Schizophrenic Harvard student pens cry for help

NEED TO KNOW
  • NEW: Harvard says it is 'committed to working' with students
  • 'Student X' talks exclusively to HLN about illness
  • She wants school to reform mental health services
Schizophrenic Harvard student pens cry for help

"We never talked about the voices. It was a topic that terrified me, and [my psychiatrist] was no more eager to ask me about them," says an anonymous student, we'll call her Student X, in a heart-breaking letter in the student newspaper of one of the nation's top universities.

The letter, which charges that Harvard University has been lackluster in its support of students with mental health issues, has garnered national attention and been posted on several social networking sites, including Twitter and Reddit. HLN reached out to the student and received a reply via email about her predicament.

Using the email username, Mary Wollstonecraft, a 1700s women’s rights advocate and mother of the author who would write “Frankenstein,” she described how her world was turned upside down in July, when symptoms started.

“I thought and hoped it was psychotic depression until November, when the symptoms became too plain to remain in denial," she writes.

In her letter, she said those symptoms included voices, a telltale sign of schizophrenia, a mental disorder that affects 2.4 million Americans, according to statistics used by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

"When I began to hear voices, I told myself that it was some peculiar coping mechanism that was benign and would soon go away," she writes.

Many of the commenters on Student X's letter say they too are college students and are experiencing or have gone through similar mental health issues.

College students are at a unique risk for mental health triggers because of the rigors associated with the many transitions of collegiate life, said Steven Potkin, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

"Stress can bring on schizophrenia in those with genetic risk," Potkin told HLN. "Leaving home and going to college can be especially stressful because of the many psychosocial adjustments required and the increased intellectual demands of college coupled with the loss of social support present at home."

Read more: Mental health care -- system broken? (VIDEO)

When asked why she was hiding her identity, Student X said her privacy in this digital age would be hard enough to conceal, let alone being associated with something so many people stigmatize.

“I wish writing anonymously weren't powerful,” she said. “It is because the reader is forced to realize how terrified the author is of stigma from her or his friends, family, and community. Of this detail always being Google-able, of it damaging careers and future relationships, and worst -- of his or her emotions and thoughts being delegitimized as inauthentic and people instead wondering what is the disease versus the ‘real’ person.”

She wants Harvard to reform their student mental health services. "First, Harvard should guarantee that anyone who seeks treatment be able to see a therapist within a week, and if desired, to see a therapist on a weekly basis." She also wants the university to abolish the "coerced" leave of absence she says the school encourages for those who admit themselves to the infirmary and, she wants quicker responses to financial aid.

UPDATE: Jeff Neal, spokesman for Harvard University Health Services, told HLN, that all full- and part-time students were eligible for the university’s Student Health Program, which covers mental health services. He also said that there is inpatient and outpatient care available.  “We are committed to working with every student to ensure they receive the medical support they need to succeed both personally and academically.”

But, Student X said she wants her letter to raise awareness to other students facing a similar plight.

“This isn't the paranoia associated with many cases of schizophrenia: This is a rational response to the discrimination people with mental illness face," she said.

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