For information about health insurance, see the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) page.
Taking care of your physical health will have a positive impact on your mental health and your ability to study. You should aim to include 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times a week, into your lifestyle. This activity will help you manage stress, pick up your mood when you're feeling down, and give you more energy (although it might not feel that way right before an exercise session). It will also help you maintain a clear head for study and provide a great opportunity to catch up with your friends and make new ones.
Regular exercise is also great for giving you a good night's sleep. This is important because without a quality rest every night you will lose energy, become more irritable and find it difficult to concentrate on your studies. After a long period of poor quality sleep, you might also notice that you get sick easier, and you get sad or depressed by things that normally wouldn't bother you.
Of course, being a student is a guaranteed way of not getting a good night's sleep. It can be hard to find enough time to go to your classes, study and still maintain a social life. Usually, sleep is the first thing that students sacrifice when they try to fit everything else in. But there are some things you can do to help regulate your sleep patterns.
- Try to get out of bed as soon as you wake up instead of closing your eyes for ‘five more minutes'. Also try to get up at the same time every day;
- Do some exercise in the morning, preferably outside in the fresh air;
- Don't nap during the day. If you do, it'll probably take you longer to get to sleep at night;
- Don't go to bed too late, and try to go to sleep at the same time each night. Allow yourself some time, say 30 minutes, before you get into bed to relax and wind down;
- Don't study in bed it'll train your brain to think of your bed as a place for study, not sleep; and
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes for a few hours before going to bed. If you have sleeping problems, talk to a doctor (known as a general practitioner, or GP). They may have some more tips that will help you get a good night's rest.
Another factor that impacts on your health is what you eat. Again, student life sometimes makes healthy eating difficult. Grabbing a snack on your way from the library to your friend's house may be convenient, but over time it will do you more harm than good. Eating well will boost your health and energy, give your body enough fuel to get through the day, and improve your immune system and ability to concentrate.
- Always eat breakfast. It will kick-start your metabolism for the day and will give you energy;
- Include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. Australia's diverse climate creates perfect growing conditions for a huge range of produce, and the quality is among the best you will find in the world. Take advantage of it;
- Drink lots of water throughout the day. Dehydration causes tiredness, headaches, lack of concentration and plenty of other health issues;
- If you are vegetarian, make sure you are getting enough essential nutrients in your diet. You can talk to a GP or nutritionist about substitutes for meat and animal by- products; and
- Enjoy food like take away or fast food, chips, chocolate, biscuits and soft drink or soda in moderation.
Read more about nutrition at www.nutritionaustralia.org
Australia is a fairly liberal country in regard to relationships and contraception. While the rate of HIV and AIDS infection in Australia is quite low (about 0.1 per cent of the population), the rate of those with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially chlamydia and gonorrhoea, is growing. You can help protect yourself against infection and unwanted pregnancy by always using a condom, limiting the number of sexual partners you have, or simply abstaining. Women can also take the contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy; however, this will not protect you from STIs.
Condoms are available for purchase in supermarkets and chemists (also known as pharmacies or drugstores). They are inexpensive and available to anyone who wishes to purchase them. The contraceptive pill is available by prescription from GPs.
Remember that you always have the right to insist that a condom is used. You also have the right to refuse your partner's sexual advances, even if you are in a relationship with them. Also take care that you don't let your guard down if you have been drinking. If you think that you may have been a victim of sexual assault, contact the police, a counsellor at your education institution, or a community organisation such as Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Counselling and mental health
Many education institutions have Counselling Services staffed by fully qualified, registered practitioners who offer free, confidential counselling relating to a wide range of issues. Personal counselling can involve anything from homesickness or lack of motivation through to depression, harassment, or study skills. They can also arrange outside professional help if required.
Lifeline has a telephone counselling service staffed by trained volunteer counsellors. If you or someone you know needs emotional support or is experiencing a crisis, call 13 11 14. The service is available 24-hours a day, any day of the week from anywhere in Australia.
Anyone can call Lifeline. Telephone counsellors are ready to talk and listen no matter how big or how small the problem might seem. They are trained to offer emotional support in times of crisis or when callers may be feeling low or in need of advice. They also provide information about other support services available.
Self help resources and information are also available at www.lifeline.org.au or www.beyondblue.org.au
Access to health services
If you're in Australia for more than a semester, chances are that you'll have to visit a doctor for some reason. You can be confident that Australian doctors are highly skilled and well educated, and you'll receive excellent care in a clean and sanitary environment.
What kind of medical care to seek
Unlike in many other countries, in Australia you should NEVER seek help from a hospital emergency room (ER) unless you are in a life threatening situation. Every night of the week, hospital ERs become congested by people who want treatment for a cold or minor flu, headaches and minor injuries. This puts a lot of stress on the doctors and nurses, and puts the lives of people who are in genuine need of their immediate attention in jeopardy.
General Practitioners, or GPs, are the doctors people have the most contact with. They treat any medical condition that isn't life-threatening. This includes viruses, colds and flu, infections - all the general, ‘every day' conditions that make you feel sick. They can take blood and urine samples, give you injections and perform minor surgeries such as stitches and the removal of moles. They can also perform gynaecological exams.
Your GP may ask you some very personal or embarrassing questions, but it is important that you answer truthfully. Being honest will help the GP to diagnose your condition accurately and give you the appropriate medical care. Remember that anything you tell your doctor will be kept confidential. If you feel uncomfortable with a particular doctor, however, you may request to see someone else.
If you need to see a GP, you will find a list of the ones near you in the Yellow Pages telephone directory (www.yellowpages.com.au). You may need to make an appointment. GPs do not usually visit you, nor have regular contact with you outside of your scheduled appointments. GPs either work in a private practice (called a surgery), sometimes with one or two other GPs, or in a medical centre with five or six other GPs. The service you get from GPs at private surgeries and medical centres is the same. Your doctor will be highly qualified, and they will treat your case with complete confidentiality. But there are some small differences. These are listed in the table below.
|Private Doctor's Office
|You should book an appointment in advance. You may not get to see a doctor on the same day you call.
||No appointment is necessary. You can walk into a medical centre at any time, put your name on the list and you will be called when a doctor is ready for you. This may be a few hours.
|You must pay to see the GP (costs vary).
||GP services at a medical centre are free.
|You will be able to see the same doctor each time you visit, so the GP will become familiar with your medical history.
||You may see a different GP each time you visit, meaning that you may have to explain your medical history.
|Open weekdays usually only during working hours.
||Open extended hours every day.
The cost of visiting a doctor will usually be partly covered by OHSC. However, you may have to pay the fee at the time of your doctor's appointment and later seek reimbursement from your OHSC provider.
If you require treatment while you are in Australia on a student visa, refer to the Department of Health and Ageing's (DoHA) Frequently Asked Questions.
In some cases you may need to see a specialist doctor, for example an optician, podiatrist or dermatologist. Generally, you won't be able to see a specialist without first getting a referral for their services from your GP. Specialist doctors are a lot more expensive than GPs, but some of their services might be covered under your Overseas Student Health Cover plan.
A specialist doctor will assess your condition, sometimes with the aid of tests, and develop a treatment plan for you to follow. You will probably have to see your specialist several times to treat your medical condition.
Emergency room doctors
Emergency room (ER) doctors work in hospitals and treat patients with severe and life threatening injuries or illnesses. With any luck, you will never have to see an ER doctor. But if you do, they will give you excellent care. Call 000 if you or a friend needs urgent medical attention. You may be advised to go to a hospital, or depending on the circumstances an ambulance will come and pick you up. You will receive medical attention from ambulance staff, or paramedics, on your way to the hospital.
If you need to bring medication from home into Australia, bring your medical records and medical prescriptions with a letter from your doctor. If you know you'll need to buy more of the same medication when you're in Australia, you should bring English translations of your prescription with you that you can give to your Australian doctor. For more information, visit the Travellers section of the Therapeutic Goods of Australia website at www.tga.gov.au
Australian GPs may dispense medication differently from what you are used to. Generally, you will not receive medication for things like the flu or a stomach ache, but you can buy over-the-counter medicine for pain relief and fever from a chemist (also known as a drugstore or pharmacy) and some supermarkets.
If your GP decides that medication will help your condition, they will give you a prescription. A prescription is a piece of paper that lists your details, your GP's details and the name and quantity of the medication you should receive. You must then take this prescription to a chemist, and they will provide you with your medication. GPs in Australia never give you medication themselves.
When your chemist gives you your medication, you will have to sign a form that confirms you have received it, then pay for the medication. The cost of the medication will depend on what it is, but your chemist might offer you a generic brand of medication, which is generally cheaper. It is your choice whether you buy the generic brand of medication or the brand name medication that is prescribed to you. The active ingredients in both are the same -- the only difference is the packaging it comes in and the cost.
When you take your medication home, it is important that you follow the directions on the sticker your chemist put on the pack. This will include information on the dosage -- how much medication you should take, and how often you should take it. Not following these directions can make you even sicker, and you may even overdose.
If you have any questions about the medicine, ask the chemist or contact the Medicines Line on 1300 888 763.
The Australian system of handing out medication might seem a lot more rigid or strict that what you're used to at home. This doesn't mean that Australian doctors don't think your health and wellbeing is important. In fact, it means the opposite. The Australian Government has put these strict rules and regulations on medical treatment in place in order to protect your health, and to make it difficult for people to abuse prescription medication.
The other kind of doctor you may need to see in Australia is a dentist. You can find dentists in your area listed in the Yellow Pages telephone directory (www.yellowpages.com.au). Dentists will generally charge a fee for their service, which can be quite expensive. Your OSHC may cover part of these costs -- make sure you read your OSHC policy and know what kinds of dental procedures you are covered for.
Read more about health services around Australia.