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As an organisation driven by empowering students to achieve their study goals, when our research showed a rise in mental health concerns for international students, we acted.  

In this article, we will share more about what our students told us about their mental health concerns so that, together, the higher education industry can improve the support we provide to help our students thrive. 

Late last year, we released Emerging Futures II, research which explored the motivations, concerns and behaviours of prospective and current international students. 

One of the major themes that surfaced was the importance of mental health services. Nearly three-quarters of international students (74%) told us mental health services were important.  

Concerningly, around the same percentage of current students (72%) said that poor mental health had impacted their studies in some form.  

Contrast this with the small number of students who had actually accessed mental health service support. Only 26% of students surveyed had accessed mental health services during their studies. Pleasingly, the majority of students who did connect with support reported it to be effective.  

Connection and community

The study reiterated the importance of connection and community. The research showed that students who did not attend an orientation program were more likely to experience poor mental health (32% compared to 23% who did attend orientation).  

A similar theme came through with living arrangements. People living on campus or with family reported fewer incidences of poor mental health, compared to those living off campus. 

Juggling work, life and study

Undertaking paid work was another area with interesting results. The highest percentage of the cohort experiencing poor mental health were those working fewer than 10 hours or more than 40 hours per fortnight (37% and 31%, respectively).  

So, what can we learn from our research, and what are we doing about it?

For IDP, our first priority after reviewing our findings was to enhance our pre-departure briefings before a student leaves their home country. We introduced programs that had renewed focus on ensuring students were aware of the mental health challenges they may face, and, most critically, where they could access support.  

We also knew if we had this research, it needed to be shared so it could be used to create positive change.  

We also took this research to the industry. In October, we presented our findings to over 2000 leaders of the international education sector at various conferences, webinars, and events across Australia, UK, US and Canada. We also made the Emerging Futures insights available via data dashboards to our institution clients, so they could analyse the data by the segments important to them.  

Most importantly, we are increasing our support to help students form part of a community throughout their journey. Before students have even left their home countries, our pre-departure briefings ensure they are supported. This year in Australia we have launched Thrive, a program that aims to connect students with essential services, well-being support and career advice and peer-to-peer community programs as soon as they arrive onshore. In the UK, student reviews gathered for the Whatuni Student Choice Awards (WUSCAs) highlight concerns and suggestions for host universities and are shared with administrators to make real changes. In other destinations, similar student support initiatives are planned and continue to develop based on student needs evident from our research.  

An opportunity to unite and learn

In my experience, people who work in international education genuinely care about our students, with incredible student support work happening across the breadth of our sector. 

As such, it was no surprise to learn that students who were aware of the support available from their institution were incredibly positive. When asked to evaluate the effectiveness of support services, 78% of students said the support for their mental health issues had been highly effective. 

Our challenge is to come together to shine a spotlight on available support and show students they are not alone.  

To pursue an international education takes courage at every step, and as we’ve learnt, students face unknown challenges on arrival in their study destination. Finding a new community and understanding what support is available is a necessity, not an option, if they are to thrive. 

At IDP Connect, we promise to be a champion and a voice for our students across the world. We will continue to seek out ways to enhance our support at all stages of their education journey, to share their concerns, and to truly listen to what they are telling us. More in-depth information about the mental health findings from Emerging Futures II, as well as suggestions for prioritising student well-being in strategy, can be found in our report.

We know our sector colleagues share this commitment and we recognise the critical role you play in supporting students. IDP Connect has a commitment to understanding the mental health concerns from our students on an annual cycle, and upcoming Emerging Futures research will continue to explore this important topic.  

As always, we want to hear from you. If you would like to speak with us about the Emerging Futures research, get in touch.

Download Report

Our latest 'Supporting the mental health of international students' report

Discover more in our latest report
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Simon Emmett27 February 2023