Two recent studies have shed light on the mental health needs of international students and are calling for urgent action to address the issue.
These studies (Changes in mental health across the COVID-19 pandemic for local and international university students in Australia: a cohort study and Suicide Prevention for International Students: A Scoping Review) have revealed international students have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, experiencing increased psychological distress and reduced help-seeking behaviour. Now, the rising cost of living and housing shortages have added new challenges, further exacerbating the risks to mental health.
The studies also show that international students face unique challenges in accessing mental health services due to cultural and language barriers, social isolation, and financial difficulties. Providing targeted mental health support for international students is crucial to tackle the severity of this issue, as highlighted in a recent article in The Guardian.
If you or someone you know is an international student in Australia struggling with mental health issues, it’s essential to know where to find support and to not suffer in silence. Here’s a helpful guide to mental health services in Australia, along with the signs to look out for.
Signs to look for
Beyond Blue is an Australian not-for-profit organisation that raises awareness of depression, anxiety and suicide prevention, and encourages people with mental health problems to seek support. Beyond Blue has outlined the important signs and symptoms to look out for when recognising depression in yourself or others. These include behavioural signs, such as withdrawing from close friends and family; feeling overwhelmed or miserable; developing thoughts like, ‘I’m worthless’; or physical symptoms such as feeling sick and run-down all the time.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, Beyond Blue details a range of behavioural and/or physical changes in yourself that also indicate that something isn’t right. Your close friends or family may also notice these changes in you. ‘Non-verbal’ indicators can include changes such as social withdrawal and disinterest in maintaining your appearance, while ‘indirect verbal’ indicators can include speaking about feeling hopeless or feeling like a burden on others.
- Noticing how they feel and talk, including feelings of sadness, rejection or desperation
- Noticing how they behave, including withdrawing from friends and family, having sudden mood swings, or acting recklessly or joining in risky activities.
If you are noticing these signs in yourself or in friends and loved ones, it is time to seek help.
As outlined by healthdirect, high-risk signs that might indicate a person may attempt suicide include if they:
- Threaten to hurt or kill themselves
- Possess or have ways to kill themselves, such as stockpiling tablets or buying equipment that could be used to harm themselves
- Talk, draw or write about death, dying or suicide
What should I do if I’m feeling this way?
If you’re experiencing signs of depression and anxiety, and want some direction in where to seek help, Beyond Blue has put together an Anxiety and Depression Checklist. After filling out the checklist, you are given a score. This score will indicate the low, medium or high range of experiencing depression and/or anxiety, and will provide you with appropriate support contacts. You can even print the checklist and take it to your GP to discuss your mental health.
If you want to talk to someone about the way you are feeling, there are a range of free and confidential phone hotlines and online live chats that allow you to speak to a counsellor and seek guidance. Many are available 24/7 and are free to access. They also won’t affect your visa.
Some of these include:
- Lifeline (13 11 14)
- Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636)
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
- MensLine (1300 789 978)
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, immediately contact a suicide hotline – someone is there 24 hours a day to help you. These include:
If you are in an emergency or think you pose an immediate risk to yourself or those around you, call the emergency hotline on Triple Zero (000).
What if my friends are showing signs?
As directed by Beyond Blue, one of the best things you can do is to simply ask them how they are feeling. This can be an intimidating conversation to have, but there are certain ways to approach the person you are worried about to make things easier. These include choosing a comfortable location, such as their house or while doing something you enjoy together, and using specific, open conversation starters. These include “how are you?” or “you don’t seem yourself.”
Beyond Blue also shares details on how to be prepared for their responses, including if they deny there’s a problem or refuse to see a professional for help, where to go from there, and how to create a safety plan that can help your friend when they are feeling overwhelmed.
If you think that they pose an immediate risk to themselves or others, call Triple Zero (000). Otherwise, active support can include making a doctor’s appointment for them or taking them to the emergency room.
Speaking to a psychologist
If you want to start seeking a psychologist regularly, a Mental Health Care Plan is available in Australia, which you can discuss with your GP. This will allow you to see a psychologist for six sessions. If you want to see your psychologist again after this, you will need to chat to your GP about getting a new Mental Health Care Plan (it will cover a total of 10 sessions across a 12-month period).
As an international student, some of the cost of seeing a psychologist under the Mental Health Care Plan may be partially covered by your Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC). Chat to your OSHC provider for more information.