Panelists Discuss Roomates’ Mental Health

Students with mental health problems need strong support from their roommates, according to panelists who spoke at a discussion in Kirkland House last night.

Two students, a House senior tutor and a psychologist participated in the panel, titled, “When You Want to Help: Talking to Roommates About Their Mental Health.”

Kristin E. Naragon ’03 and Michelle Kuo ’03, who have lived together for the last four years, began the discussion, which was sponsored by Harvard’s Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Group (MHAAG).

Naragon, who has struggled with clinical depression since her freshman year, said she was grateful for her roommate’s support.

“She wasn’t blaming me for this; she didn’t think I was weird,” she said. “The most important thing is to constantly show that you care.”

Her roommate shared this sentiment.

“I was grateful that I could help, to be there and listen,” Kuo said.

However, both roommates acknowledged the more complicated and painful parts of dealing with mental health in a friendship.

“I had a constant sense of guilt that I wasn’t being good enough,” Kuo said.

Kuo discussed the challenges of trying balance emotional support with her academic workload.

“I was burned out from schoolwork and from helping her,” she said, “During one really bad week, I would make excuses...come back late, hoping she’d be asleep,” she said

But despite the difficulties, Kuo advised the audience to continue to be supportive of roommates with mental health problems, while also realizing that “there isn’t some magical thing you can say to make [mental health problems] go away.”

Though roommates sometimes feel frustrated by their inability to solve problems, Naragon said continued friendship is the most important form of support.

“Keep in mind it’s not about you, something larger is going on,” she said.

Winthrop House Senior Tutor Courtney B. Lamberth and Bureau of Study Council psychologist M. Suzanne Renna also spoke at the event, urging student supporters of friends with mental health problems to take care of themselves, as well.

“[You can] get counseling yourself,” said Lamberth. “It is tremendously difficult to support someone.”