay more attention to our mental health during these months — five in every five of us have mental health!

Mental health is not discussed as freely [at home] as it is here in Canada.

I could spend the rest of this post telling you how to live your life or to buy those light therapy things ($100 of your ca$h money that could be going towards textbooks) but instead I’m going to force you to think about it in a different way: mental wellness doesn’t exist back home. Most people don’t even think about it. Five in five people have mental health but it is far from anyone’s concern, which might be because of all the yoga we do on our pet elephants (I jest). My main point is that mental health is not discussed as freely as it is here in Canada, and that usually means that there isn’t as much help for anyone suffering from any sort of mental discomfort.

Aside from the fact that, as international students, we oftentimes come from societies with a very closed view of mental health, we also have several unique sources of stress: assimilating into a completely new culture, homesickness on a different level, having to pay $25k+ a year, no family or friends nearby, having to carry a bottle of Sriracha everywhere because “spicy” here means “mild,” or having to worry about exchange rates as a major factor in paying tuition.

Take care of your friends, and you will in turn be taken care of.

Altogether, seeking help is usually much less of an option for us. This is why I urge everyone reading this not to immediately run to the Peer Support Centre or to buy an elephant to do yoga on, but to watch out for those around you. People often make lay consultations before they actually seek professional help, which means your friends are most likely reaching out to you in various ways. Take care of your friends, and you will in turn be taken care of.

If you have friends who are international students, ask them when they’re seeing their parents next, because often for us it’s a matter of years, not days or weeks. Ask them if they say “football” or “soccer,” or “headmaster” or “principal,” because even though this might seem trivial, it shows an interest in their lives and cultures and opens doors to conversations that might teach you something new. Ask your friends what their plans are for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Diwali, Eid, or their calendar’s New Year. Ask them when last they had a meal with a friend; have lunch with them. Call someone you haven’t spoken to for a while and go for a walk while you can still see the grass. Do as much as you can for those around you, because why would you do anything less?

For any of you who are interested in this topic and want to learn more, feel free to do your own research or email me and I would love to have a conversation with you or direct you to the right place!


If you, or someone you know, is struggling or would like to know more about campus support systems, please see:

Community Social Work Team

Counselling & Clinical Services

Peer Support (Students’ Union)

And if you are worried about a friend, a colleague or a student, please see: Helping Individuals at Risk (HIAR)

If you would like to volunteer for mental wellness events, please see the U of A Chapter of


Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.

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About Radha Saikia

Radha Saikia

Radha Saikia is a second year international student from India majoring in psychology and economics. When she’s not drowning in schoolwork, she’s usually watching anime, petting dogs or doing yoga. With a keen interest in community work and mental health, she is involved in various mental health and community-based initiatives on campus and also spearheaded an award-winning online safe space in her first year. Radha is seriously good at pretending to be decent at Bollywood dancing, procrastinating and training Pokémon.