With A Little Help From My Friends: A Mixed Methods Study Of Psychological Distress And Help-Seeking Preferences Of Chinese International Students At Victoria University Of Wellington
Chinese international students have become an increasingly significant presence on tertiary campuses worldwide, with over 928,000 enrolled globally in higher education in 2017. The mental health of tertiary students has been recognised as a significant public health concern and the unique challenges faced by Chinese international students place them at higher risk of mental distress than domestic or other international students. However, there is a scarcity of literature focussing on the mental health of Chinese international students both internationally and in a New Zealand context. This study was undertaken to gather preliminary data on the existence and prevalence of psychological distress among Chinese international students at Victoria University of Wellington. It also investigated the help-seeking preferences of Chinese international students, their engagement with counselling services or barriers preventing engagement with counselling support, and their knowledge and use of additional university support services. Participants’ views on managing stress and their advice for newly arrived Chinese students were also explored. A mixed methods approach was utilised to gather both quantitative and qualitative data via an online survey, utilising the Kessler-10 to measure psychological distress in conjunction with a variety of categorical and free-text response questions to gather other information. The survey was sent to all Chinese international students at Victoria University of Wellington in 2017. A total of 205 Chinese international students responded to the survey, from 836 enrolled students (response rate 24.5%). Results indicate that the majority of the Chinese international student population at Victoria suffer from high levels of psychological distress (K10=23.33, SD=6.97). These results are comparable with studies of Chinese students who study abroad, or in their home country. Consistent with international research, participants preferred to use informal sources of support, most notably their parents and friends when stressed. They rated academic staff and student services as the supports they would be least likely to turn to when stressed. Despite the high levels of psychological distress reported, very few participants had sought formal mental health support, with only 12.3% of the sample accessing Student Counselling while studying at Victoria. Cultural and practical barriers impacted their decision to utilise the service and they provided recommendations to make the service better known amongst the student group to improve uptake. Participants’ advice to new Chinese students included getting involved, developing friendships with fellow students, improving English proficiency, and asking for help when needed. The findings from this study support the growing body of literature that Chinese international tertiary students are in need of additional culturally appropriate interventions throughout their university journey to improve their wellbeing, their awareness and use of support services, and to aid their integration to both their host country and education environment.