As I sat in University Health Services on a Thursday evening, it occurred to me what being a Harvard student does to someone. Don’t get me wrong, I love Harvard and it has truly changed – some may even say transformed – my life, but that does not mean it doesn’t have negative aspects. At Harvard, there is this feeling that you always have to be on. Always have to be rushing to a meeting or hurrying to finish a problem set and if you aren’t, there is something wrong. If you aren’t driving yourself insane to complete your work, then you aren’t working hard enough.
I was being treated at University Health Services for an allergic reaction to something that I had eaten earlier that day, but I found myself hoping that I would be out in time to go to a meeting, or that they wouldn’t keep me there too long so I could finish up some work that night. Thinking back, I’m a bit disturbed. I was being treated for something that was potentially deadly, and my biggest worry was working on a problem set. That’s when you know things have gotten bad.
Harvard has an interesting culture that forces you to push yourself way beyond your limits and when you don’t feel super stressed, you think there is something wrong with you, which is certainly not healthy. Though Harvard is filled with some of the brightest young minds in the world, this problematic stress-filled culture chips away at our self-esteem and our mental health without us even realizing it until it’s too late.
In 2003, in a survey of Harvard students, almost 50% of the students stated they had felt depressed during their time at Harvard, with 10% of them contemplating suicide. These are astonishing numbers that have probably increased in the past few years.
So many students are affected by the culture at Harvard to always be working and always be stressed and it really takes a toll on our psyche. While I love Harvard and it has been such a great home for the past few years, it’s still a difficult and sometimes damaging place to be.