Understanding, Communicating, and Advocating Student Mental Health During Covid-19 | Dear Angela

Dear Angela,

We are concerned about the potential impacts of COVID-19 on our international student’s well-being and mental health. What kinds of things should we look out for, and how can we help?

– Concerned Host Parents

Thank you for your question! Mental health is already a tough topic to navigate, especially when it comes to students. Now, during a global pandemic, this issue may begin to become even more tricky. As host families, you will be some of the first witnesses to see how a student might be handling everything going on in the world. On the surface, that can be a lot of pressure for you with an international student, you might just be starting to get to know. But by understanding the emotions, communicating consistently, and advocating for them, you can create a positive environment for your student during Covid-19.

Understanding the Emotions

Like most of us, quarantine has created new habits and emotions that we have never experienced before. It’s important that for most students to remember that changes in school, routine, and physical distancing along with individual, family, cultural and community factors contribute to mental health concerns. Hosts should look for significant changes in habits and emotions as first signs of potential worry.


  1. Change of Sleep Schedule – sleeping a lot or not sleeping very much, taking more naps than usual.
  2. Increased Screen Time – with social distancing policies in place, this habit can be relaxed more than usual to allow students to communicate with friends or family. But increased screen time on social media and playing games should still be monitored.
  3. Self-Isolation – host families should reach out to students and their student development manager if they noticed increased self-isolation such as more alone time in their bedroom, less talkative or social behavior, etc.

Mood and Behavior:

Fear/Anxiety – These negative emotions are a normal response in our everyday life but may also be heightened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and hosts need to talk through these thoughts and be reassured of their safety. If you need any help with having tough conversations with students, you can always reach out to your Student Development Manager or refer to How to Talk to Your Kids and Students about Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Lack of Attentiveness –Loss of attention or concentration may be a sign of depression, so it is particularly crucial to notice if your student is generally inattentive or starts to miss more deadlines or assignments. Again, please contact your SDM if you need any support.

Loneliness – During quarantine, it’s understandable that students may feel isolated and lonely. We encourage our host families and students to engage in family activities such as game night, going outside, playing sports, or even going to the grocery store. For more ideas and Cambridge Network virtual events, check out Fun Activities and Things to do with International Students During Quarantine.

These noticeable changes in habits and displays of emotions should raise a flag to a host but should be understood that these are also normal and expected, especially during a crisis. When thinking of these impacts, we encourage you to be proactive and don’t wait for students or families to ask for help or state they are being impacted. Keep open lines of communication is essential within the family.

Open Communication

So much change is happening in the world right now. Change can trigger all different feelings for a student, so we must create a consistent, stable environment for students in the home. Supporting them in this way can bring comfort to some of the fears they are facing. Here are some tips for creating consistency within the home:

  1. Develop and Keep a Routine: Regardless of whether your student is taking in-person or hybrid classes, students should follow the same routines during the weekdays to keep their schedules regular and have things to look forward to.
  • Mealtimes
  • Chore lists
  • Family and fun time
  1. Keep Rules Consistent, Clear, and Predictable: Have a discussion early-on about what your expectations are in your home; that way, everyone is on the same page.
  2. Practice Healthy Habits: Healthy habits create healthy lifestyles!
  • Practical sleep schedule
  • Three meals a day
  • Clean surroundings (bedrooms)

These tips create opportunities for students to choose positivity and consistency in their lives. However, for some students, this might be enough. For others, students will rely on the people around them to advocate for their mental health.

Advocating Student Mental Health

Student mental health is not meant to be a concern for just the host family. For certain situations and students, it takes a team to care for a student. If you feel the need for more support, advocate their health by speaking up to others.

Who can you contact?

  1. Student Development Manager (SDM)
  2. School Counselors/Teachers
  3. Other Local Host Families

These individuals are great resources to help understand and advocate the needs of your student. Understanding and communicating with a student can be more tangible when we realize we are not alone.

Check out our homestay blog for more information on Cambridge Network as a residential provider, tips for hosting, and our host testimonials. If you’re interested in hosting an international student, please fill out an inquiry form!

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