Funding to support mental wellbeing of international students

2 March 2021
Research into e-health support for Chinese international students
Dr Isabella Choi from the University of Sydney is leading a project to provide better support for the mental wellbeing of Chinese international students through the use of an online program.

“International students are a high-risk group for mental illness because they have to adjust to unfamiliar environments, culture and academic practices. They are also away from their usual support networks,” Dr Choi from the Faculty of Medicine and Health said.

Addressing the mental health needs of international students during COVID-19 and beyond is of critical importance.
Dr Isabella Choi

"Research has found these groups are less likely to access the current available mental health services due to low mental health literacy, and lack of awareness and familiarity with the services. Research suggests only 9 percent of Chinese international students with high distress seek professional mental health services compared to 40 percent of domestic students.” 

The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations provided $150,000 to support Dr Choi’s research project that will engage Chinese international students to collaborate with Australian mental health and digital health experts to co-design and develop an online personalised mental health intervention program.

The research builds on her work where she developed the world’s first online Chinese-language depression treatment course. The online course was culturally adapted for Chinese Australians, incorporating information to de-bunk myths about mental illness that are common in the community and using  Chinese sayings and metaphors to illustrate concepts.  In a randomised controlled trial, the course was found to be clinically significant in reducing depression among Chinese Australians. The treatment has now been implemented in routine treatment at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s online ‘ThisWayUp Clinic’.

Dr Choi is a registered clinical psychologist fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, with over five years clinical experience working with Chinese international students. 

From my experience working directly with Chinese international students, there are some practical and cultural barriers that prevent many students from seeking help.
Dr Isabella Choi

"There is sometimes poor mental health literacy and unfortunately a stigma associated with getting help for mental health needs. They also don’t have a good understanding of Australian mental health services, so don’t know where to go to get help,” Dr Choi said.

“It’s also important for these services to be bilingual because for many of our students, speaking about deeply personal issues can be easier if they can do it in their native tongue. By involving Chinese international students in the design process for this current project, we hope to make it more engaging and relevant for the target users.”

Students who would like to be involved in this project can contact: Dr Isabella Choi


Dr Isabella Choi

Postdoctoral Research Associate

For media queries - Sally Sitou

Higher degree research student