May 21, 2024

Going into graduate studies can be an exciting time, but also a stressful one for students.

New research from Wilfrid Laurier University has looked at how that experience differs from domestic students compared to international students, and it found international graduate students are less likely to access mental health services.

An article by assistant professor of education Kathleen Clarke was recently published in the Journal of International Students. She joined CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Morning Edition to speak with host Craig Norris about what the data showed her.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. The audio of the interview is at the bottom of this article.

Craig Norris: Why did you want to do this research? 

Kathleen Clarke: My work looks at graduate students and different student groups like international students. 

We know that grad school is different than the undergrad experience because students are dealing with faculty advisers, independent research. If we know that international students face these different sources of stress, I kind of wondered, will this also be true at the graduate level and that brought me to doing this work.

Norris: What exactly did you find?

Clarke: Two key things. One is that international graduate students actually experience similar sources of stress to domestic students, like financial issues, academics. 

The main difference was with stress related to careers, whether they would stay in Canada or not, whether they would get a job once they’re done. 

The second piece is around help seeking. So international graduate students were likely to underutilize counselling services on campus and that could be for a variety of reasons, like lack of awareness of services, language barriers or lack of culturally relevant services.

Norris: Did your research give you a sense of what in particular was stressing students out? I know you mentioned the careers part there for international students.

Clarke: The career-related issues were the main source of stress for international students, but for international and domestic students, they experienced financial stress, issues related to their academics and finishing their degrees and then other things like relationship issues, financial and other types of things like that.

Head shot
Kathleen Clarke is an assistant professor of education at Wilfrid Laurier University who researchers the challenges specific populations of postsecondary students experience and how they can be further supported. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Norris: Who do you think this research is for?

Clarke: I think, especially right now because of the new international stream cap, with the cap on the number of international students, that this is going to become perhaps even more important, largely because the cap doesn’t apply to graduate students. 

So we might actually see more international graduate students coming in so that institutions can make up some of that difference in terms of finances. 

That means that this research is going to be really important because it highlights that the experiences, the sources of stress and the help seeking behaviours are slightly different with international students than domestic students.

Norris: What do you think can be done to better address the mental health needs of international grad students?

Clarke: A really important part is especially related to the career stress is services in different areas on campus, really highlighting that their services are for different student groups.

Not all services are going to be applicable or relevant or specific enough for different STEAM [science, technology, engineer, arts and math] groups. 

So really tailoring the support for graduate students, for international students is going to be important and in terms of using counselling, making sure that students are aware of services and that those services are culturally relevant and appropriate.

Norris: What’s next when it comes to your research into this?

Clarke: I think that there’s different sources of data that we can continue to use and talking to different institutions to see how they’re responding to international graduate students’ mental health at the undergrad and graduate level is likely the next direction.

LISTEN | International grad students less likely to access mental health services, Laurier research finds:

The Morning Edition – K-W4:55International grad students less likely to access mental health services, Laurier research finds

New research from Wilfrid Laurier University finds international grad students are less likely to access mental health services when they need help. Assistant professor of education Kathleen Clarke explains her research.


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