International students face major mental health barriers. Are universities doing enough?

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jul4,2024
Key Points
  • A new study says mental health strategies provided by Australian universities rarely focus on international students.
  • The study noted international students in Australia experience a range of challenges that can impact mental health.
  • International students are less likely to seek out support for mental health challenges than domestic students.
This article contains references to suicide.
Research has found that mental health strategies designed for international students are few and far between in Australian public universities, highlighting the need for better support.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Sydney and Deakin University, reviewed 37 public universities and found that only three universities had publicly available mental health strategies that had substantial references to international students.
However, even when international students were mentioned, the mental health strategies they outlined largely focused on mental health as an individual responsibility, emphasising options like mindfulness and positive psychology.
Michelle Peterie, a research fellow in sociology from the University of Sydney and lead author of the study, said that often, universities were asking students to seek help, develop ‘resilience’ and learn better coping strategies.
“The strategies had much less to say about how universities might help improve conditions so that international students had fewer issues to cope with,” Peterie said.

The authors of the study also noted that while some universities might have strategies internally available, “accountability is diminished when strategies are not available for public scrutiny”.

What mental health challenges are international students facing?

The mental health challenges of international students in Australia are well documented.
In 2021, a coronial report found that in the decade between 2009 and 2019, 47 international students died by suicide in Victoria alone.
The coronial inquiry was commissioned after a 21-year-old international student died by suicide in 2018. In the 2021 report, coroner Audrey Jamieson noted that she had “ongoing concerns for the safety and wellbeing of international students studying in Victoria”.
In the new report, the researchers noted that international students are one of the most vulnerable populations in Australia and experience a high risk of social isolation, exploitation in employment, precarious housing, financial insecurity, racism, and discrimination.
The stress experienced by international students can be compounded by the need to study English and the pressure to meet the academic expectations of family.
Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia also said that often, students will find themselves struggling with relationships or sexual identities they have been unable to express in their home country.

“They see coming to a country like Australia where this is more accepted as both a great relief for them but also a constant worry that the social media posts or something will reveal that exploration.”

What are the problems with international students accessing support?

Studies have found that, despite the challenges they face, international students are less likely to seek help for mental ill-health than domestic students.
Language barriers, fear of stigma and limited understanding of health policies can make international students apprehensive to reach out for help.

Research from the youth mental health organisation, Orygen has also found education providers feel ill-equipped to recognise or support students with more serious or complex mental health presentations.

The complexities of visa requirements also deter students from seeking mental health support.

The Orygen research found that even when international students feel significant academic pressure, they’re reluctant to seek educational support or exemptions because they’re concerned about the effect it may have on their visas.

What needs to change?

Honeywood said that many universities have been forced to make budgetary cuts, leading to jobs being cut from student services.
He said that this had led to a thinning of support systems that contribute to the wellbeing of international students, including accommodation support, mental health counselling and employability counselling.
Honeywood believes there needs to be government intervention to ensure that universities provide comprehensive support.

“In an ideal world, I would want government to mandate a range of holistic student service deliveries,” Honeywood said.

US replaces Australia as international students' favourite destination image

Peterie thinks universities and other education providers need to demonstrate they are taking international students’ mental health seriously by developing publicly available strategies to address their needs.
She also stresses that universities need to recognise the structural stressors that these students are facing.
“These are not issues that can or should be addressed through individual ‘resilience’. Universities should work to address these underlying issues.”
Readers seeking crisis support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged up to 25).
More information and support with mental health is available at and on 1300 22 4636.
supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking support with mental health can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit . also has a list of support services.

Intersex Australians seeking support can visit Intersex Peer Support Australia at

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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