Students Reach For Help in Vain

College advisers inconsistent in responses to mental health problems

A Crimson poll of 343 undergraduates in December found that of the 9 percent of students whose tutors, teaching fellows or professors ever encouraged them to use mental health services, 24 percent had also received help scheduling appointments.

Even if the student does not listen the first time, intervention from these adults can gradually make students more aware of the state of their mental health, Kadison says.

“Sometimes it’s just planting seeds—you hear from a tutor, then a friend, then a professor, maybe you put together that you ought to talk to someone,” Kadison says.

But students say few tutors show the time or commitment necessary to become close enough with them to be able to recognize a shift in behavior and suggest getting help.

Some students with mental health problems say their tutors were not aware of their trouble, either because they were not available in the House or were not responsive to calls for help.



Jeremy R. Jenkins ’97-’98, the co-founder of the Mental Health Advocacy and Awareness Group (MHAAG), says the residential tutor in his entryway had no idea he was suffering from severe depression—until Jenkins wrote an op-ed about it in The Crimson.

In the December Crimson poll, 30 percent of students reported speaking with their resident tutors or proctors once a month or less, while 54 percent spoke once a week or more frequently.

Jenkins says his tutor was in residency at Harvard Medical School and as a result was hardly ever around the House, resulting in Jenkins seeing him less then once a month, like almost 20 percent of students polled.

Kleindienst says because many of the tutors are so busy—and students with mental health problems may not be pushing for help—it’s easy to “fade yourself out of the picture.”

Sarah J. Ramer ’03, a former MHAAG co-chair, says because tutors are the adults who interact most with students, they must be around and able to recognize mental health problems.

“But the tutors have to take time to know their students,” she says. “They have to know their students’ baseline to notice if anything is unusual later.”

Some students say that even if tutors know their students well, they are sometimes uncomfortable discussing mental health with them.

Ramer says that tutors should “err on the side of prying” in order to make sure students are getting help for their problems.

“People are very afraid of being direct, but the times when you need help the most are often the times when it’s hardest to ask,” she says.

While Kadison says he agrees it is a tough balance, he advises tutors to invite students to talk and that they should feel free to give students feedback if they notice anything wrong.