Helping International Students Overcome the Stigma of Mental Illness

Jeff Foot | 4-10-2018

LewerMark teams up with Morneau Shepell to help unique mental health issues faced by international students


The term is coming to an end. You sit at your desk in the International Office and the following situation presents itself. A student has been reported vomiting frequently in their housing unit. When asked about the vomiting, the student complains of stomach problems due to the food and resists help from campus resources or suggestions to go to the hospital. The student is a second-year student from Asia, but that is all the staff report outside of an English given name. The student has agreed to meet you, their international advisor, and is now ready to see you…

I greatly admire the commitment international students have to leave their families and culture to study in another country. During my 17 years in academia, I’ve counseled my fair share of international students experiencing homesickness, trying to learn a new culture or the finer points of English idioms.  What does feeling under the weather mean anyway?

BUT every so often, there is a student who needs much more help. She or he may be a high risk for self-inflicted harm.  Whether the situation is an assumed eating disorder, extreme depression brought on by cultural isolation, or the student has contracted an STD and cannot deal with the thought of living with it; the amount of skill, cultural insight, or language transfer may exceed what you or your campus resources can offer.

These—and more complex and dire—situations for advisors in offices serving international students or students studying abroad are why LewerMark’s partnership with Morneau Shepell is important for you and your students. Morneau Shepell has licensed counselors who are cultural experts, linguistically matched to the international student population. Their counselors have a minimum of a Master’s degree in a counseling-related field and a minimum of five years’ experience. They are available 24/7 with counseling in 60-plus languages and digital content in Simplified Chinese, Korean, Spanish, French, Arabic, and English through app-based features like chat, e-mail, or phone. This service is known as the International Student Support Program, ISSP for short and higher education campuses that have our insurance plans will have this campus-integrated service providing a layer of support that many of schools do not have the resources to deploy.

Research has shown that international students face multiple mental health challenges, but are generally less likely to reach out early for campus-based support and guidance. However, if an international student wants to reach out for support, he or she likely will use their smartphone in some manner. According to a Gallup Poll Survey, 68 percent of young adults aged 18-29 text as their primary form of communication.

Our goal at LewerMark is to be a trusted companion to our partner schools striving to support international students to graduate and contribute to their global community. Unlike some insurance programs, we WANT students to use the ISSP because it can:

  • increase international student on campus engagement with support and success structures
  • increase enrollment retention of international students
  • have favorable treatment outcomes for international students
  • lower treatment dropout by international students

For our partners, the student waiting outside the door will face a professional prepared to manage the situation with a wealth of professional skills and the added knowledge that ISSP is there to assist.


Author: Jeff Foot

Jeff Foot is the Executive Director at LewerMark and is responsible for developing new client relationships. He joined LewerMark after spending 17 years at Northwest Missouri State University where he served as Director of Admissions and International Affairs. While at the university he also served as International Affairs Director and Data Specialist for the Intercultural International Center. He has a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from NMSU and a Bachelor of Arts Sociology from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Foot also led the English as a Second Language Program at Byuk Sung College in South Korea from 1998 to 2000.