A group of UCSB administrators flew halfway around the world last month to tackle the problem of student depression and suicide.

The seven UCSB officials – all with backgrounds in the mental health field – played a key role in organizing the first China-US-Canada Student Affairs Summit. The conference, held in Beijing, China, from Nov. 5 to 11, addressed pressing mental health issues such as suicide prevention, campus safety and the increase in the severity of depression amongst university students.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young said he was approached in the summer of 2007 by Legends of China – a non-profit group that organizes events between the US and China – to help organize and serve as the co-chair of a student mental health conference.

“They have a real issue with mental health in China,” Young, who co-chairs the UC Student Mental Health Committee, said. “It’s more so an issue of suicide… and with the one child policy, this has a become a significant mental health problem.”

Dean of Students Yonie Harris, who was also part of the delegation, said the conference showed her a new perspective on the mental health crises facing today’s college students both in China and the U.S.

“UCSB has experienced a dramatic increase in students seeking help for mental health issues and the severity of mental health issues,” Harris said. “We’ve all been pondering why we’ve been seeing these things and there are some common origins for what [our countries] are experiencing.”

Additionally, Harris said her trip to Beijing showed how it was necessary to address the mental health concerns of exchange students, who often face unique challenges in adjusting to their new surroundings.

“It really ties the world together to work on common problems,” Harris said. “I realized that there are real things we can do for international students, both coming and going.”

Young said he used the conference as a way to reflect on the responsibility university officials have to safeguard students’ mental health.

“We are the ones that are effectively responsible for trying to provide an environment that is as healthy as possible,” Young said. “When you lose folks along the way, that’s enormous.”

Angela Andrade, Student Mental Health coordinator, also attended the summit and gave a presentation with Counseling Services Director Jeanne Stanford on UCSB’s distressed student protocol, a set of guidelines created in 2005 that outlines a procedure for working with upset students. The visit to China, Andrade said, made her realize how universal mental health issues are.

“It was interesting to see that many of the people working with students in China see the same suicide problem we see here,” Andrade said.

During the summit, Young said his conversations with other administrators showed how important it is to have a diverse array of mental health services for students.

“I came away feeling even more that we need to be sensitive to an array of cultural needs in our student population,” Young said. “One size does not fit all.”