Coming Back

Students Return from Mental Health-Related Leaves with a New Approach to Harvard

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Before George took his leave of absence, he was known as the “bad texter” by his friends, choosing to ignore text messages from them sometimes for days.

But after taking a leave plagued with bouts of loneliness, George has returned to Harvard with a new outlook on his social connections.

“I’m much better about writing people back now and making sure that I take the time to visit with people…. You have to work to get into relationships and maintain them, even in an environment like this,” George said. “I think those relationships are a lot stronger than they may have even been if I had spent ‘x’ many months more with them.”

Like George, other students who take time off for mental health reasons come back to campus with a new view of social connections, reevaluating their friendships and personal priorities.

After she returned, Ella similarly restructured her relationships and how she spent her time with the insight of her year off.

“I think coming back what I did differently from previous times is that I learned to be around people who are nurturing and just not spend time with people who I didn’t want to be with,” Ella said. “I cut down my friend groups a lot and spent times with the ones who were most important.”

But starting next semester, both George and Ella face the prospect of spending their senior year without many of their friends who will be graduating this spring.

“I’m a little bummed out that when they graduate, I’ll come back [to school] and all my friends will be dispersed around the world,” Ella said.

While Ella said that she has already made the transition to make her classwork what “grounds” her at Harvard, George is not so confident that he will be able to meet new people to fill his social circle.

“One problem I have with Harvard that I’ve accepted a bit more is that I haven’t found it to be such a welcoming social environment,” George said. “You know, you meet people through groups but if you don’t start joining groups early in your career, you don’t get to know that many people. There aren’t that many opportunities to meet new friends.”

George says that having to make new friends is a source of concern for him as he prepares to enter his last year at Harvard. “When I get stressed out next year, am I going to have the sort of the company of people who I care about, who I can say I really like their friendship[s] or will I be more on my own?”

Despite the uncertainty ahead, George and many others say that in the end, after navigating a complicated process of going home, getting better during a leave of absence, and coming back to Harvard, their time off was instrumental in their college lives.

“Given the way that things did play out, I think I can say that I don’t have any regrets,” George said. “I don’t know the type of person and student that I would have become if I hadn’t taken time off.”

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.


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