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Australia: 93% of stranded students have mental health issues

CISA's new report has found that large numbers of international students are facing serious mental health issues. Photo: Pexels

According to the report a “highly concerning” 27% of students have had thoughts of self-harm

The Voices of Stranded International Students survey was carried out to raise awareness, inform CISA’s advocacy and support sector responses. 

“The picture painted on mental health impact was shockingly distressing”

It received 607 individual responses from students – 60% of these were students who have not travelled to Australia, while 244 were students who lived and studied in the country before being stranded overseas.

“Based on the messages and contacts CISA has received from students, we have been very concerned about the mental health impact on students stranded overseas, the results from this survey have proven our concerns necessary,” the report said.  

“The picture painted on mental health impact was shockingly distressing. A whopping nine out of 10 students reported to experienced stress regarding their situation, with over two-thirds reported self- diagnosed anxiety and/or self-diagnosed depression.” 

According to the report a “highly concerning” 27% of students have had thoughts of self-harm and one-fourth reported to exhibit clinically diagnosed anxiety or depression. 

Only 7% of respondents reported that they had not experienced a significant mental health impact. 

“Many students pointed to prolonged uncertainty as the source of their mental trauma and stress,” the report said. 

“There was a common feeling of regret and helplessness that they have invested too much in their education and with this continued delay, their time has been “wasted” and their future and career have been “ruined”.”

Additional specific feedback included students losing motivation from purely theoretical teaching in degrees such as medicine, being pressured to get married due to cultural reasons and to give up their studies, marriage breakdown due to distance and stress, and shame and humiliation by family and friends.

Some 91% of respondents said that they wanted additional mental health support and resources for stranded students. 

Other findings of the report were that 64% of respondents stated they are unsatisfied with online learning quality and experience. 

The main factors were a lack of interaction with peers and teaching staff, time zone differences, inability to access practical components, loss of exposure and foreign experience, and technical difficulties. 

Some 92% of respondents have suffered from financial impact – with common causes being paying bills, storage for belongings and paying rent in Australia despite not being in the country. 

Two-third of students had lost their part-time or casual job in Australia and students stressed that paying their tuition fees in Australian dollars without being able to earn supplemental income in Australia is a huge pressure. 

“We recommend education providers to address key issues such as timetable adjustments, increased contact with lecture staff and personal support”

The report also noted that 96% of respondents supported tuition fee reduction and 36% have considered or decided going to a different country. 

“Based on the survey findings, we recommend education providers to address key issues such as timetable adjustments, increased contact with lecture staff and personal support. CISA Tuition Fee Campaign found that while some have implemented a few recommended measures, there is a lack of standardised response,” CISA said in the report.  

“We, therefore, call for unified policies on  fee payment flexibility, flexible deferrals/study load reduction, and fee freeze until 2024,” CISA added. 

CISA is also calling for the Australian government to implement a nationally coordinated plan with concrete steps to “bring students back urgently”, with clear communications on the roadmap to students’ return and requirements.

Preliminary results of a smaller scale survey by CISA found that 94% of students reported stress, 74% self-diagnosed anxiety and 71% self-diagnosed depression.

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