The Victorian coroner has recommended better coordination of mental health and wellbeing support of international students studying in the state, and more ready access to mental health treatment, following the suicide deaths of 47 students over a 10 year period.
Coroner Audrey Jamieson ordered the Coroners Prevention Unit to identify other deaths of international students in the state in circumstances consistent with suicide, in her 2019 findings into the death of a 24 year old Chinese born student who “suicided in the setting of deteriorating mental health”.
“We thank the coroner for her acknowledgment of the significant work that has already been done… but we know we can do more”
The CPU report was released earlier this month as part of Jameison’s findings into another death of an international student, 21 year old Nguyen Le who died from a fall at the University of Melbourne in 2018.
The report found 47 suicides of international students in Victoria between 2009 and 2019, the majority young men aged 24 or under.
Stressors relating to education were identified in the majority of the cases. Financial stressors were also identified in 30% of all cases. However the report warned that these were not to be viewed in isolation.
“It is overly simplistic to characterise… educational stressors, financial stressors, social isolation and homesickness, parental expectations – as being the causes of international students’ decisions to suicide,” the report stated.
“In any particular case they may be the observable consequences of other underlying issues and stressors that the coroner’s investigation cannot elucidate.”
Jamieson recommended the Victorian government take a lead role in providing support for international students.
“I recommend that the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services takes on the role of leading and coordinating efforts to support mental health and wellbeing of international students studying in Victoria, and to ensure international students can access mental health treatment.”
However she also acknowledged the work already being carried out by various organisations.
Study Melbourne, along with DHHS and Victorian Universities have been actively collaborating to reduce suicide risk in international students since the coroner’s earlier findings in 2019.
The government is currently funding a range of tailored support for international students including $5 million in funding through the International Student Welfare Program for projects that improve student wellbeing, peer worker training for international students, and targeted mental health programs delivered through community organisations IndianCare and Australian Nepal Public Link.
Mental health programs offered through the University of Melbourne, Bendigo Kangan Institute and Deakin University Warrnambool, and mental health support services delivered by the Centre for Holistic Health, also receive funding.
Study Melbourne is also working with DHHS, Orygen, and the CPU to undertake research on how to reduce suicide risk in international students.
A spokesperson for the Victorian government told The PIE they acknowledge the recommendations made by the coroner and continue to focus resources on providing support.
“We thank the coroner for her acknowledgment of the significant work that has already been done by the department to bolster the wellbeing of international students, but we know we can do more.
“We continue to work closely with key health organisations and education providers to understand how access to mental health services can be improved for our international student community.”