batyr launches international student mental wellbeing program in Melbourne

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28 October 2020, Melbourne, Australia – Youth mental health charity batyr will be launching two new mental health programs designed specifically for international students on Thursday 29 October, in partnership with Meld Community and with support from Study Melbourne.

The live-streamed event, Changing the Story: Launching a new mental health program for international students, aims to open up a conversation about mental health and explore the hope, positivity and resilience in the mental health journeys of young international students studying in Victoria.

Help-seeking behaviours in Australian tertiary students are already low but help-seeking among international students is even lower. Approximately 83.9% evidenced elevated psychological distress and only 34.3% engage in help-seeking behaviours (*Stallman & Shochet, 2009).

“2020 has been a challenging year for international students and we know many are feeling heightened anxiety and stress due to ongoing isolation and disconnection,” batyr state manager VIC/SA Tom Riley said.

“The launch of Changing the story will provide international students with a safe and supportive environment to be able to reconnect and start talking with other young people from their community about mental health and the challenges they’re facing.”

“The new programs aim to smash cultural stigma surrounding mental health, which we know can be a barrier to starting life-changing conversations.”

How do these two new programs work?

At the beginning of 2020, batyr began work on re-designing two of its programs for, and in consultation with, tertiary-level international students in Melbourne. This was made possible with a grant from Study Melbourne, a Victorian Government Initiative that supports international students in their study journey in Melbourne, and our partners Meld Community.

The first program was the ‘Being Herd’ workshop, which trains students to safely and effectively share their stories of hope and resilience of mental ill-health with their peers. The second was the [email protected] program, which is an educational and engaging program about what mental health is, the stigma surrounding it, ways in which we can start a conversation with others and how to reach out for support.

Working with a group of International students with a lived experience of mental ill-health, we looked at how we could not just create a safe space for them to be vulnerable,” Tom said.

“The new workshop emphasised the power of diversity, tapping into what storytelling meant for them in their culture to show the power of what it could do.”

“We were also unsure about how that barrier for many international students needing to ‘save face’ would play out in a workshop grounded in vulnerability – so designed new workshop elements that unpacked what it means to be vulnerable and the impact that can have on people’s lives.”

“We also embedded feedback that often international students worry that even in a workshop like ours they might feel like it’s a test, or they’ll be marked on how vulnerable they were – so we had an agreement up front that they would not be assessed on the workshop to help calm nerves.”

The young people that came were so engaged and ready to share, and for them although they had experienced stigma and had troubled help-seeking experiences, their desire to make change I their communities overcame that.”

batyr has since continued to refine these tailored programs in consultation with international students, delivering five pilot programs since August, reaching 350 international students in total, and training 8 international students as lived experience speakers.

What will happen at the launch?

  • Presented by batyr facilitator Roanna, learn about batyr, who we are, what we do, the International Student Welfare Project, and why this project is so important to batyr.
  • Hear about the development process of our new batyr program and how we worked with international students to co-design a program that speaks to their hope, positivity, and resilience. 
  • Listen to international student, Aditya, share their help-seeking journey and how they navigated the Australian mental healthcare system. 
  • Experience elements of our new International Student Welfare Program.

Suicide stats highlight urgent need to change the conversation

The effect of low help-seeking among international students is underscored in a 2019 Coroners Prevention Unit (CPU) study which investigated the suicide deaths of 27 international students between 2009 and 2015. It compared these deaths to a cohort of suicides among Australian-born students, to explore what might be distinctive about the deaths.

The study found that only 14.8% of the international-born students who suicided had diagnosed mental ill-health compared to 66.7% of the Australian-born students. Only 22.2% of the international student suicide cohort attended a health service for a mental health related issue within six weeks of death, compared to 57.1% of the Australian-born student suicide cohort.

“These figures paint an almost direct line between attitudes towards seeking help and suicidality among international students,” Tom said.

“Our aim for this new program is to promote hope and positivity and encourage international students to seek help early before reaching it reaches crisis point.”

* Stallman, H., & Shochet, I. A. N. (2009). Prevalence of mental health problems in Australian university health services. Australian Psychologist, 44(2), 122–127. doi:10.1080/00050060902733727

** Catherine Gomes, Shanton Chang, Manorani Guy, Franklin Patrao, Siying (Ashley) He (2015). Contact Points: Enabling international students during critical incidents