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Mind your Mind: Mental health advocates help fellow international students manage stress and anxiety

Siti Mokhsin

Thu Oct 15 2015


IN an initiative to foster better mental health amongst international students, Monash University Occupational Therapy students Tiffany Kwan and Yan Leung have created a resourceful kit for students. Siti Mokhsin spoke with the girls to find out more about their project and where students can get help when in distress.


(From left to right) Yan Leung, 21 & Tiffany Kwan, 24. The brains behind the ‘Mind Your Mind’ project. Image supplied.

Life tends to get tough for students studying away from their home country. The need to manage a good balance of school and life – and sometimes work – may be daunting for some, especially when they have to face it alone.

For Monash University Occupational Therapy students Tiffany Kwan and Yan Leung, the setbacks they experienced as international students inspired them to step up and ensure future students are supported in having to undergo the common struggles.

As part of their final year university program, Tiffany and Yan collaborated with the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) to run a mental health advocacy project called ‘Mind Your Mind’.

Through the project, they have designed a handy guide for international students called the ‘ReMINDer Resource Kit’, which aims to promote “a more relaxing lifestyle” and prevent any “development of mental illnesses” amongst international students.

“When we first arrived, we spent a bit of time figuring out where to go, how to open a bank account. We [thought], if we can develop a resource kit, we might be able to help the coming future international students to adjust better,” Tiffany said.

Coming from Hong Kong as international students, the girls noted that adjusting to a new environment may put a lot of pressure on students and potentially lead to mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

While interviewing students for the project, the two Hong Kong natives found that most international students were hesitant to seek help. Despite a clear indication that some students were undergoing varying levels of stress, cultural and social stigmas towards mental health within students’ home countries prevented them from accessing help.

Tiffany and Yan identified the need for new interventions by encouraging students to become “more open” and mindful of their mental health.

But instead of providing immediate treatment or cure for students under mental stress, they indicated that the best approach was to “emphasise on the positive”.

Their ‘ReMINDer’ kit is that optimistic approach, which assists students in eliminating the stress of handling daily activities.

The kit contains primary tips on issues students often come across while settling down in Melbourne: details on transport, accommodation and banking services are all in here, amongst other useful tidbits of information.

In addition to the kit, they have also embedded the tips in a video, which showcases international students making “the best of their study experiences” in Melbourne.

“We’re trying to create a positive environment. It’s not just about the stress when you come. There are a lot of ways you can enjoy [your time as an overseas student] as well,” they said.

Since its launch, the ‘ReMINDer Resource Kit’ has received positive feedback from new and incoming international students, who have find the kit helpful as a guide.

Upon graduation, both Tiffany and Yan are keen to take up clinical roles in Occupational Therapy in Australian hospitals. They want to treat patients facing difficulties in performing their daily tasks and help to “make life easier for them”.

Where you can seek help

One of the best ways to achieve a better state of mental health is simply by knowing where you can access support. Here’s what Tiffany and Yan recommend students to do when facing any dilemma:

Speak to your university counsellors: Universities usually provide a range of complimentary counselling services to support students facing all sorts of struggles. All you need to do is drop in or make an appointment and help is assured.

Approach international student organisations: Seeking help from international student organisations is also an option for students looking for more general help. The Study Melbourne Student Centre is a great facility which provides an array of free practical and inquiry services, from legal services, to accommodation and general well-being.

Discuss your problems with someone you trust: Dealing with stress alone can be damaging to your mental health. It is recommended that you talk it out to someone close who may be able to help you get through the tough times.

To get your hands on the ReMINDer Resource Kit yourself, you can do so by visiting the kit’s page on Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health page.