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Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Mental and Emotional Well-being Among International Students in the United States

Loneliness and social isolation have the ability to affect an individual’s mental and physical health. With research linking both to morbidity and premature mortality, their effects must be viewed as important public health problems. Loneliness and social isolation can be especially pronounced in the international student community, particularly at the university level, as this population encounters challenges assimilating to their host university, surrounding community, and host country.

This study, led by authors Drs. Mehrete Girmay and Gopal Singh, explores the risks and sociocultural factors associated with loneliness, social isolation, and psychological distress with regards to the overall adjustment of international students. All of the participants shared that they had experienced loneliness and social isolation at some point during their acculturative process resulting in perceived xenophobia and a sense of insincerity on behalf of domestic students when attempting to forge connections. For some, these experiences elicited feelings of depression, a disinterest in building connections with domestic students, and in attending social events held on campus and within the community, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Results shed light on the impact that poor acculturation can have on the student’s mental and physical health and how bridges between the international and non-international communities can be built and more importantly, sustained. There is a critical need for more effort to be focused on attending to both the mental and physical health needs of migrant students during their stay at the host university.

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