Ruwangi is a Study Melbourne Ambassador. Study Melbourne has 15 international student and alumni ambassadors for 2019. During their time as ambassadors, they regularly share insights and experiences to help international students have a great experience while studying here in Victoria. 

By Ruwangi Priyadarshika Francini Fernando

Mental health is a state of well-being that allows everyone to realise their potential, to cope with the normal difficulties of life, work successfully and productively and contribute to the community. Mental illness affects students of all backgrounds. Many students live with a spectrum of mental illness. Optimal mental health allows students to perform well. That being said, every student at one time or another will have difficulty with self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, self-confidence, mood, and ability to concentrate, to varied extents. These difficulties may be temporary or chronic, but they should never go unnoticed.

The impact of mental illness on students does affect their emotional state and relationships which is far beyond the struggle to achieve learning goals.

Here are some warning signs of a possible disorder:

  • a significant drop in school results
  • changes in sleep and appetite habits
  • avoidance of friends and family
  • frequent tantrums
  • discontinuation of previously appreciated activities
  • constant worry
  • swings of frequent moods
  • obsession or lack of attention to weight or appearance
  • lack of energy or motivation
  • depression.

Australian and international research provides evidence that university students are experiencing heightened psychological distress and identifies international and doctorate students as two vulnerable categories of university students.

Among academic and financial pressures, isolation, loneliness and poor self-care, the stigma is associated with mental health is the biggest concern for international students. As there are cultural taboos associated with meeting a psychologist. Certain cultures have specific ways of dealing with mental problems, including religious beliefs. Therefore, we need to raise awareness of mental health issues among International students.

There are some unique factors involved in the high rates of mental health deterioration among PhD students. The work carried out in many occasions is carried out in a very isolated way, without a workgroup to lean on. Added to this is high uncertainty about the future. Another key factor that influence the PhD student's mental health, both positively and negatively is the impact of their research supervisor. Research highlights half of the students with anxiety or depression reported not having a very collaborative relationship with their supervisors. Some key concerns include not feeling valued, the level of pressure in the workplace, the control over the pace of work or when to take breaks and not have a good work-life balance. It is essential that our future scientists and researchers deserve to believe that although their career is long and requires great effort, it does not necessarily have to be plagued with discomfort.

What can we do?

In the first place, it is a topic that needs to be given more visibility, so that any student who begins to feel some warning signs could approach the required services. Universities should to take this risk into account and ensure mental health as an essential component necessary for the successful development of the student and provide access to support, training counsellors to detect students with problems and refer them to appropriate channels and promote work-life balance by setting an example.

For more information and support visit Study Well.

About the author

Ruwangi has a passion for helping female STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) students find their passion and develop their skills. As a PhD student, Ruwangi has a wealth of experience to pass on to other international students and hopes to encourage more women to pursue a career in STEM.  Meet the 2019 Study Melbourne Student Ambassadors.

Ruwangi Priyadarshika Francini Fernando