Harvard mental health expert discusses his book at Coffman Union

Approximately 45 percent of college students episodically binge-drink.

Jamie VanGeest

Richard Kadison is the chief of mental health services at Harvard University. He is a psychiatrist who has specialized in college mental health for 25 years and has been at Harvard for 11 years.

Kadison was at Coffman Union bookstore Monday to talk about his new book, “College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It.”

What inspired you to write “College of the Overwhelmed?”

The main things that triggered my interest were by looking at some of the data and research about college mental health. Particularly, the American College Health Association started surveying students, and the data was really scary.

Almost 45 percent of students said they had been depressed to the point where it was difficult to function. Ten percent answered “yes” (when asked) if they have seriously thought about suicide in the last year. About 45 percent of students episodically binge-drink, which leads to fights, sexual assaults, unwanted pregnancies and lots of unwanted problems.

One study from Kansas State documents their counseling center for 11 years and they found the severity of the cases of mental illness increased significantly.

Why has there been an increase in the amount of mental illness on college campuses?

First off, college mental health centers were getting busier and busier and budgets are tight. Resources aren’t growing as fast as the need. The cost of college has grown dramatically faster than family income, colleges are becoming more diverse and the different cultures clash and create stresses on students.

What can be done to help college students who struggle with mental illness?

Students are the key to this problem; we need to try to reduce the stigma around mental illness. I think many students, looking around their classroom, you wouldn’t guess that half of the students have felt too depressed to function. Also, that in a class of 30, three of them have felt suicidal in the last year.

What would you recommend for students who are stressed in college?

Students should pay attention to the symptoms for depression. If people start having sleep changes, motivation changes, appetite changes, energy changes, or social withdrawal, it would be better to talk to someone sooner than later. One of the biggest frustrations is that students suffer way too long before they get care. Students shouldn’t wait until they are overwhelmed academically or are nonfunctional.