Wellness resources for international students

| July 9, 2020
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Note: This post was updated on July 15, 2020 to reflect a reversal in ICE guidance, which reinstates an earlier policy implemented in March that allows current international students with student visas to take all their classes online and remain in the country legally.

In addition to the challenges of the COVID pandemic and racial trauma, international students at Johns Hopkins now face difficulties related to new guidance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for fall 2020 for F-1 studentsThe guidance indicates that students must take in-person classes or risk deportation, which is a physical and/or logistical impossibility for many. 

While there are a number of outstanding questions to be resolved as to what this policy will mean for international students, it is undoubtedly a stressful time.  

To our international students, we say: You and your contributions to our community are valued. ICE’s disregard for student welfare is an affront to the inclusiveness and diversity that defines Hopkins, and the university is actively working to understand, address, and oppose these measures. 

While our administration works to resolve this problem on an institutional scale, we hope that at a personal level, you are taking good care of yourself and making use of every resource available to you to navigate these difficult and uncertain times. 

In this post we’ve assembled statements about the new guidance from university leaders, coping strategies adapted from Psychology Tools, and a list of Hopkins-sponsored resources for mental health and student services. 

Leadership Statements 

In a July 7 statement on the new ICE guidance, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels said, “International students are now faced with an impossible situation that causes undue stress and undermines their educational aims…we are deeply committed to providing opportunities for the world’s most talented scholars, and we will work closely with our international student population to navigate these unnecessary and disturbing disruptions to their educational pursuits while also employing all means available to reduce their impact.” 

Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie also released a statement, noting that restrictions on international students are not in keeping with BSPH’s core values: “The decision disregards the health and well-being of students seeking to start or continue academic studies safely…as a public health institution, we are committed to both educating the public health leaders the world needs and protecting their health.”

In a July 14 statement, Daniels noted that international students, particular new and transfer students, will still face obstacles in the fall despite the federal government’s agreement to rescind the proposed changes to the ICE guidance.

He said, “We stand ready to help all of our international students continue their educations in the best way possible during these difficult times…for generations, the world’s most innovative and ambitious people have flocked to this nation for the opportunities it offers. America’s colleges and universities have been a beacon for those whose talent and drive have fueled the discoveries that foster social progress and create economic opportunity, including thousands of jobs. I want to thank all those in our community who spoke out against this unjust, capricious, and cruel policy. Many of our students who faced the prospect of being forced to uproot their lives and leave this country came forward courageously to tell their stories to the court. They exemplify the truth that welcoming international scholars makes this country stronger.”

Coping Strategies 

The following strategies are adapted from the “Free Guide to Living with Worry and Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty,” a resource created by Psychology Tools and available in 40 different languages including Arabic, Chinese (simplified and traditional), French, Hindi, and Spanish. The guides, available as PDFs, also include exercises and worksheets that may be helpful to students experiencing anxiety and worry. 

  • Offer care and compassion to yourself and to those around you. It is natural to struggle when times are uncertain. Worry and anxiety are completely natural reactions to ambiguous and unpredictable situations. 
  • Establish a routine that creates balance in your life. Routine gives your day structure. Have set times for waking up, getting dressed, eating, working, relaxing, and going to bed. Continue (or start) to do activities that give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and closeness with others. Given physical distancing requirements, you may have to get creative when it comes to spending time with others, but it’s worthwhile to maintain social connections. 
  • Stay physically active. Exercise promotes health, boosts mood, and provides a break from stress. Both the O’Connor Rec Center (Homewood) and the Cooley Center (East Baltimore) are offering free streaming classes for all Hopkins affiliates. 
  • Stay mentally active. Trying something new can keep you mentally stimulated and reduce boredom, fatigue, and restlessness. Give your brain something to do besides worrying. 
  • Practice identifying whether your worry is real problem worry, or hypothetical worry. Mental health professionals often distinguish between worries concerning real problems versus hypothetical problems. Real problem worries are actual problems that affect you right now. Common examples for an international student in this moment might be “I can’t afford to pay this utility bill” or “My roommate is angry with me.” Hypothetical problems are about things that do not exist, but which might happen in the future. Thinking about worst-case scenarios is sometimes called catastrophizing, and it can make you feel demoralized, upset, or exhausted. Common examples for an international student in this moment might be “What if I can never go home again?” or “If my studies are interrupted, I’ll never be successful.” If you’re experiencing hypothetical worry, remind yourself that your mind is focusing on a problem that it cannot solve right now, and find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else.
  • Notice and limit things that provoke worryIf the news or social media heightens your anxiety, try to limit your intake to no more than 30 minutes per day and stick to reliable news sources. If there are other activities that make you anxious, try to limit or avoid them, too. 
  • Practice postponing your worry. Worry is insistent. It can make you feel as though you have to engage with it right now. But you can experiment with postponing hypothetical worry, and many people find that this allows them to have a different relationship with their concerns. Deliberately set aside time each day to let yourself worry (e.g. 30 minutes at the end of each day). It can feel odd to do at first, but it means that for the other 23.5 hours in the day you try to let go of the worry until you get to your worry time. This practice can help you to focus on things you enjoy, like work and hobbies. It also promotes restful, restorative sleep. 
  • Practice mindfulnessLearning and practicing mindfulness can help to let go of worries and bring ourselves back to the present moment. You can try the Calm app or check the wellness events calendar for meditation events. The Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW) created two mindful yoga exercises available on YouTube. The 15-minute session is good for beginners and a quick reset; the 40-minute vinyasa flow is more of a workout. 
  • Practice gratitude. This idea can seem counterintuitive at such a tough time, but at the end of each day, make a short list of things for which you are thankful. Be specific, and try to find new ones each day. This practice will help you connect better with your moments of joy and pleasure, even during periods of uncertainty. 

Johns Hopkins Resources 

Mental Wellness

  • Calm. Free premium access to this award-winning meditation and sleep app is free to all Hopkins affiliates. Sleep is important for mental health, especially during periods of uncertainty and trauma. Go to calm.com/jhu to register for the free access; don’t download directly from the App Store or Google Play. 
  • Free access to Mental Telehealth, powered by TimelyMD, for all students and learners, through September 10, 2020. Mental Telehealth offers a 24/7 phone line, as well as providers licensed in all 50 states for virtual therapy appointmentsMost Mental Telehealth providers have profile pictures and short bios if you want to learn more about them before initiating an appointment. If you are interested in a provider who matches your demographic profile, there’s a good chance you’ll find one who can serve you. Visit this page to create an account with your .edu email address. The service key is JHU2020. Note: telehealth therapy appointments are only available to people physically located in the United States. Your citizenship doesn’t matter, but your physical location does. Students in the U.S. and in countries that permit web access can use the 24/7 hotline service. If neither of these options is available to you, please contact your Hopkins mental health office (see below) for support.
  • Free access to the SilverCloud platform, for all full-time learners over the age of 18. SilverCloud is a self-directed online learning program that teaches cognitive behavioral therapy skills, which can help to relieve mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression. Learning about the thought-feeling-behavior cycle and how to break it can be helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed. The “Challenging Times” module has advice on how to create or maintain a sense of equilibrium during chaotic periods.
  • Homewood Counseling Center (410-516-8278). This office provides mental health and wellness services to Homewood and Peabody students. The HCC staff has also created a reference sheet for Homewood and Peabody international students during the COVID pandemic.
  • Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program (JHSAP). This office serves SOM, SON, BSPH, SOE, CBS, SAIS, AAP, and EFP students. It supports a 24/7 crisis line at 866-764-2317.
  • Mental Health Primer for International Learners. This recorded webinar from May 2020 provides a working definition of mental health, explores common mental health problems for academics and researchers, recommends coping strategies, and details Hopkins-sponsored resources for mental wellness.
  • University Health Services (UHS). This office serves the physical and mental health needs of BSPH, SOM, and SON students and trainees. 

Student Services

Community Resources 

International Association for Suicide Prevention. Find crisis centers in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa. 

Additional Reading 

Additional Information

If you are in an acute state of crisis, call 911. To speak to someone at Johns Hopkins urgently please gto this list of contacts. 

If you have difficulty accessing Hopkins-sponsored resources, please email wellness@jhu.edu. 

To explore all the mental wellness resources available to Hopkins students, visit this page. 

To explore all the professional wellness resources available to Hopkins students, visit this page.