The Harvard Speaks Up website has gone live! Click here to check it out, and watch videos from peers, tutors, and Steven Pinker! And it’s still not too late to upload your own.
The Harvard Speaks Up website has gone live! Click here to check it out, and watch videos from peers, tutors, and Steven Pinker! And it’s still not too late to upload your own.
Click here to see a preview of what the Harvard Speaks Up site will look like!
Harvard Speaks Up
A web project by SMHL (Student Mental Health Liaisons)
Harvard Speaks Up is a website currently being created by SMHL (Student Mental Health Liaisons) which aims to address the stigma surrounding mental health issues that causes too many to struggle in silence. The website will feature videos recorded by members of the Harvard community – students, faculty, and staff – sharing personal stories of struggling in a manner that lets people know that there is hope, they aren’t alone, and that things will get better. Thus, we’re looking for individuals willing to record a video in the hope that their honesty will encourage a more open community.
The nuts and bolts
Add to the campus conversation about wellness. Voice your support for more open discussion of mental health in the Harvard community and beyond. Your contributions will make a difference. Record a video today!
By QUINN D. HATOFF, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER
Taken from the Harvard Crimson. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/2/22/mental-health-yard-rally/
UPDATED: February 23, 2013, at 2:34 p.m.
Chanting the words “Reform mental health” and “Our Harvard can do better,” a group of more than 150 students gathered in front of Massachusetts Hall Friday afternoon to urge administrators to take action on mental health.
“The drumbeat of student voices for reform is growing, but change is happening too slowly,” Undergraduate Council President Tara Raghuveer ’14 said in an interview. “It’s our responsibility to step in and advocate for students.”
The rally came one day after an anonymous Crimson op-ed written by an undergraduate student with schizophrenia generated dialogue in dining halls, on email lists, and on social media sites about perceived flaws in mental health services at Harvard. Also on Thursday, Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul J. Barreira spoke at a Committee on Student Life meeting to present several University mental health initiatives, including the hiring of a number of full-time psychiatrists whose work will be devoted exclusively to improving students’ mental well-being.
At Friday’s rally, the demonstrators arranged themselves into a large circle, and for one hour, shared personal experiences with UHS and brainstormed a list of specific demands from the administration. That list, in addition to other signs written by demonstrators, was hung on the facade of Massachusetts Hall, which houses the offices of University President Drew G. Faust and other senior administrators.
“I lost 4 friends to suicide in 6 weeks. I’m not better,” read one sign. “Harvard we are MAD,” read another.
Twenty minutes into the rally, Assistant Dean for Student Life Emelyn A. dela Peña entered the circle and offered a warm room for students to discuss their concerns with administrators and Barreira.
“We are willing to sit down, we’ll listen for as long as you want us to be there,” said dela Peña.
Although demonstrators turned down the offer and continued their discussion outdoors, dela Peña promised that administrators would review the signs and pass along the list of demands.
During the discussion, students called on Harvard to clarify its policies regarding leaves of absences, provide students with advocates within the system, ensure that financial resources do not prevent students from obtaining care, personalize what one student characterized as an “impersonal” system, and hire more therapists to cut down on wait times.
Late Friday, UHS spokesperson Lindsey Baker released a statement in response to the op-ed that sparked the rally.
“The health of Harvard students and all of our patients is of the utmost importance and we consider it to be our top priority,” Baker wrote.
In her statement, Baker wrote that there is no monetary cap on prescription drug benefits through the Harvard University Student Health Program, which covers mental health and other health services and is available to all registered students. Baker also wrote that UHS offers need-based financial assistance through a special Medical Hardship Fund and “makes every effort” to schedule appointments in a timely manner.
“Anyone with an urgent need can usually be seen within 24 hours, and anyone with an emergency can be seen almost immediately,” she wrote.
In the hours before the rally, undergraduates mobilized to promote the demonstration via House mailing lists, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and word of mouth. Some student groups—including “Our Harvard Can Do Better,” which campaigns for reform of Harvard’s sexual assault policies voiced support for the demonstrators’ cause or asked members to attend.
“The Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign recognize that mental health intersects with sexual violence,” the group wrote in an email sent over the Harvard College Democrats email list. “We, the student body will stand together in holding our school accountable for its policies that too often have driven many of us to despair and failure.”
Raghuveer also urged UC representatives to join her at the rally in an email sent over the Council’s mailing list early Friday morning. A number of students affiliated with the UC, including former UC President Danny P. Bicknell ’13, former UC Vice President Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13, and current UC Vice President Jen Q. Y. Zhu ’14, were in attendance at Friday’s demonstration.
“UC reps are attending this rally to stand in solidarity with people on this issue of mental health on campus, as well as to listen to the people present to better understand the students’ asks, so we can work toward a solution,” said Zhu.
Council representatives ended the rally by promising an open forum with administrators, UHS representatives, and House Masters to be held within the next two weeks. The UC will also devote time during Sunday’s general meeting to discussing mental health, according to Raghuveer.
Following the rally, a new Facebook group called Coalition to Reform Mental Health Services at Harvard was launched. The group aims to provide “a platform to bring together those on Harvard’s campus who support improving mental health.” By Saturday afternoon, the group had amassed 110 members.
Taken from the Harvard Crimson
You do not become schizophrenic overnight. When I began to hear voices, I told myself that it was some peculiar coping mechanism that was benign and would soon go away. Around the same time I had been in an accident, was dealing with a family crisis, and as a corollary was off-and-on homeless for a few weeks. Such occurrences would make anyone momentarily mad, right? This is what I told the social worker the first time I went to Harvard University Health Services. I was depressed: These were odd shock symptoms that would heal and fade away like bruises. We never talked about the voices. It was a topic that terrified me, and she was no more eager to ask me about them. She encouraged me to drink chamomile tea and to practice breathing exercises to cope with stress.
I knew I needed more help than tea, but as a poor, financially independent student from a poor family, my options were limited. I was lucky to enroll in a research study that gave me psychotherapy in exchange for serving as guinea pig for new social workers. By October 2012, I was seeing a therapist at least three times a week and sleeping the rest of the time to hide from the voices, which were getting worse and handicapping my ability to listen to my own stream of consciousness. Have you ever tried writing a paper when roommates are having a loud conversation? Now imagine they are screaming at you. This is how I feel every day. I experienced other symptoms I did not expect, such as forgetting words, and instead of my once photographic memory, I often cannot remember in the evening what I did in the morning.
December came, and with it, exams and final papers. I had to pull endless all-nighters to complete the work I had missed, and forsaking sleep meant that I was abandoning the only effective refuge I had from my screaming demons. I survived by the compassion of my roommates, who made sure I was eating and would hold and soothe me when things became unbearable. After exams, I was supposed to start antipsychotics. I was surprised to find out that my insurance company would not cover the drug, which cost $850 a month. I successfully petitioned to have the drug partially covered by insurance; still, $650 a month.
Even on full financial aid, I work two jobs to pay for my education, and there is no money to spare. I wrote to my financial aid officer, and he still has not responded. I made an appointment with the patient advocate, but because I am not on Harvard’s student insurance plan, nothing could be done. My resident dean could apply for a special fund, but only after my financial aid officer officially refuses my petition.
Two months have passed. What can I do? My resident dean, academic advisor, and psychiatrist strongly encourage me to take the semester off. I want to, but my family situation makes living at home a non-option. Where else can I go? I am too sick regularly to be in class; how can I hold a job? I decided to stay as I fight for treatment. Harvard may not be willing to pay for treatment, but at least as a student I hope that they are too afraid of bad publicity to let me die should I need hospitalization. At least here I have food and housing through financial aid. As a student on leave, I would have no such reluctant advocate. I am lucky to have enrolled in a trial that pays for a month’s treatment, but I have no idea from where the money will come next month. I just know that I would not have survived the last month without treatment.
What they never tell you about schizophrenia is that you never really believe it, internalize it, identify with it. Mornings are agonizing because every day in the haze of waking up I briefly remember all over again who I am and what I have lost. I remember the friends that I am terrified will see me differently if I tell them; I remember that on my bad days I scare people in class and on the subway; I remember that the academic career for which I had worked is now improbable. I remember that the measure of success for too many of my days will be that I have not killed myself.
So Harvard, friends, peers, anyone who might be reading this: I am asking you to advocate for me and the other statistically 70 or so students here who are struggling with schizophrenia or other acute illnesses. The average age of onset for schizophrenia is 18 for men and 25 for women, meaning that it often occurs during college. Most of you who are reading this assume that Harvard provides some end-of-the-line safety net for poor students in such calamitous circumstances and that Harvard would never let a student fail, drop out, or not receive medical care for lack of money. I write to assure you that there is no end in sight to the falling. 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. Dear Harvard College Research Program, will you finance an application for me to study the effect of treatment on the schizophrenic brain? I know just the test subject.
Scientists have not yet decoded the medical and psychiatric workings of schizophrenia, but there are a few obvious reforms Harvard could implement that would allow students like me to have the support and treatment we need to succeed and survive. These policy changes need to be implemented transparently: Currently, most leave of absence and mental health policy is nebulous, unofficial, unpublished, and only policy-as-practiced through the decisions of the Administrative Board.
First, Harvard should guarantee that anyone who seeks treatment be able to see a therapist within a week, and if desired, to see a therapist on a weekly basis. Currently wait times can be as long as a month, and anecdotal evidence from friends and a conversation with a Harvard therapist suggest that they are pressured to cap the number of appointments covered by Harvard insurance. While Harvard has taken steps forward in covering up to 24 visits to outside providers, Harvard can continue this progress by hiring enough therapists at HUHS to meet student need and covering as many outside visits as are recommended by the therapist.
Second, Harvard should abolish the present oft-coerced leave of absence imposed on students who admit themselves to the infirmary. Students who decide to go on leave are often unaware that in order to return, they must prove that they have held a job or internship and that they have been seeking treatment. The burden of this policy falls brutally on students from poor backgrounds, students lacking robust health insurance, and students with unstable family situations. Ironically, these are the very students who are more likely to have experienced trauma.
This policy typifies the hostility with which mental illness is treated by the Harvard administration. The administration is pursuing what can—despite the University’s belief to the contrary—only be described as punitive courses of action that do not take into consideration the wellbeing of students. If your financial situation is such that Harvard is your only hope for treatment, your options are to seek immediate help and forego longer-term treatment or to try to fight through the darkest nights in hopes that maybe things will get better. I have lost too many friends at Harvard who did not survive that fight. An alternative option would be to implement a program for students on financial aid: Give us housing, allow us to stay with the therapists who know us best, and finance the program through a combination of grants, subsidized loans, and a work program.
Third, the administration should guarantee reasonable turnaround times for decisions from the Financial Aid Office in emergency situations, institute a reasonable cap on health spending in a given year, and provide grants for any additional amount for students on financial aid. Need-blind financial aid allows me to attend Harvard regardless of my financial situation; it should also allow me to stay regardless of a treatable medical condition.
In a recent letter, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds encouraged students to “not suffer in silence. We are here to support you.” I was not silent: I sought and was refused help. I am asking you to join me in a loud appeal to the administration for quality mental health support. If there really is such a thing as a Harvard community, then our shared resources should be allocated according to our values. If Harvard is willing to cut hot breakfast to restructure its budget, then surely mental health is important enough for us to demand adequate resources and to implement serious and necessary reforms.
This is not crazy talk, but I am mad. We can do better.
—The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SMHL is excited to present to you a weekly/bi-weekly editorial that will be featured in Harvard’s newspaper, The Crimson. It will cover a range of mental health topics and will be written by students themselves. Check here to see the first column written by Victoria Baena!
It began with a kind of ache—throbbing, persistent. It was a “down” period like those I’d had before, except that the “down” now crept into the rest of each day, each week, until it became my new normal. It was mental, at first; “I just think too much,” I would joke to my parents. “I have to stop thinking so big.”
Shortly into the semester, though, it spread. It became physical: panic attacks came in debilitating waves, tears threatened to pierce any conversation. I would sit curled up at the corner of my bed and the wall, knees to my chest, shaking. I would try to sleep but couldn’t. Everything took longer. I had readings to do and papers to write, but they were to be done alone, and when I was alone I could let myself crumble.
During these months, it was somehow very important to me that no one knew this was happening. I spent less and less time with people, less and less time outside my room, so I had the strength to pretend everything was fine the few hours I was not alone. I cried into my pillow so my roommates wouldn’t hear. I would sit in history lecture as a panic attack came on and blink back tears, terrified that someone would notice. I wondered how everyone but me was so fine. Knowing I needed to spend time away, I applied to study abroad, which would elicit fewer questions than “taking time off.” I continued to isolate myself, which made me feel worse, which led to further isolation: It was a vicious cycle. I had never felt so alone.
If there’s anything this past year has taught me, it is how wrong I was. I was not alone. I am not alone. It is heartbreaking that it has taken, in part, two student suicides to realize this. Harvard, I think, is realizing it too. Along with such tragedies, the past year has witnessed emerging sources of hope: a Kirkland House discussion with President Drew G. Faust during which students raised questions on mental health; a suicide panel of student and recent alumni voices; a Crimson series on mental health at Harvard; and a Tumblr devoted to the same issues.
These discussions have sought to explain and understand student mental health at Harvard, broaching topics from services at UHS to a pervading atmosphere diagnosed, eloquently and memorably as “I Am Fine.” I cannot say with any kind of certainty where Harvard’s mental health problem—because we do, indeed, have a problem—comes from. Many of us, often, are far from fine. What I can say with certainty is that the conversation must go on.
This semester, we hope to write a long series of articles in an attempt to do just that. I am writing as a member of Harvard’s Student Mental Health Liaisons, a student group founded in 2008 to engage and inform students on issues of emotional wellbeing. Since getting involved with SMHL last fall, I have been inspired by the sincerity and earnestness of each member and the group as a whole in raising awareness on a broad swath of mental health issues on and beyond campus.
There needs to be a forum and catalyst for continuing discussions of mental health, and for establishing a community that supports improving mental health at Harvard. We plan to publish regular op-eds on a variety of topics this semester. We also want to hear from students, faculty, and other members of the Harvard community, who should get in touch with us through the contact section of our Harvard SMHL website so that their voices can be heard as well.
Let us keep the topic of mental and emotional wellbeing at the forefront this semester. In different ways we have all struggled, or are struggling, or will struggle, during our years at Harvard. I don’t think we can ever fully eliminate all difficulties. But we can work toward this by approaching them with empathy, compassion, and a desire to listen. We can tackle them with the knowledge that we are not alone.
Victoria A. Baena is a History and Literature concentrator in Eliot House.
The American Psychiatric Association is self described as “Member Driven. Science Based. Patient Focused.” At this site, you can find information on different mental health topics or groups that may be affected, as well as information on how to cope with mental illness and even specific scenarios, like getting through the holiday stress. They also address the issue of stigma, and remind us all that we cannot blame those with mental illness for their illness, and help us figure out how we can get help for those who need it.
National Alliance on Mental Illness aims to provide support for people across the country dealing with various mental illnesses. They provide information on treatment for mental illnesses as well as support groups and information on where to find your local NAMI chapter. This site covers a wide array of illnesses and groups who may need help, and is dedicated to providing support and advocating for those who need support.
Whether your concern is bipolar disorder or another mental health concern, Mental Health America is designed to help. This group deals with educating and advocating and also provides a support community for people to join. No matter what you’re looking for, this is a great place to start.
Don’t have bipolar disorder, but know someone in your life who is affected? You can go here for resources on how to help your loved one and how to cope with what you yourself are experiencing. Your support is vital to your loved ones facing this disorder, but this website is for when you need support also.
Brought to you by the Harbor of Refuge Organization, this site is intended to provide a support network for those living with bipolar disorder and contains resources for phone and e-mail support as well as some self-care strategies such as ensuring you establish and maintain a support network.