Mental health issues are far more common than many people realise. In fact, right now, one in five Australians are suffering from a mental illness. Research has found that international students are particularly at risk of developing mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Language difficulties, trying to balance work and study, financial worries and social and cultural barriers can all impact your mental wellbeing. International students often leave their entire support network of friends and family behind, leading to feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation.
All of this contributes to the increased likelihood of international students of experiencing mental health issues.
There's one other important reason international students are more at risk than their domestic counterparts:
Fewer international students seek help, either for personal reasons, or because they simply don’t know where to turn.
It's OK not to feel OK
Studying abroad is supposed to be an exciting, wonderful, life-changing experience. But think back to those first few weeks after arriving in Australia. Was it all positive, or were there times you felt distressed, alone, unsure or completely overwhelmed?
All these feelings are completely normal. Moving to a new country and having to adapt to a new culture is difficult - even scary. It’s OK not to feel OK all the time.
But if these “not OK” feelings persist and continue to impact your life negatively, you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental illness.
Overcoming the stigma
Depending on your cultural background, mental illness might be something that’s rarely talked about, even among friends and family. Many students from backgrounds where mental illness is “taboo” are afraid to speak about their mental health due to cultural beliefs that mental illness is shameful, or a consequence of being “weak-minded”.
The first step to overcoming the stigma is realising mental disorders are genuine medical conditions.And like any other serious illness, the right treatment is essential.
Where to go for help
Most universities offer free student counselling services.
If you’ve never talked to a stranger about your mental health concerns before, student counselling is a great place to start.
A counsellor's job is to listen without judgement. They may offer suggestions to help you manage common student issues like social problems, challenging classes and exam-related stress.
Student counselling is mainly recommended for short-term assistance. If you, or your counsellor think you might be dealing with a more serious mental health concern, seek help from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.
GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists
Before you can see a medically accredited mental health professional, you must first visit your GP (general practitioner) to obtain a referral letter.
If you’re worried about a language barrier, do some research online or ask your student counsellor or GP about specialists who speak your language.
As an international student, you are obliged to have Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) but you might be unsure if you’re covered for mental health related treatments. To find out, speak to your OSHC provider or download their OSHC policy online.
Note: All OSHC policies cover GP visits.
Emergency helplines are phone-based services for people who are experiencing an immediate crisis or need someone to talk to straight away.
Here is a list of trustworthy, Australia-wide helplines. While they can’t give you medical advice, they are staffed by caring mental health first aid trained volunteers and counsellors who are always willing to listen.
Looking after your mental health
Staying mentally healthy can sometimes be challenging, but it is vitally important. By being proactive with your mental health, you’re more likely to cope with stress, form new friendships, perform better academically and get more enjoyment out of life in Australia.
- If English isn’t your first language, keep practising! Language difficulties are a frequent source of anxiety and low self-confidence. Outside of taking formal lessons, trying joining a language club, where you can practice English conversation in a fun, relaxed environment
- Joining a social club, sports team or volunteer group allows you to meet new people with the same interests as your own. Social media is a great way to find groups of like-minded individuals who run regular meet-ups and events
- Look into techniques like meditation and mindfulness training to help manage your day-to-day wellbeing and get through periods of stress
- Talk about it! If you keep your worries to yourself, no one will be able to offer you support. If you’re not confident about talking to your family, turn to friends and fellow students. There are plenty of students going through struggles similar to your own, so why not open up to them and support each other?
As a student, you may also be eligible for free access to Sonder through Allianz as your OSHC insurer, or your through your university.
All Sonder Support Centre staff are Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trained. As a Sonder member, if a mental health issue results in a situation where you feel confused, overwhelmed or concerned for your safety, you can access our 24/7 Support Centre through our app for help over the phone, through our live chat or to request in-person assistance.
If you are having prolonged mental health issues and are seeking long-term help or care, Sonder’s Support Centre can put you in touch with additional mental health services.
To learn more about Sonder, visit us at the app store: