International grad student looking for support

Originally Published: November 16, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 28, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I'm a first year graduate student of Columbia. I've intermittently in treatment for depression for few years. I have taken Zoloft and Depakine for almost half a year before I stopped the medication last March. I started to feel bad again recently. I kept being in very dark mood and could not concentrate on work. I could not sleep well and lost my mind all the time when listening to the teacher's lecture or people's talk.

The reason why I back to bad situation is so obvious: the frustration of first semester for an international student, especially in this critical moment of WTC tragedy. But this understanding cannot help me to solve my problem. The terrible feeling grabs my life again that I regard everything meaningless and I hate myself. I am not able to deal with my emotion at all.

I am now thinking to take the pills that I brought from home or to ask for help from CPS. I am enrolled in the University's health insurance. Could you please give me some advises and explain the cost of counseling service? Thank you for your help.

—Karina

Dear Karina,

Graduate school presents many challenges, as does adjusting to life as an international student, particularly when experiencing the feelings you describe. Visiting Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) is an important step in helping you cope with the stresses and feelings you've noticed. Here at Columbia, all full-time students are automatically enrolled in (and billed for on the student account) the Health Service Program, which provides access to counseling services, as well as other programs and services, at no additional cost. Now all you have to do is call to make an appointment: x4-2878. When you make an appointment a counselor will call you within 24 hours to discuss how you are doing at the moment; if your appointment seems far away, know that you will be able to speak on the phone to a counselor within a day.

CPS has a diverse staff of professionals who are available to talk with you; you can view their bios and select who you would like to see through the Health Services website. One thing to keep in mind is that it will be important for you to review your medication history and interest in taking your pills again with your counselor and possibly one of the psychiatrists on the CPS team. They can help you figure out what will be best for you, and can write any new prescriptions that may be necessary. There are also practitioners at CPS who speak other languages in addition to English. Some students find that talking through things is easier in their native language, especially since many of the topics may be very personal or relate to family and cultural experiences. If this is something you are interested in, be sure to mention it when you call for an appointment.

Each year you can take advantage of the short-term counseling services from CPS; the same is true at many other schools and workplaces so as to accommodate the many people who want to use the counseling services. If longer-term therapy is necessary or what you're looking for, CPS will assist you in connecting with longer-term counselors in the community. The Health Service Program includes a benefit to help cover the cost of off-campus psychotherapy. In addition, the comprehensive level of the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan offers further mental-health coverage. CPS realizes that paying for therapy is a big concern among students, and will make every effort to help you find additional services that are affordable for you, if you need them.

You may also be interested in some of the groups and workshops offered by CPS, including a number that are specifically designed for graduate students. You can also look out for workshops offered through the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) that present a great opportunity to meet and be supported by others in your same position. Taking some time out for things you enjoy and getting involved in some of the many activities available on campus and around New York City might also help you to gain some welcome perspective, and possibly connect with people who share some of your feelings or concerns. You've already made important progress by recognizing your feelings and knowing you should speak with someone. These feelings you are having are important, please do talk to someone at CPS, ISSO, or another counseling service. You deserve to feel better!

Take care,

Alice