Mental Health at Harvard: “How was your day, Harvard?” 

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A social media campaign for social change. 

“How was your day?”

It’s such a simple question, but sophomore Taylor Ladd saw the importance in asking it. This fall, she launched a social media campaign, called “How was your day, Harvard?” to encourage more people to ask the question.

Mental health has recently been at the forefront of issues at Harvard, especially in light of the tragic suicide of sophomore Luke Tang at the beginning of this school year and the recent release of the sexual assault survey results. Whether it’s helping students who are dealing with depression, anxiety, or trauma, many have asked if Harvard is doing enough to support students who are struggling with their mental health. Some support already exists on campus. Forty to fifty percent of Harvard students have sought mental health services at Harvard University Health Services at least once. In addition to mental health services at UHS, Room 13 gives students an alternate avenue for seeking help. Another student-run group, Student Mental Health Liaisons (SMHL) seeks to publicize where students can seek help on campus.

Still, despite these resources for Harvard students, Ladd did not seek help when she was depressed. “There are many resources for mental health at Harvard,” she admits. “However, when I was depressed last year, I didn’t use any of them. I couldn’t figure out how to make an appointment with a therapist at UHS, and I didn’t want to go to Room 13 and risk running into someone I knew. The only thing that eventually made me feel better was talking to others who felt like I did, who also felt inadequate in a community as competitive as Harvard.”

“My goal is to create awareness for the issue of mental health on Harvard’s campus,” Ladd writes on Facebook. “I want social media to become a tool that can support those who struggle with mental health, rather than something that perpetuates negative feelings. I want anyone that is feeling badly about themselves, their grades, or their social lives to know I’ve been there too, and so has everyone. Pictures on social media do not properly encapsulate a life, with its natural ups and downs, excitements and disappointments, and you should never measure yourself to the standard of a profile picture.”

Since its launch on September 16th, “How was your day, Harvard?” has received 858 likes on its Facebook page and countless personal posts. Harvard students have used the page to share the stories of their solitary struggles with depression at Harvard; through this online forum they hope to remove the stigma that often comes with talking about mental health.

At first, I have to admit, something about this movement really didn’t sit right with me. That people were sharing the details of their darkest moments on a public platform like the internet seemed more like an attention-seeking behavior than one that brings about social change. Was this really the best way to de-stigmatize mental health, or was it just a ploy to rack up likes?

 

I read through the posts on the page, each followed by “#howwasyourdayharvard #peoplebeforepsets #tellmeaboutyourdayatharvard.” Each story was so deeply personal. After the first few that I read, I felt the same way that I feel when somebody on Facebook posts a (very flattering) picture of themselves with a recently deceased grandparent, and then proceeds to get 100 likes. The idea was good, but it seemed like a cry for attention.

But, with mental health, I think that’s the point. Mental health demands attention, and social media is the means by which people attract attention in this generation. I realized that I had the initial reaction that I did likely because I am a product of a society that stigmatizes mental health issues to the point that sharing stories about them seems more selfish than selfless.

Reading the posts on the “How was your day, Harvard?” Facebook page, I felt as though I had been given a glimpse into the lives of others. I was now privy to their inner struggles, and it was eye opening. People I knew—people with whom I was friends or perhaps just acquaintances—who seemed perfectly happy, had struggled with mental health issues.

Not all of them had been clinically depressed, per se, but all had feelings of inadequacy or overwhelming anxiety as a result of being in an environment in which everyone attempts to project a shiny, perfect version of themselves.

While Harvard does offer a multitude of services for students to seek help with mental health issues, none of these services address our problematic environment.

The  “How was your day, Harvard?” movement encourages people to ask about, listen to, and share their struggles, along with their successes, with the hope that students who are battling inner demons will not feel alone.

Ladd’s movement puts the responsibility on us to not only candidly share our stories, but to also ask and to care about others. The #peoplebeforepsets at the end of each post reminds the reader how we become so consumed with our work, that we forget to check in on our friends.

The “How was your day, Harvard?” movement reminds us that how we interact with each other determines the sort of community in which we live. We live in a community where struggling with mental health issues is common, and that means that we have to talk about them more. Obviously, each of us wants to be a part of a vibrant, welcoming, mentally healthy community. To get there, though, it all starts with each of us asking each other questions as simple as “How was your day?” and actually caring about each other’s answers.

 

Caroline Gentile ’17 ([email protected]) is a neurobiology concentrator in Kirkland House who really needs to get off Facebook and actually be a productive member of society.