How to combat the autumn blues at Harvard.
Autumn sneaks up on students every year. The transition from shopping week to the fifth Monday is as subtle as the changing of the leaves, but the realization can be daunting. One doesn’t quite notice the receding green until the trees are all reds, yellows, and oranges and students don’t fully realize that readings and problem sets mean something until midterms and papers. As the work and extra-curricular commitments pile on, many students succumb to the autumn blues. The stress of work, keeping up with friends, applying for various opportunities, having a job, thinking about home, etc., pile up and can fill every day with dread.
While many students may feel as if they are navigating Harvard feeling alone in their woes, Harvard does have many resources available to help students cope with mental health issues. In addition, these resources are expanding and changing to meet the demands of students who want more mental health care on campus.
This week the Harvard Independent sat down with the Jennifer Yao ’16 and Hannah Rasmussen’16, co-presidents of the Student Mental Health Liaisons (SMHL), the student group dedicated to brokering resources and helping students navigate the appropriate avenues for seeking support. In addition to talking about SMHL’s advocacy efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues and push the College to do more for students, Rasmussen and Yao also gave advice for helping students combat the autumn blues.
The SMHL’s support and broker resources for students across three avenues: residential or house settings, professional counseling services, and various peer counseling groups (the flow chart of support can be found on the next page). Yao elaborated a little bit more on the ways SMHL supports and works with other groups on campus: “We really want to promote emotional well-being. We work with house wellness tutors. We also do outreach to diverse groups on campus and other peer education groups like DAPA, CAARE, and Health PALs.”
Yao and Rasmussen also discussed how SMHL has restructured some of its programming to be of better service to students. For example, SMHL puts on more workshops and study breaks in the fall in order to provide support for freshmen earlier on. SMHL is also working on being more visible for students across all classes through getting creative with how they interface with students. “We’ve changed our recruitment and marketing to become more visible to students. We’ve started making tab posters that allow students to grab [wellness] tips on the go. Each one has a different tip to distress,” says Rasmussen.
While SMHL supports various institutions for mental health services, both Yao and Rasmussen emphasize that everyday interactions between friends and peers can also serve as an outlet for students. Both talk about how in order to de-stigmatize mental health on campus, students themselves need to change the culture surrounding it. Students need to create spaces for themselves and each other to talk about what is on their minds.
Rasmussen says, “Emphasize real conversations with people. People want to be heard.” She also encourages students to “share your story with a friend.” In regard to being on the listener, Rasmussen advises, “Be active. Don’t be afraid to be part of the conversation. Have an active presence.”
Though it can be hard to always be an active listener, Yao says that Room 13, one of Harvard’s peer counseling groups, offers a ‘How to Help a Friend Workshop’ for individuals and groups wanting to gain skills in being active listeners.
Yao also pointed out small tips students can use as they engage with their peers. She shared the subtle difference between asking ‘How are you?’ versus ‘How are you today.’ She says that the latter acknowledges that people have good and bad days. She also mentioned that by putting a specific time frame on the question allows people to better reflect on their moods.
In addition, Yao recommends using ‘I’ statements so as not to come off as directive or accusatory. To keep listeners and sharers, Yao says that the listener should use ‘mirror’ vocabulary to rephrase what was shared. This not only helps the listener be more active, but it also allows the sharer to better articulate their thoughts and feelings.
These peer-to-peer conversations can be a good first step to breaking down the barriers to seek other forms of support. Yao emphasizes that “nothing is too small for students to bring to CAMHS (Counseling and Mental Health Services).” She adds, “When you have something weighing on your mind for a while, it’s ‘enough’ to seek help.” Rasmussen stresses the importance of self-reflection when it comes to taking care of oneself mentally and emotionally. “Check-in with yourself about your routine. If you don’t feel good about your routine, seek support.”
Yao and Rasmussen want students to take control over their mental health and not ignore or push aside feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, or sad. “Ultimately, keep a larger perspective in mind — one exam is not the end of the world. Too often we see people neglect physical and mental health for class. Make physical, mental, and emotional health a priority.”
Students taking control of their mental health not only benefits them individually, but also makes the mental health climate at Harvard more open. The tips shared by SMHL are the beginning steps to combating the autumn blues.
Shaquilla Harrigan’16 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is working on her self-care plan to beat the autumn blues.