Being Depressed at HBS

(Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Harbus a few years ago. We are reprinting it this month because October is National Depression Screening Month. Due to the sensitive nature of this article, the Harbus has allowed the author to remain anonymous. Pat Light, Director of MBA Program Support Services, has vouched for the authenticity of this article.)

I almost too my life three times during my first year at HBS. And I was just as normal as you when I started here. I was really excited to come to HBS. The first month or two were filled with new friends, and great challenges. But then one day I noticed that I wasn’t feeling like myself anymore. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and it was no big deal.

Then it happened again. Soon I started to feel sad all of the time. I kept asking myself if I was really enjoying school here. Was everyone happy besides me? Why wasn’t I having any fun?

Maybe it was because the weather had started to turn cold and gloomy.

Perhaps I was overwhelmed by the zillions of recruiters calling me, when I was already confused about “what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” Maybe I was starting to get sick of seeing the same 80 people every single day, and that annoying guy in the corner who pointed his finger whenever he raised his hand. Whatever it was that began it all…everything else was just piling up and making it even worse.

I began to find myself crying myself to sleep. I didn’t want to go out anymore. I stopped exercising, which only made me feel worse, both physically and emotionally. I started questioning everything I would say in class. I couldn’t focus on what the professor was saying. I felt like every case I read was longer than War and Peace.

I started hating myself for ever applying to HBS. And then one day I just didn’t get out of bed. I stayed in bed all day and just cried and cried.

Then a strange calmness came over me. “Everything would be alright if I just killed myself,” I thought. “Then it would all go away.” So I made my way to the bridge and stood there for nearly an hour. But I couldn’t jump off.

The next three weeks were the worst weeks of my life. I would spend class periods thinking of how to kill myself, and how that was the real answer to all of my problems. I skipped class just because I didn’t want to get out of bed. I went to the bridge two more times. I wasn’t scared anymore. I was ready to die and I didn’t care.

A friend saved me, without even realizing it. She thought I looked sad and suggested that I go see Dr. Patricia Light, Director of MBA Program Support Services. That was the beginning of my road back to recovery.

Dr. Light realized that I was severely depressed and she got me some help. I went and saw Dr. Richard Kadison, Chief of the Mental Health Service at Harvard. I didn’t want to go at first. I was an HBS student, and I wasn’t about to go see a shrink. God forbid if anyone ever found out. I was supposed to be strong-a winner. Winners don’t go see psychiatrists or admit that they’re depressed. I felt like a complete failure for going to see Dr. Kadison.

But he helped me realize that I wasn’t. Every year the staff of the Mental Health Services department sees about 140 HBS students. That’s about 1 out of every 11 people. That’s 7 people in YOUR section alone. Not to mention the fact that there are many HBS students who go see outside providers without ever going through University Health Services.

I began to re-focus my life. Although I didn’t feel comfortable telling any of my friends that I was struggling, I did tell my parents. They, along with Dr. Light, would call or email me everyday to cheer my up and encourage me. I began forcing myself to exercise no matter how bad I felt. I sought out tutoring from some second years. And I began taking anti-depressants. That was a very difficult hurdle to overcome. I thought that surely I must be a loser if I was so depressed that I had to use medication to get better. I was scared of the side effects and of the possibility that people might find out. But once again Dr. Kadison calmed my fears.

Although I can’t tell you the specific numbers (due to privacy reasons), you walk by someone everyday that’s using Zoloft or Prozac. You don’t even know it. And do you know why? Because the medicines work; and no one can tell the difference. Not everyone has to take medicine, but if you do, it’s nothing to be ashamed of or scared of. It simply means that you need a boost to get your positive brain waves going again.

Combining the medicine with daily exercise made all of the difference in the world. Within a month, I felt happy again from time to time. Within 2 months, I felt happy most of the time. Within 3 months, I was me again.

Why did I write this article you ask? Because I want you to know that it’s okay to be depressed but it’s not okay to stay depressed. That may sound stupid or simple to you if you feel fine. But it was exactly what I needed to hear when I wanted to end my life. I also want to remind you that it’s okay to ask for help.

And I pray that you do. You ask questions in class all the time. Why should you feel any embarrassment about asking for help when the answers provided are a million times more important than any ones you’ll ever hear in class?

I chose not to submit my name because this is a very private experience.

However, it’s not an unusual experience. It’s all around you. Please take the time to look out for your friends and notice when they seem down.

But most of all, take care of yourself. HBS is an amazing place full of phenomenal people and fantastic experiences. The staff and faculty here want to help you make sure that you can benefit from every aspect of the HBS experience. You can only do this if you are healthy and happy.

Remember that I started out feeling fine too. Get help before you sink as low as I did. Your life and HBS are too precious to miss out on.

Quick Facts:
o 1 out of 11 HBS students sees a Mental Health Service staff member at least once a year

o There are 30 therapists available to help you

o Services range from private meetings to group, couple or family therapy

o Urgent Care can be reached 24 hours a day at 617/495-5711

o The HBS Blue Cross policy entitles students to 8 free visits to outside therapists per year

o HBS students can see internal staff therapists as often a they like throughout the year

o Two mental health clinicians are always available after hours to talk or meet with you during emergencies

o If you don’t know where to start, go see Dr. Light in the MBA Program Office.