Mental-Health Breakdown: When Harvard Fails Its Students

Tim Goral's picture
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What should Harvard students get for $57,950 a year?

It’s a question that has rattled America’s most elite college and other top-tier institutions in the wake of a scathing op-ed published last month in the Harvard Crimson by a student struggling with schizophrenia.

According to the article, which was written anonymously and has received more than 4,500 Facebook likes, Harvard’s mental health services repeatedly failed to care for the student, leaving the student suicidal.

In one example, the student told a counselor about hearing voices and was encouraged “to drink chamomile tea and to practice breathing exercises to cope with stress.”

“Where else can I go?” the student wrote. “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.”

In the weeks since the piece was published, an occasional conversation about mental health at America’s most elite university—intensified by three apparent suicides in the last year—appears to be coalescing into a movement. At its core is the question of whether students paying record-high tuition rates can expect to get both a great education and top-notch mental-health care at a time in their lives when they are most susceptible to everything from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia.

At a rally the day after the op-ed appeared, students chanted, “Our Harvard can do better!” and held signs reading, “Harvard we are MAD.” A new Facebook group called the “Coalition to Reform Mental Health Services at Harvard” has more than 300 members so far, and a new video series produced by students and faculty features kids sharing their own experiences navigating the school’s mental-health services, and urging viewers to “speak up, you’re not alone.”

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