Living or studying abroad is no small feat: you may be thousands of miles away from home for months at a time, perhaps outside your own country (and, according to our interviewee, ‘on another planet') for the first time. Your usual support systems and coping mechanisms may suddenly be absent, and sometimes Skype just doesn't cut it! For many years, Sandro Rosseti, M.D., a Florentine psychiatrist, has been a referred psychiatric physician for several of the American universities in Florence. In addition, Dr. Rosseti is the director of the Italian Institute for intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy and a long-time TF reader. He took some time talk with TF about the importance of putting your mental health first while studying abroad.
What is the principal reason that students seek your professional advice?
It's important to note first off that any time you face something you're not familiar with, especially thousands of miles and a few time zones away, a reasonable amount of anxiety is common, and the amount obviously depends on how well you deal with change. There's something I like to call ‘backpack syndrome,' and it refers to the fact that any pre-existing problems will not disappear when you change your environment-anzi. The stresses can be exacerbated when most or all of your usual support systems are no longer present. That said, one of the most common reasons I see students is that they already have a condition.
However, they often have neglected to let anyone know, least of all a professional, so I often see a student when he or she has reached a ‘crisis point,' which is something that should be avoided at all costs. Next in rank are depression and anxiety, oftentimes after prolonged homesickness and difficulty adjusting or managing time. This can be a new experience for students, but propensity for depression varies from person to person. When you add sleep deprivation, overexcitement and school anxieties, clinical depression can occur, and any other issue just becomes that much worse.