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

Most important points
  • A new study finds that mental health strategies offered by Australian universities rarely target international students.
  • The research shows that international students in Australia face a number of challenges that may impact their mental health.
  • International students are less likely to seek help for mental health problems than domestic students.
This article contains references to suicide.
Research has found that there are few mental health strategies for international students at Australian public universities, highlighting the need for better support.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Sydney and Deakin University, examined 37 public universities and found that only three universities had publicly available mental health strategies specifically aimed at international students.
But even when international students were discussed, the mental health strategies they described focused primarily on mental health as an individual responsibility, emphasizing options like mindfulness and positive psychology.
Michelle Peterie, a sociology researcher at the University of Sydney and lead author of the study, said universities often ask students to seek help, develop “resilience” and learn better coping strategies.
“The strategies had much less to do with how universities could improve conditions so that international students would face fewer problems,” Peterie said.

The study authors also noted that while some universities have internal strategies, “accountability decreases when strategies are not available for public scrutiny.”

What mental health issues do international students face?

The mental health issues of international students in Australia are well documented.
A 2021 coroner’s report found that 47 international students committed suicide in Victoria alone between 2009 and 2019.
The inquest was launched after a 21-year-old international student committed suicide in 2018. In the 2021 report, coroner Audrey Jamieson noted that she had “ongoing concerns about the safety and welfare of international students studying in Victoria”.
In the new report, researchers note that international students are among the most vulnerable populations in Australia, at high risk of social isolation, labour market exploitation, poor housing, financial insecurity, racism and discrimination.
The stress experienced by international students can be further compounded by the need to study English and the pressure to meet their families’ academic expectations.
Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, also said students often struggle with relationships or sexual identities they could not express in their home countries.

“They see it as a great relief to go to a country like Australia, where this is more accepted. At the same time, they are also constantly worried that social media posts or something like that will reveal this discovery.”

What problems do international students face in obtaining support?

Research has shown that despite the challenges they face, international students are less likely to seek help for mental health problems than domestic students.
Language barriers, fear of stigma and limited knowledge of health policies can make international students reluctant to seek help.

Research by Orygen, a youth mental health organisation, has also found that educational institutions feel ill-equipped to recognise or support students with more serious or complex mental health problems.

The complexity of visa requirements also discourages students from seeking help for their mental health.

Orygen’s research found that despite experiencing significant academic pressure, international students are reluctant to apply for study support or exemptions, as they are concerned about the implications for their visa.

What needs to change?

According to Honeywood, many universities are being forced to make cuts, resulting in the loss of jobs in student services.
He said this had led to a dilution of the support systems that contribute to the wellbeing of international students, including housing support, mental health support and employment advice.
Honeywood believes the government should intervene to ensure that universities provide comprehensive support.

“In an ideal world, I would like to see the government mandate a range of holistic services for students,” Honeywood said.

US replaces Australia as favourite destination for international students

Peterie believes that universities and other educational institutions should demonstrate that they take the mental health of international students seriously by developing publicly available strategies to meet their needs.
She also stresses that universities must acknowledge the structural stressors these students face.
“These are not issues that can or should be addressed through individual ‘resilience’. Universities need to 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 under 25).
More information and support regarding mental health is available at and on 1300 22 4636.
supports people with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking mental health support can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit . also has a list of support services.

Intersex Australians seeking support can contact Intersex Peer Support Australia at

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