This past fall, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) launched its International Student Support Program (ISSP), which is designed to offer counseling tailored to the unique individual and cultural experiences of international students. In addition to CAPS’s 24/7 hotline, international students can now access 24/7 counseling via phone, online messaging, text, or video chat.
Although available to all students, the program is geared toward international students who face the added challenges of studying abroad, which include higher levels of depression and anxiety for those with lower levels of social support.
ISSP is a pilot research program developed by Morneau Shepell, a Canadian consulting and technology company. It offers free, confidential services to students in dozens of languages.
According to the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, Simran Singh, and Cultural Programs and Marketing specialist Chryss Yost, ISSP intends to “[complement] the campus programs we already have, such as CAPS and UCSB After Hours Counseling Services and the Santa Barbara County Helpline.”
“What makes ISSP unique is that [it] has a national network of licensed therapists available to speak to students in dozens of languages, which is especially valuable for our international community,” Yost said.
Studies show that international students face a plethora of difficulties that exacerbate the regular stresses of being a student. This includes acculturation stress, language and cultural barriers, and the stigma associated with seeking mental health services.
Singh and Yost pointed out the role that cultural influences play in people’s attitudes toward mental health issues. For students with different cultural backgrounds,“it can be especially difficult to describe complex feelings and experiences.”
Additionally, students from different backgrounds often have varying reactions to stressful situations. “Counseling is definitely not ‘one size fits all,’” Yost said. “It is important for international students to be able to talk to someone who really understands their home culture.”
Although 44 percent of international students reported feeling emotional or stress-related problems in one survey, only 17 percent sought help from counseling services.
ISSP presents students who don’t wish to attend in-person counseling services with alternative options. The program even has an app that is available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic.
Along with its chat services, the program’s website includes videos and articles that give advice on topics like health, relationships, living abroad, and student life.
Intercultural interactions often require extra effort because of language and cultural barriers. The resulting friendships, however, “can be incredibly rewarding,” according to Singh and Yost.
In bridging the gap between here and wherever home abroad is, ISSP seeks to help international students adapt to life abroad, allowing them to succeed at UCSB while maintaining ties to their own culture.