Yesterday, an anonymous Crimson op-ed written by a current undergrad went viral. (I really recommend you read it.) The noteworthy piece recounts the struggles of having schizophrenia at Harvard. Most likely your first reaction will be something akin to “That’s crazy” – not at all because of the student’s mental disease, but at the horrendously poor mental health service this student has received from the college. This poor student not only cannot afford treatment, s/he must deal with classes, papers, and finals on top of hearing voices? One of the most noteworthy quotes that stuck out to me was: “I can apply for $5,000 to study bat droppings over the summer, but there is no application to pay for the treatment that enables me to function.”
There has been an enormous pouring of support for this student and all students who suffer from mental health issues. Harvard has long battled with its reputation of not having enough mental health help. In order to schedule a session with a psychologist, you have to first phone in for an interview to see how “serious” a case you are. If you’re not suicidal, you’re put on the back burner. Plus, rumors of Harvard forcing you to take a leave of absence have stopped many students from seeking much needed help. I had a friend who hated Harvard to the very core (until his senior year), and he struggled off and on with depression here. I tried to convince him to get some treatment, but he vehemently said no because, in his words, the problem wasn’t him, but Harvard. Therefore, he just needed to get out as soon as he could.
If the bad services aren’t enough, there are often at least one suicide each year. It’s terrible – the “sad news” email where the President doesn’t give us any explanations for peer’s passing away. That’s when you know it’s most likely a suicide. I remember the first time this happened to me. I was studying with my friends in the dining hall. I left for literally two minutes, and when I returned there was a cloud of gloom over my friends. “Did you know him?” one of my friends asked me tentatively. I was stunned to find out that someone I had gone on a student organized trip to Korea just the year before had passed away. Though he was not a close friend, I found myself tearing up. I later discovered he had taken his own life.
To be fair, it’s not a problem that is just at Harvard. This is rampant among high pressure academic schools. I’ve compared the atmosphere of schools with friends who attend other Ivy League and high ranked colleges. And to an ever broader extent, we could criticize how America treats mental health in general. But that might be talk for another day.
I’m glad to know, at least, that undergrads are taking a stand. Today, more than 150 showed up to rally and protest against the current mental health at Harvard. I’m glad that people are not only speaking out, but acting out. If Harvard can fund countless people to study abroad over summers, why can’t they help the students who struggle on campus on a day-to-day basis? Like countless have begun chanting, “Our Harvard can do better.” And hopefully it will.