Every teenager has heard, at least once, that what they’re going through (i.e. significant changes in behavior) is “just a phase.” However, this isn’t always the case. The Guardian recently reported that one-fifth of all adolescents are thought to have a diagnosable mental disorder; and unfortunately, less than 50% end up seeking therapy.

Combined with the fact that mental health issues are more prevalent in expats, as reported by The Telegraph, teenagers who live in foreign countries often feel as if they have no options; therefore, students at AISB are extremely vulnerable.

Luckily, in this day and age, technology has been improving rapidly — and a new form of counseling, accessible to expats through the click of a computer mouse, is available.

 

Mental Health at AISB

AISB High School Counselor Oddny Bakke’s office.

Mental health refers to our “cognitive, behavioral and emotional well-being; it is all about how we think, feel, and behave”, explains the World Health Organization. Therefore, when our mental health is being affected negatively and severely, it is important to seek help and treatment.

This is particularly difficult at an international school – especially when you are constantly moving in addition to the lingering feeling of shame when seeking therapy.

Ingrid Z. and Flora P., two students in the 8th grade, noticed that there is a stigma around mental health and decided to take action by improving facilities at AISB.

“[We were inspired because] … both of us already had experience with it [mental health problems] in the past,” Ingrid stated, lips pursed. “And then we noticed how much of a stigma there was around mental health and seeking help for it in the world…”

They started their action by sending out a survey to middle school students, receiving somewhat worrisome results. Flora summarised their results, saying, “When we asked them if they ever experienced mental health problems…55% of 215 people said yes [they experienced mental health problems] … 25% kept it a secret and 10% thought it wasn’t serious.”

Furthermore, a similar survey was recently conducted regarding high school students about mental health; the results showed that from middle school to high school, mental health problems increased.

  • 74% of respondents stated that they experienced “mental health problems”.
  • 65% stated that said mental health problems interfere with their lives either occasionally or on a regular basis.
  • 40% stated that they felt their mental health problem was “not serious enough”, and over half of respondents never opened up to a counselor, citing this belief.

The stigma around counseling and mental health

Image source: Pembrokeshire College

“I have never opened up to anyone (besides one person) because they will think that I’m crazy,” wrote a high schooler in response to the survey.

Answers like this, unfortunately, were very common. Multiple people said that they were scared of what people will think of their ability to function (or lack thereof) and label them as weak, causing them to dismiss their own problems. This is called self-stigma; in which a person feels ashamed to seek help.

In addition, others mentioned that their parents dismissed their problems when they told them. This is labeled as social stigma which is characterized by denying mental health problems and being discriminatory towards people with them.

Unfortunately, the majority of the population fails to recognize that mental illness is as significant as a physical illness or injury—they affect our day-to-day life immensely. Because of this, it is illogical not to seek help.

Luckily, in an ever-growing, technologically advanced world, there are options which could limit, if not remove, the stigma around mental health. This is called Telehealth, often referred to as “online therapy”.

What is “Online Therapy”?

Despite the constantly growing popularity of Telehealth, approximately 87% of high schoolers didn’t know what online therapy is.

“[Online] counseling is just like normal counseling except that it’s done through a digital media such as Skype,” says Stephanie Finnell, Middle School Counsellor. Finnell also cited the Truman group, an organization whose goal is to provide safe, English-speaking therapists for people living overseas.

They use the platform “Doxy” which has HIPAA complaint, therefore includes confidentiality.

“The Truman Group is a really big organisation we [AISB counselors] refer to a lot because the nice thing is… every one of the counsellors that work their either specialises in or has been an expat…” she explained, smiling. “So they understand transitions. They understand what people in our position [living overseas] are going through.”

Although the Truman group is an amazing option, it is important to note that there are more – you can talk to your counselor for further referrals.

What are the benefits of online therapy?

Although online counseling does not work for everyone, it is important to note the possible advantages of it. Seeking help through a digital media may be beneficial for the following reasons:

  • There is no stigma. The stigma around mental health can make seeking help a frightening thought because of the fear of seeing someone you know. Emily Boland, the Clinical Coordinator of the Truman group and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, writes, “For our adolescent clients, in particular, using an online platform seems to provide a more comfortable and less stigmatized setting, as they are really comfortable with chatting with video platforms.”
  • It is safe. As mentioned previously, all clients have the right to confidentiality, making this a secure method for counseling. Finnell also discussed the safety of video chatting, saying, “[The programs can be] encrypted, so it’s safe and secure… so people can’t hack into it.”
  • Typically costs as much as regular therapy. The cost of online therapy typically varies from provider-to-provider. In addition, Finnell confirmed that it can be covered by insurance, “but each individual should check with their insurance company to be sure.”
  • Counselors understand expats. Due to the fact that online therapists typically specialize in expats, they understand people living overseas. Boland states, “Sometimes there is a great provider who speaks English, but for some reason the expat might want to see someone who shares their own cultural viewpoint…we are able to provide care and… more options for treatment.”
  • Traveling takes no time whatsoever. The vast majority of treatment centers in Romania are in the city, whereas a large number of students live near the school. Therefore, for a lot of people, getting to therapy can be difficult. However, with online therapy, one could receive help from home.

“The pros include the convenience of remaining home (not fighting traffic or weather conditions), the reduced time commitment this scenario allows given that no commute is necessary, and the simple comfort of being in one’s own office or living room,” wrote a expat who uses online therapy.

  • Convenient for people who move a lot. It often takes multiple trials to find the right therapist. Because of this, moving can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. Luckily, with online therapy, this is completely avoidable; in fact, the counselors are often trained in supporting you during transitions.

Are there disadvantages to online therapy?

Just like any form of therapy, there can be disadvantages to online therapy:

  • Poor connection. Just like any video-chatting option, online therapy can experience choppy video and poor connection.
  • Hard to convey body language. Unlike face-to-face therapy, in online therapy, it is harder to convey body language. Because of this, it may be more difficult to explain your current emotional state.
  • Uncomfortable if you lack privacy at home. Finnell states, “If they [patients] don’t have a room where no one can hear them when they’re talking then they might not feel as comfortable sharing.” She later explains that if someone doesn’t have a quiet place at home, AISB counselors could find rooms on the campus grounds after school for privacy.

Should I consider (online) therapy?

“Personally I think everyone can benefit from some kind of counseling,” vocalizes Finnell in a matter-of-factly tone. “I think that we do a lot for our bodies; we exercise, we go to the doctor. But often we don’t pay much attention to… taking care of our minds… I think counseling is one way where we can get unbiased support and encouragement.”

Generally, someone may want to consider some form of counseling if they find that their involuntary behavior is affecting their mental and emotional state, as well as day-to-day lives.

If you feel as if you don’t need to seek professional therapy, or if you’re just feeling blue, you can always simply drop by your counselor’s office – they will try their best to help you. The door is always open.

Contacts

Image source: AISB Counseling Blog

If you are considering counseling or have something troubling you, it is always good to reach out to someone. Listed below are options you should consider:

  1. Your counselors. We encourage for this to be your first option as the school counselors are trained professionals and can guide you through the next steps of getting help. In middle school, the counselor is Stephanie Finnell (sfinnell@aisb.ro) and in high school, the counselors are Oddny Bakke (obakke@aisb.ro) and Tim Battersby (tbattersby@aisb.ro).
  2. The Truman Group or counselors outside of school. As mentioned previously, therapists can help ease troubles and guide one through the next steps. But, once again, we encourage you to discuss this with your counselor.

Other resources on mental health:

 Ingrid Z. and Flora P’s article on AISB monthly newsletter – March Edition, Page 9: https://indd.adobe.com/view/c9f564c8-6137-4cf2-82ff-edf51ccfe277

AISB Counseling Blog: http://counseling.aisb.ro/high-school/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/

Romania Suicide Hotline: 0800 801 200 (open from 19:00-7:00)

Eating Disorders: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms

Depression: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression

Anxiety: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/anxiety-information/

ADHD: http://www.chadd.org/

Autism: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/family-support-tool-kits

 

*Special thanks to Ingrid Z. and Flora P., Stephanie Finnell, Emily Boland, and all survey respondents for making this article possible!

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