Jamison Discusses High Rates of Depression at Universities
Speaking to a crowd of 500 people last night in Sanders Theatre, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a leading expert and author in the field of mood disorders, discussed the alarming prevalence of depression among university students.
She emphasized the availability and success of treatment for depression and other mental illnesses.
"Depression is common. Depression is very common," Jamison told the crowd, made up more of faculty and staff than students. "It is one of the most treatable disorders we know. But untreated, it can kill. It does."
Like she did in her best-selling book Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, Jamison interspersed her talk with quotes from authors and poets, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath, who suffered from mental illness.
Like many with mental illness, Jamison said she first became ill while in her teens.
"I was used to my mind being my best friend," she said, but in high school that all changed. She lied and tried to hide the problem, and continued to suffer until she was an associate professor and became suicidal.
"It never occurred to me that I was ill," she said.
Since most mental illnesses have their onset during the late teenage years or early twenties, they often overlap with college years.
Ironically, the problem is more acute today as treatment is better, Jamison said, because people are now attending college who would not have been able to do so before new treatments were available.
Jamison emphasized the ease of treatment: "Depression is terrible," she said. "Depression is far more common than most of us would like to believe. But depression is very treatable."
Research shows that the best treatment is a combination of medication and psychotherapy, Jamison said.
She presented some troubling statistics. A person commits suicide every 17 minutes, and one out of 10 high school students has attempted suicide in the past year. As a public health problem, she said she believes that suicide and depression need to be treated.
She closed by saying students should watch out for themselves and others.
"There's nothing more isolating than going it alone," she said. "If you think you have a problem, whatever it is, or you have a roommate or a friend, for goodness' sake, get help."
Jamison's talk was the keynote for a week of events run by the Provost's office called "Caring for the Harvard Community."
Charles P. Ducey, director of the Bureau of Study Counsel, who is also a member of the Student Health Coordinating Board, said he hoped this talk and the week of events would ensure students know about the resources available on campus.
Ducey said depression is a real problem on campus, as Jamison suggested, but warned against self-diagnosis. If students think they have a problem, they should seek help, Ducey said.
"We want to do what we can to eliminate unnecessary suffering while also helping students realize that suffering is a part of life," he said.
There will be panels in the Houses and graduate campuses over the next three days, focusing on dealing with stress and mental health.
In an effort to encourage student participation, there will be door prizes, free pizza and ice cream from Toscanini's at the different events.
Debbie A. Sorenson, a tutor in Lowell House and a third-year graduate student in psychology at GSAS, said students are not prone to talk about depression.
"It's important for them to do this week because it's not something that students usually talk about," she said. "It's taboo, but depression is not uncommon."