MENTAL illness is a huge problem amongst Melbourne’s international student community, according to a peak body representing Australian international students.
The Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) Executive Director Linna He said students often lacked an awareness of the nature of mental illness, or did not know where to seek help when they needed it.
Cultural barriers also prevented international students from accessing services, leaving many to suffer with depression or anxiety in silence.
“A lot of students, particularly from China and India, may feel apprehensive about approaching government authorities for assistance,” she said.
Ms He highlighted social isolation and a lack of support networks as key risk factors in the mental health and wellbeing of students from overseas.
She said many students were under immense pressure to perform academically, and did not make time or lacked the confidence required to socialise.
Her claims are backed by a paper presented at last month’s National Summit on the Mental Health of Tertiary Students in Melbourne.
University of Melbourne Professor Simon Marginson discussed a survey of 200 international students conducted in 2010, which found they reported high rates of loneliness, and that very few of those interviewed had accessed university counselling services.
Professor Marginson’s report said that while a comprehensive study of the mental health of international students in Australia had not been conducted, it was likely that a proportion of those who remained isolated for long periods of time were at risk.
Ms He said that AFIS was committed to promoting the importance of mental health and well-being among international students.
“Without that awareness no-one is able to do anything about it,” she said.