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Mental health support in high demand at Australian universities

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Non-profit preventative mental health organisation, batyr, has experienced significant demand for their mental health support program, batyr@uni, from local and international students studying in Australia in the last 18 months.  

batyr Chief Executive Officer, Nicolas Brown, said a large part of the demand can be attributed to the unique set of challenges faced by students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with international students particularly impacted.

“Over the last 18 months, our partnership with nib foundation has enabled 2,200 students to continue to participate in our batyr@uni programs. Importantly, we were able to deliver 30 new programs designed to support the unique needs of international students during the pandemic,” Mr Brown said.

“Our student population has been dealing with a lot of change over the last couple of years, with months spent in lockdown, varying restrictions, the uncertainty of when you’re next going to see friends and family, and the closure of universities and it’s created a very tough and socially isolating environment for many.

“Add to this learning to navigate a new life, language and culture, our international students have certainly been copping the brunt of it,” Mr Brown added.

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from nib foundation, batyr was able to deliver 30 batyr@uni
programs for more than 1,800 students which were designed specifically to support international students, and an additional eight programs across the wider cohort at universities across NSW, QLD, VIC and ACT.

“Our online and in-person programs offered support for students struggling during the pandemic, helping them to connect with like-minded people, and provide the resources they need to manage their mental health every day,” Mr Brown said.

“While students from all walks of life were welcome to our programs, we ensured our programs were sensitive to the individual and cultural needs of international students, so that they’d feel comfortable to get involved and start a conversation about their mental health,” Mr Brown added. 

International student and batyr@uni participant, Linh, said she first came across batyr after her mental health began to worsen during the lockdown period in Melbourne last year.  

“I felt alone and didn’t have anyone to reach out to, and it was very hard to recognise and admit that I was going through some mental health struggles. This was partly due to the cultural stigma that I grew up with in Vietnam, which I’ve heard from many of my peers,” Linh said.  

“That’s when I came across batyr on social media. I went along to one of their workshops and later on to the batyr@uni program. While my mental health is still up and down, batyr’s program has helped me to find people that I’m comfortable being vulnerable with and who I can reach out to when I need help,” she added.

Mr Brown said Linh’s experience of perceiving mental ill-health as a stigma is not uncommon among international students, with research indicating they are less likely to show help-seeking behaviours.[1]

“Social stigma, language barriers and cultural differences tend to be contributing factors as to why international students are less inclined to reach out for support,” Mr Brown said.  

“It’s why a core part of our program includes training up a community of advocates, like Linh, with a lived experience of mental ill-health who can share their stories in a safe and impactful way.

Linh said her time with batyr as both a participant and Lived Experience Speaker has given her the confidence to share her experience with international students going through a similar situation.

“batyr@uni has made me realise the value of reaching out and having a supportive network of people around me. It also drives me in my learning to play my part in supporting others on their journey, here in Australia and hopefully one day back home in Vietnam,” Linh added.   

nib foundation Executive Officer, Amy Tribe, said that batyr’s efforts of
co-designing the batyr@uni program alongside international students and
tailoring the program to address their unique experiences has been crucial to
its success.  

“Recent survey data from batyr highlights the effectiveness of their approach to mental health prevention, with 76% of international students indicating they’re more likely to seek help as a result of the program,” Mrs Tribe said.  

“Considering the current national help-seeking rate sits at 17%[2] such results are really important, and we’re proud to have been a part of this, helping to equip international students with the skills they need to better manage their mental health and wellbeing,” Mrs Tribe added.  

To find out more about batyr@uni visit batyr.com.au/batyr-uni/.
To learn more about Linh’s story, watch our video here.

[1] Forbes-Mewett, H. (2019). ‘Mental health and international students: issues, challenges and effective practice’, Research digest 15, International Education Association of Australia (IEAA). Retrieved from www.ieaa.org.au.

[2]  Australian Bureau OF Statistics. (2021). ‘First insights from the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2020-21.’

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