Mental health on a diverse campus comes with challenges

Nearly a quarter of the population of Langara College are here as international students and face some different problems than their domestic peers

Students pass the counselling department. Photo by Laura Brougham.
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Reported by Laura Brougham

On Langara College’s diverse campus, international students face unique issues when seeking mental health support.

According to Michele Bowers, head of Langara’s counselling department, students from other cultures might be more inclined to talk to friends rather than a counsellor.

“Different cultures have different cultural beliefs and values, including different ideas of and attitudes towards mental health,” Bowers said in an email. “Some [international] students come from cultures where there is greater taboo or stigma surrounding mental health.”

Many international students with barriers

In fall 2016, there were 3,649 international students enrolled at Langara, which made up nearly a quarter of the student body, according to the college’s website. While mental health services are available on campus, cultural differences and language barriers could stop students from seeking help, according to Daisy Bai, a registered clinical counsellor.

“[There is a] lack of social support, both from their immediate social, like family or friends, as well as that general support from the school system,” Bai said. “Because they have that major language barrier, a lot of them don’t really have the courage to speak up, or they don’t have the vocabulary or the knowledge how to describe their experience better.”

Institution recognizes extra weight on being international

Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., an organization that supports immigrants to Canada said international students face extra stress because they need to find a new group of friends, while learning the language in their new country.

“Domestic students have their network of friends already established, international students, they start looking for friends in the new country,” Choo said.

One way to help international students feel more comfortable is to spread awareness of the programs available on campus, according to Bai.

“It would be pretty nice to have that in their first day of orientation,” Bai said. “Or whenever they go to their class their teacher can speak a little bit about that about how it is okay to talk about difficulties with them.”

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