'Harvard Speaks Up' About Mental Health

Students, administrators, professors, and alumni from across the Harvard community are speaking up and sharing their personal experiences with mental illness and stress as part of the newly launched “Harvard Speaks Up” online video series.

The project, created by the Student Mental Health Liaisons, hopes to spark conversations on campus about mental health while also encouraging depressed and anxious students to reach out for help. Since launching two weeks ago, “Harvard Speaks Up” has garnered over 30 submissions.

“We want to let people know that they’re not alone,” said Seth H. Cassel ’13, former SMHL co-President. “Mental health issues are magnified due to the stigma, and students sometimes feel that they are the only ones suffering.”

The project was inspired by the popular “It Gets Better” anti-bullying video campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer youths. Cassel and former SMHL co-President Meghan J. Smith ’13 said they felt Harvard needed an open and safe platform for members of the Harvard community to learn about mental health resources.

In addition to personal testimonial videos, the Harvard Speaks Up website features links to on-campus mental health resources, videos explaining the peer support and counseling services available to students, and a discussion board where students can submit questions and discuss mental health concerns.

Several of the video testimonials submitted to the website feature notable members of the Harvard community, including psychology professor Steven Pinker, former University Provost Steven E. Hyman, Eliot House Master Gail A. O’Keefe, and Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul J. Barreira.

In one video, Pinker explained that the part of the mind that assesses the future does not work properly when an individual is depressed.

“You objectively think, ‘Not only am I sad now, but I will always be sad. Life will always be horrible. There is no possibility for it to improve,’” Pinker said, referring to his own personal experiences. “One thing that you always have to keep in mind is that the part of the mind that’s making you think that is not working properly, because things will get better, things can get better, particularly if you seek help.”

Other videos touch on topics ranging from academic and professional failure to the stresses an athlete faces after suffering from a sports injury. Smith said SMHL hopes to have videos that encompass a wide range of experiences so that students will find one or two with which they personally connect.

“We want it to be a very real place,” said Cassel. “We don’t want this to be an edited-down message, because in the end, there is hope and it gets better by speaking up.”

—Staff writer Quinn D. Hatoff can be reached at quinnhatoff@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnHatoff.

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