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Harvard Crisis Not Abnormal

Letter to the Editors

By Hanna L. Stotland

To the editors:

Katharine A. Kaplan’s article on mental health (News, “College Faces a Mental Health Crisis,” Jan. 12) paints a misleading picture of mental health problems at Harvard.

A Crimson survey found that 80 percent of Harvard students reported “feeling depressed” at some point in the last year. But the author confuses feeling depressed with clinical depression, a serious mental illness, and goes on to make the absurd and wholly unsupported statement that 80 percent of Harvard students “struggled with mental health problems” last year. Feeling depressed occasionally is not a mental health problem; it’s just part of being human.

Next, the article proposes that a “crisis” is afoot because 20 Eliot House residents are had serious mental health problems last exam period. Eliot House has over 400 residents. Five percent of a college-age population experiencing a serious mental health problem in a given year is considerably below the national rate. Ten percent of college students nationwide have been diagnosed with clinical depression alone; that rate does not include those who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, anorexia, and other illnesses common in this age group.

The article stated that 10 percent of Harvard students have seriously contemplated suicide, and one percent have made an attempt; these rates are nearly identical to those found in nationwide survey of college students.

Mental illness is indeed a serious issue at Harvard and the college needs to do a better job of ensuring that proper counseling and treatment are promptly provided to every single student in need. However, it is crucial to note that occasional feelings of sadness are not a sign of mental illness, and that the Harvard population is no more prone to psychiatric problems than any other group of college students.


Jan. 13, 2004

The writer is a former member of the Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Group.

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