When you’re studying abroad, it’s normal to feel a little stressed or homesick once in a while. But sometimes, you might feel you need a bit of extra help – and that’s okay.
Recent research has revealed that, in comparison with the general population, university students are far more likely to experience mental illness. A national study conducted by Headspace and the National Union of Students surveyed 2,600 TAFE and university students and found that 35% had experienced thoughts of self-harm or suicide, whilst 65% reported feelings of high-to-very-high level stress, panic attacks and sleeping problems (ABC News).
Common student anxieties included:
- academic demands
- pressures balancing work and study commitments
- financial difficulties
- relationship problems
Compared with domestic students, international students were identified as being at higher risk due to extra challenges and stresses faced when living abroad, away from home (Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer).
Fortunately, this same research suggests a rise in reports may indicate that – compared to past attitudes – people nowadays are more open about discussing their experience with mental illness.
With more conversations being had, stigma surrounding mental illness in Australia is gradually fading (see: The Big Stigma).
With that in mind – let’s discuss mental health!
Common Stresses Faced by International Students
In research conducted by Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer, international students were interviewed about the most common transitional stresses they faced whilst adjusting to life in Australia:
Culture Shock & Off-Campus Living Pressures:
Upon arrival, international students face ‘culture shock’ and a string of new responsibilities – including navigating language barriers, searching for accommodation, finding housemates, paying rent, learning to manage a household – not to mention studying!
Students also reported initial worries about English language barriers when making friends, voicing opinions during group assignments and/or utilising professional health-care services (due to fears about miscommunication).
Financial & Academic Pressures:
In addition to the financial pressures of budgeting and handling household finances, international students must adjust to unfamiliar academic environments, study styles and course-structures (see: adapting to Australian learning culture). Some students – especially those receiving financial support from home – reported feeling intense pressures to succeed or achieve academically whilst studying abroad.
Negotiating Study/Work Balance:
International students were more likely than domestic students to undertake long work hours in addition to their studies,forgoing sleep to meet looming deadlines. Such time pressures were found to impact negatively on both the physical and mental health of students, impacting negatively on academic performance.
There have also unfortunately been instances where international students have been unfairly exploited, discriminated against or underpaid despite working long hours. These work/study time pressures leave students feeling worn out, with less time to socialise and relax.
Addressing stigma of mental illness:
Many students reported feeling reluctant to speak out, due to perceived social or cultural stigmas surrounding mental illness.
However, research indicates it is highly beneficial to seek professional help early as “delaying intervention often meant increased severity of mental health problems, with students requiring more intensive intervention than would otherwise have been necessary” (Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer).
Feeling stressed or homesick lately?
Stay Socially Connected in your Host Country.
Build your local support network or swap stories with other international students sharing similar experiences. Use social networking sites/apps like Meet Up or Hobspot to find international student groups, or people in your city who share similar hobbies.
Reach out to friends, family and/or personal support networks.
Talk with someone close and trusted. Still, try not to contact home too often – you’ll want to focus on your current experiences as an international student too. Try:
- scheduling weekly/monthly Skype sessions with family or friends.
- traveling and sending postcards back home.
- writing emails or letters.
- switching off social media for a while.
Be open to new experiences.
Entertainment guides like Time Out (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth) and Concrete Playground are fantastic resources for seeing what’s on (festivals, exhibitions, pub nights, etc) at any given time in your local area.
Remember: you don’t have to be perfect.
See more tips for curing homesickness here.
Need Help? Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Remember – there’s no shame in seeking support.
Read our article on accessing health services and counseling here.
You can also call a support hotline on: