Mental health support in high demand at Australian universities

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Non-profit preventative mental health organisation batyr says the past 18 months has seen significant demand from university students for their mental health support program.

CEO Nicolas Brown said a large part of the demand can be attributed to the unique set of challenges faced by students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with international students particularly impacted.

“Over the last 18 months, our partnership with nib foundation has enabled 2,200 students to continue to participate in our batyr@uni programs. Importantly, we were able to deliver 30 new programs designed to support the unique needs of international students during the pandemic,” said Mr Brown.

“Our student population has been dealing with a lot of change over the last couple of years, with months spent in lockdown, varying restrictions, the uncertainty of when you’re next going to see friends and family, and the closure of universities and it’s created a very tough and socially isolating environment for many.

“Add to this learning to navigate a new life, language and culture, our international students have certainly been copping the brunt of it,” added Mr Brown.

nib foundation made a grant of $150,000 batyr that has supported the delivery of 30 batyr@uni
programs for more than 1,800 students. The programs are specifically designed to support international students.

“Our online and in-person programs offered support for students struggling during the pandemic, helping them to connect with like-minded people, and provide the resources they need to manage their mental health every day,” said Mr Brown.

“While students from all walks of life were welcome to our programs, we ensured our programs were sensitive to the individual and cultural needs of international students, so that they’d feel comfortable to get involved and start a conversation about their mental health,” he added.

International student and batyr@uni participant, Linh, said she first came across batyr after her mental health began to worsen during the lockdown period in Melbourne last year.  

“I felt alone and didn’t have anyone to reach out to, and it was very hard to recognise and admit that I was going through some mental health struggles. This was partly due to the cultural stigma that I grew up with in Vietnam, which I’ve heard from many of my peers,” she said.  

“That’s when I came across batyr on social media. I went along to one of their workshops and later on to the batyr@uni program. While my mental health is still up and down, batyr’s program has helped me to find people that I’m comfortable being vulnerable with and who I can reach out to when I need help,” she added.

Mr Brown said Linh’s experience of perceiving mental ill-health as a stigma is not uncommon among international students, with research indicating they are less likely to show help-seeking behaviours.

“Social stigma, language barriers and cultural differences tend to be contributing factors as to why international students are less inclined to reach out for support,” he said.

“It’s why a core part of our program includes training up a community of advocates, like Linh, with a lived experience of mental ill-health who can share their stories in a safe and impactful way."

nib foundation executive officer Amy Tribe said that batyr’s efforts of co-designing the batyr@uni program alongside international students and tailoring the program to address their unique experiences has been crucial to its success.  

“Recent survey data from batyr highlights the effectiveness of their approach to mental health prevention, with 76% of international students indicating they’re more likely to seek help as a result of the program,” said Mrs Tribe.

“Considering the current national help-seeking rate sits at 17% such results are really important, and we’re proud to have been a part of this, helping to equip international students with the skills they need to better manage their mental health and wellbeing,” she added.