Bupa recommends changes to reduce mental health risks for international students

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Bupa says a study involving over 12,000 participants from 175 countries found international students may be at a higher risk of developing a mental illness before they come to Australia to study.

The insurer has issued a new report containing six recommendations designed to reduce the risk of an international student developing a mental illness while they study in Australia.

The report - The 2019 Mental Wellbeing Survey of Prospective International and Overseas Students - is the first time student mental wellbeing has been assessed prior to their arrival in Australia.

“Our research shows that approximately one in five prospective international students reported very low life satisfaction, which is indicative of depression," said Bupa’s national manager of research and analytics, Dr Adrian Tomyn, who conducted the study.

"A significant proportion also scored highly on the measures of loneliness, stress, anxiety and felt pressure to succeed in their future studies in another country; while one in three are not certain they could access social support in a time of need.

"These findings are concerning because we would expect these risks to manifest even more poorly after students arrive in Australia to study and without supports like friends and family," said Dr Tomyn.

International students inject over $30 billion into the Australian economy every year. However, it is thought many can experience poor mental health.

Earlier this year, the Victorian Coroners Prevention Unit handed down its findings into the suicide deaths of 27 international students, finding they were significantly less likely to seek help than their Australian peers.

Bupa partnered with QS Enrolment Solutions to survey prospective international and overseas students about their pre-departure mental wellbeing.

“Cultivating a deeper understanding around the mental wellness needs of international students is critical to building stronger support systems at every stage of their education journey," said Chris Strods, market research and data manager at QS Enrolment Solutions.

“There are a number of challenges that international students must overcome, and nurturing mental wellness is foundational to seeing students succeed," said Chris Strods.

Bupa provides a wide array of health services to international students, including a support line staffed by registered nurses, dedicated on-campus support and health services, and specialised Overseas Student Health Insurance.

“Mental health and wellbeing is a key focus area for Bupa. We partner with many leading educational institutions around Australia and we’ve been developing programs and initiatives to better support the needs of their students,” said Sarah Thorne, general manager of educational partnerships at Bupa.

“With this research, we’re now able to deepen our understanding of the issues impacting international students and tailor the support services we offer to international students to better support them while studying in Australia.”

The report makes six recommendations:

  1. Build mental health awareness and reduce stigma to enhance help-seeking behaviour among international students;
  2. A greater focus on early intervention as a means to reduce the prevalence and severity of mental illness;
  3. Create more opportunities for international students to build social connections and support networks while studying in Australia;
  4. Undertake further research to address the limited published data concerning international students within the scientific literature;
  5. Mental health first aid certification for university teaching staff; and,
  6. Support students to sleep well, exercise often and have a healthy diet.