CAPS staff talk ending stigma to international students

Erica Snow, Assistant Campus Editor

International students can work to end stigmas surrounding mental health disorders, even if they are a taboo topic at home, two Counseling and Psychological Services staff said at an event Wednesday.

Monika Gutkowska, a staff psychologist, and Qianhui Zhang, a staff therapist, spoke at the event, which was held at Fisk Hall and attended by about 25 people. At the event, sponsored by the International Student Association, the two gave a presentation that stressed the effects of social and internalized stigmas about mental health disorders. They emphasized the importance of support systems in challenging the stigmas that may shame people with mental disorders.

Zhang said when international students come to Northwestern, they might lose the social connections and support systems from back home, so they must find them at NU.

“When you move to the U.S., it s a little bit different because you are kind of cut off from a lot of those naturally embedded resources,” Zhang said. “So when you’re coming here to study on your own, that becomes … a risk factor. There’s a more need for you to understand what are the local resources and how you can utilize it.”

Gutkowska said because of the busy culture at NU, it is easy to compare one’s self to others, which can be detrimental to mental health. She said students should be vulnerable with one another so they can gain deeper trust and understanding of their friends.

She added that people can be hesitant to reach out for help because they perceive seeking professional help to be a sign of weakness. She said this misconception feeds a self-stigma that can cause people with mental disorders to judge themselves and prevent them from seeking help.

“We hear this a lot, that mental health and therapy is an American thing or it’s a white thing,” Gutkowska said. “‘Everyone has a therapist, especially those who live in New York, so why would I go to seek help?’”

McCormick junior Jack Evans helped plan the event as part of a larger series called “Food for Thought” that discuss current events.

He said even though Wednesday’s event had a different focus from other Food for Thought events, mental health was important because students come from different cultures that have varying views on mental health.

“Mental health is such a complicated issue and everyone deals with it to some degree, and so it’s important to approach it from every angle possible,” Evans said. “Mental health for international students (can mean) the feelings of being displaced from your country and culture shock and things like that.”

Evans added that for some international students, mental health was not a topic talked about in school until they came to NU.

Ultimately, Zhang said students can combat stigma and create a healthier NU by supporting their friends and reaching out if they have an issue.

She said while students should strive to exhibit empathy when listening to their friends, they also should balance their own mental health needs.

“Always make sure that after you support someone, you need to take care of yourself,” Zhang said. “(Friendships are) about the quality of the connection, and sharing, and cultivating connection, and vulnerability, and love.”

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