“Depression  takes away your power to ask for help”

“It hit me so quickly… and I don’t know who I can ask help from. Not even my family.


Depression is a nasty comrade of anxiety. When anxiety has left a person feeling drained, depression pulls them into a dark vortex, depriving them of joy, meaning and purpose. It takes their rainbow world and turns it black and white.

A recent survey conducted by Headspace found that, at some point in their studies students were likely to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression.  

International Student Financial Status Survey

Lack of energy or motivation
Feeling anxious
Low Mood
Feeling of hopelessness
Trouble sleeping
Experience thoughts of self-harm/suicide

One and a half years ago, depression suffocated Tugce. It took away her ability to function.


For Karla, depression takes a different form. When she practices self-care, it appears in the form of her inner critic. It convinces her she is not worthy of experiencing pleasure and should instead be suffering.

Karla I've been experiencing a lot of guilt

Where is the help?


International students in Australia find themselves stranded on an island with limited floatation devices. If international students are struggling, they are typically told to access phone counselling services which Karla accessed once. The effectiveness of phone counselling services for students appears questionable. Tugce’s experience with phone counselling was disappointing; she felt  like she was just a number.

The mental health and well-being of international students is taken seriously in the higher education sector and most Australian tertiary education institutes provide counselling services which students are always encouraged to access. However, Taseen reached out to his university, he found they were more focused on  his academic success than his overall wellbeing.

Students have to pay 60% more for mental health

Before international students come to Australia, they are required to purchase health insurance in order to apply for their visa. This is known as Basic Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC). The major health insurers (NIB, Bupa, Medibank, CBHS, and Allianz) that provide OSHC plans partially cover ten visits to a psychologist per year. To access these students need a referral from their GP. 


In most cases, students have to pay the full cost of the session upfront and will then be partially reimbursed after they submit a claim to their insurance provider. If a student has a preexisting condition, there is a two month waiting period, meaning they have to pay the full price for sessions until their insurance policy becomes active. When students purchase OSHC, they can select a  higher level of coverage that covers visits to a psychologist or psychiatrist, but this assumes that a student anticipates needing such services before facing mental health struggles. Basic OSHC costs $500 per year and upgrading to a plan that covers mental health services is $800 per year which means students have to pay 60% more.


$479 year


$516 year


$516 year


$529 year

What is preventing international students from getting the help they need

Poor mental health leads to self harming, suicidal thoughts, and abusive behaviour. In 2019,  a Victoria Coroners Report found international students are less likely than domestic students to seek assistance for mental health issues because of cultural, financial, linguistic and other hurdles.

Average wait time in days for all centres

The average wait times for young people across centres range depending on the type of session. 

Dr Ben Bullock, a researcher at Swinburne’s Centre for Mental Health suggests in many international students’ home countries,“stigma associated with [mental health] conditions may be a barrier. Their cultural norms may not permit the showing of any perceived vulnerability, and this means they may avoid seeking help.”


Forbes-Mewett added that limited understanding of how the Australian healthcare system works and fears their mental health record will affect their visa status may prevent international students from getting help.

Current low cost counselling services are excellent, but are stretched because of the high demand from Australian students. For example, Headspace 2019 survey revealed that it can take an average of 25.5 days before being able to see a counsellor for the first time. 

Tugce’s personal experience highlights the lack of clear information on mental health support. She found that most free resources were designed for crisis intervention, and affordable long term psychological support was just not available. 

She was in a state of disbelief at the lack of mental health support for international students.

Tugce There should be another system

Observing the growing diversity in Australia, Mewett-Forbes thinks that having culturally appropriate support services that cater to specific ethnic backgrounds could help tackle mental health. These services would be safe spaces and might make it easier for students to ask for help, if they knew there were  services that understood their needs better.

Despite the high pressure situation during the pandemic, she has high hopes for international students, “They are showing great resilience. These students take on a lot when they venture to another country for education and to better their lives and will not give up easily. I believe for most, their resilience will get them through.”

Anxiety  takes a lot of energy from you.

You're not alone.