International students need increased mental health support now more than ever

(Courtesy of Riddhi Jani)

A report published by One Voice Canada (a not-for-profit focused on amplifying international student concerns) in January of this year has shown that suicide rates among international students is growing, stating that “international student suicides have become a disturbing trend in Canada. The economic impact of COVID-19 seems to have only exacerbated these problems.”

While the report doesn’t give specific numbers, it does posit that economic burden affects nine out of 10 international students, with many families overseas taking out loans in order to support their students’ academic journeys. Due to this, many international students are often subjected to various forms of exploitation as many are facing the need to work illegally, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

International students, those who are separated from family members, and those studying abroad are facing hurdles that domestic students don’t deal with, and need support in place for those struggles.

Ghazala Ayubi, a first-year global health student says, “For most people with extended family members abroad, global crises such as the Afghanistan crisis, the Greece wildfires, and the Syria crisis can have a major impact on their mental health. I was no exception. 

“During the crisis in Afghanistan, my family and I worried about the well-being of our relatives. It was a very stressful time. In terms of academic progress, most students feel demotivated and begin to procrastinate during this time. Personally, when there is a crisis in my home country, I cannot focus on my studies; in particular, it is difficult for me to keep up with the deadlines, Ayubi continues.

Strict deadlines and standardized tests and exams have proven a struggle across the board — Sinan Reis, a fourth-year computer science major; Rebecca John, first-year computer security; and Ian Ahmed, third-year environmental studies, have all stated exactly this. 

John goes further, stating “there are quite a lot of things that have to be dealt with as an international student: lack of ways to communicate, time zones, etc. Overall there is anxiety whether or not we would be able to come back to university and what would happen to us if Canada imposes a travel ban.” Reis and Ahmed also cite stresses with administration and paperwork, like changes to OSAP applications being particularly difficult. 

One Voice Canada’s report also stated that “in Canada, business and public finance interests have become dependent on international education. Revenues from international students have allowed the B.C. and Ontario government to decrease their proportion of revenue for post-secondary schools.” 

With that in mind, surely there should be sufficient support systems in place for international students, students with separated families, and those studying abroad. 

When asked if York had supported them enough, Ayubi, who is not an international student, but is new to Canada by two years and with a separated family, states, “There were a few emails that I received about mental health and support programs, but I don’t think they were enough. Most mental health support programs are only mentioned during the first week of classes, and that’s it. I am sure that many students are not aware that these programs exist, since York usually sends mental health program support information through email, and most students don’t read them. 

“Raising awareness about health and talking about global issues will help students feel that they are not alone. This will help them see York as a community where they can talk about their struggles and emotions,” Ayubi finishes.

Currently, York has created a mental health support initiative, #YIFEEL, focused on mental health and wellness for international students specifically, which connects them to mental health services at York and to other international students within the York community. However, the site has neglected to post about real programs or events that have happened since 2018, aside from an article published by York in 2019.

About the Author

By Jeanette Williams

Health Editor

health@excal.on.ca

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