Article Spurs Dialogue About Mental Health

In the wake of a Feb. 17 Crimson article about mental health and a struggle with suicidal thoughts, one Harvard student has launched an effort to foster dialogue about issues of depression on campus.

After reading the comments to “I Am Fine,” an anonymous author’s examination of a painful struggle with suicide and depression while enrolled at Harvard, Hemali A. Thakkar ’11 created a Google Group—an online forum—to facilitate discussion on this issue.

“I think it is critical to take action and have the student body leverage the attention that this moment has created,” Thakkar said.

Her group—HarvardBeWell—is a student-led initiative that plans to come up with creative ideas to address mental health issues. It has a membership of 10 Harvard students since it was founded six days ago.

The article, which ran anonymously, has received an outpouring of comments on The Crimson’s website, and has garnered over one thousand “likes” on Facebook.

Some comments thank the author’s bravery in speaking on a highly personal issue. Others have shared their own stories of struggling with similar problems. Comments call for “keeping the conversation going” and “having an open dialogue for mental health issues at Harvard.”

The Student Mental Health Liaisons, an undergraduate organization that works to promote a supportive Harvard community and reach out to students struggling with mental health issues, is also working hard to make the most of current interest in the issue.

Their website, HarvardSmiles.com, includes an information portal for students to easily access and communicate with one another about wellness issues and has received thousands of unique visits over the last 12 days.

Seth A. Riddley ’12, a mental health liaison and contributor to HarvardSmiles.com, said he hopes that the website can serve as a tool to raise awareness about mental health issues.

“We hope the website will be a forum for the whole community and that it connects students with resources available to them on campus,” he said.

Paul J. Barreira, director of behavioral health and academic counseling for University Health Services, strongly endorses these types of activities, which he said can contribute to a culture of seeking help for mental health issues.

Barreira added that he is encouraged by an increase in student visits to the various mental health services available on campus in the last year, which he says has been positively influenced by student workshops and freshmen outreach programs that UHS and The Bureau of Study Council have put in place.

Still, Barreira acknowledges that there is a lot of work to be done.

“I’d like to see a change in the culture—more open-minded discussions, and more students involved in promoting tolerance and reducing fear in addressing their problems,” he said.

SMHL and student-led initiatives such as HarvardBeWell are promising to Barreira.

“At the end of the day, any vehicle for students to communicate and see what’s available to them is terrific.”

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