Let’s Talk About It: Chinese International Students and Their Mental Health

The Enticing Opportunities Abroad

As the global village becomes more and more tight-knit, students are eager to study abroad for opportunities at foreign institutions and programs of study that are renowned for academic excellence. We found that a very large amount of Chinese students, from primary to post secondary, are choosing to enter the western educational system for better opportunities.

In the past few years, there have been over 350,000 Chinese students studying annually in North America. Chinese students are the single largest international student population on most American campuses. But have we ever wondered why the population of Chinese students studying abroad is growing larger every year and if this transition is difficult for them? Or what it’s like for these students to leave their home country and immerse themselves into a new culture, language, and environment—alone?

We have found that Chinese parents choose to send their children abroad for better and broader learning opportunities where they can pick up another language and adapt to a different culture, which will give them an upper hand when they join the workforce in the global economy. Studying abroad also has a certain appeal to the students themselves as it gives them a chance to escape the Chinese education system—where there is an enormous amount of pressure for them to pass China’s college entrance exam, which they spend two years studying for—and cultural norms, where their value is based on how well they do academically.

The Difficulties Being Faced

Being brought up in a high-achieving society and with a cultural background like this already puts an inordinate amount of pressure, stress, and anxiety on these students while they are young, at a time when they really should embrace being a kid, get to know their interests and hobbies, and work on their social development. Not only are there cultural pressures for the students, but there are family pressures and high expectations on top of that as most Chinese students are their family’s only child (due to the country’s one-child policy), so even more weight is placed on them to succeed. The Chinese have a collective culture where how well you do or don’t do brings pleasure or shame to your family, so Chinese students have an even bigger burden to accomplish more. Once these students go overseas to study in a new country, where the language and culture is foreign to them, it adds to the anxiety and stress of performing well and meeting the expectations already set out for them.

When arriving in a new country, many of these Chinese students already come with higher stress levels and anxiety than local students because of how they were brought up. Some of them arrive with mental health problems from their childhood and adolescence and don’t even realize it. Alongside the fact that they have language barriers, they are experiencing the frustrations of culture shock and being out of their comfort zone, and they are far from their support system, these students are being introduced to a completely different education system where teaching methods are the opposite of what they are used to in China. Where the Chinese education system places emphasis on rote learning—memorization and repetition—and working individually, the Western education system focuses on critical thinking, open-ended questions, and group work, which leaves these students frustrated and confused. Before they know it, many realize the glamour of leaving behind the pressures of being educated in China isn’t what they thought.

Because of these difficulties and predetermined pressures to succeed, many of these students feel the weight of stress and anxiety and oftentimes insomnia and depression start to creep up on them. In North America, 13 per cent of the general population in university experiences depression and anxiety, whereas a survey done by Yale University in 2013 found that 45 per cent of Chinese international students on campus reported symptoms of depression and 29 per cent had symptoms of anxiety. As they feel the hardships of studying abroad and not wanting to feel the shame of failing their family, Chinese students are at an increased risk of contemplating and eventually committing suicide. In the US, suicide is the leading cause of death for college students, regardless of their origin. These alarming statistics show that attention and care must be brought to this group of students.

Ways To Help

A lot of the Chinese students in North America feel that there is nowhere they can go for help, or otherwise are unaware that there are resources available. There is also a cultural stigma attached to admitting that they are struggling with their mental health. It is hard to fix this problem among the Chinese student population as the root causes come from their home country and the cultural expectations they were brought up with. The only thing that can be done once they arrive is for educational institutions to be aware of these cultural differences, to address these problems in a way that these students can understand, and to provide resources that are easily accessible to them.

Some suggestions would be to hire Chinese-speaking mental health counsellors on campus who can then break the language barrier and provide more efficient communication and help these students adapt to their new country. Encouraging students to join cultural campus groups may also help them integrate more easily into the new environment and connect with other students with similar situations as them. Promoting stress-relieving activities in school such as meditation, yoga, or other fitness activities may also bring to the students’ attention that the institution understands how difficult it is being a student and that there are outlets to help cope with it.

Ultimately, the difficulties that international students face, and particularly those faced by the Chinese student population, need more attention. Realizing the cultural differences and challenges they may face, and responding by providing resources that can help them complete their education abroad in a physically and mentally healthy environment, can be considered early intervention—a strategy that can cut suicide rates in half (as stated by the Journal of the American Medical Association).

Our Solution

We realize that anxiety, depression, and culture shock are problems that many international students may face and we want to help these students as well as their school administrations to address these challenges and better provide a healthy learning environment.

We have created the Stay Healthy at School program as an initiative to help with the hardships international students face while learning and living in a foreign country. This program offers immediate and confidential 24/7 counselling in over 180 languages through phone, text or online help, an easy-to-use mobile application, and tools and resources to help students with their physical and mental wellbeing. Our program helps with cultural integration, homesickness, academic stress, depression and anxiety, and addiction and substance abuse.

For more information on our programs and solutions to help face these issues, email our Student Team at studentteam@studyinsured.com or give us a call at 1-855-649-4182.

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