2 in 5 Say They Sought Mental Health Help

Two out of five Harvard seniors say they have sought mental health treatment while in college, according to the results of a survey conducted by The Crimson.

The results provide new insight into the extent of the campus mental health crisis­—three years after Harvard overhauled its approach to therapy and treatment.

The survey results could help to clear “misperceptions” regarding mental health at Harvard, says the College’s mental health chief, Paul J. Barreira.

“There’s a discrepancy between behavior and perception,” says Barreira, adding that students often mistakenly believe that mental illness is abnormal.

The poll also reveals a gender gap in mental health matters. Exactly one-third of men sought mental health help while at Harvard, compared to 43 percent of women.

But that gap does not necessarily mean that women are more likely to suffer from mental illness, according to Barreira. Rather, it may be that women are more willing to seek help from professionals.

‘OVERWHELMED’?

The majority of students who seek mental health help at Harvard suffer from feelings of depression, Barreira says. Not all those students are clinically depressed, however. Barreira says that many patients report feeling “overwhelmed” or “stressed out.” But they might not meet the criterion for clinical depression set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—persistence of symptoms over a two-week period.

In mid-2004, Harvard moved to streamline its services for students seeking counseling and treatment.

Before that, mental health professionals were scattered across Harvard’s Bureau of Study Counsel and University Health Services.

Barreira, then a psychiatrist at Harvard’s McLean Hospital, was brought in to facilitate the merger. He was named director of University Counseling, Academic Support, and Mental Health Services.

But administrative reorganization is only half the battle. Barreira also says that mental health professionals on campus have to combat “social norms” that hinder students from seeking treatment.

One way to lift the taboo surrounding mental health issues is to publicize the extent of the problem, Barreira says.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

The Crimson’s senior survey results also offer a clearer picture of sexual behavior among Harvard undergrads.

According to the survey, 28 percent of seniors said they never had sex during their four years in college. Of the students who said they never had sex while at Harvard, two-thirds say they are happy with their choice of abstinence.

On average, Harvard seniors had sex with 2.5 people while in college. In all, nearly 40 percent of respondents said they wished they had more sex. Only 4 percent wish they had less.

—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at habib@fas.harvard.edu. —Staff writer Nicole B. Urken can be reached at urken@fas.harvard.edu.