This guest column is written through a partnership with the University of Alberta International Students’ Association and The Gateway.

Trigger Warning: This article discusses topics related to mental health and illness that some readers may find upsetting, such as suicide and depression. Resources are available at the end of the article.

The disruption and high stress the pandemic has brought to people are causing an increase in mental health problems. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people from 10 to 29 years old. For international students with little to no support, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the burden we carry, exacerbating our vulnerability to mental health issues while isolating us from potential support mechanisms. 

The economic impact of COVID-19 and the lack of part-time jobs has increased the financial insecurity among international students. Between the high tuition fees and struggling to pay for housing, despair has increased, leaving us prone to exploitation by unethical employers and landlords. Another cause of ongoing stress is the constant concern about the fate of loved ones at home with the rise of COVID-19 cases. The pandemic has been a perfect storm to impact our mental health. The overwhelming sources of distress, isolation, the intensified anxiety, depression, and loneliness are deeply related to suicide rates in international students.

Studies and polls made throughout the world to higher education students have shown that university and college students have reported a worsened mental health amid the pandemic. One of these studies found that Asian, Latinx, and Black students have lower rates of psychiatric diagnoses but similar or higher suicide attempts rates than Caucasian students. Furthermore, one in ten students reported seriously considering suicide, while one in fourteen stated self-injury as a way to cope with emotional pain.

There is an urgent need for increased mental health support for students. Waiting times for counselling are sometimes very long, and with everything moving to an online setting, the support services available are not enough. Considering the stigma and shame associated with mental distress for some international students, it’s vital to proactively normalize psychological well-being and facilitate seeking help. We also need culturally informed programs designed to enhance mental health awareness in students from minority groups.

If you are experiencing mental distress, suicidal ideation, or self-injury, please …….


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