On the Margins, Between the Lines: Being depressed at Stanford

According to the National College Depression Partnership, approximately one in eight students will suffer from depression during college. I am one of them. Although dealing with this has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, Stanford has been an amazing community to be a part of during this struggle. Once I recognized my depression and sought help, I found both Stanford students and teachers to be incredibly supportive, as well as an abundance of institutional support from the school. I want to share the resources that I’ve used — both to commend Stanford for its supportive environment and to share with other students that may be floundering how I’ve made my way through school.

My biggest ally in this journey has been the Office of Accessible Education. The staff there allows people with mental illnesses (and other disabilities) to sign up with their office to request academic accommodations. The fact that Stanford has an office that helps students with depression navigate through the academic difficulties they face speaks volumes about how seriously Stanford takes mental health problems. I have signed up with this office, requested accommodations from my professors (permission to reschedule tests, turn in work late and arrange incompletes) and taken a reduced load (which unfortunately affects financial aid and scholarship money), all of which have helped me to complete schoolwork and classes that I otherwise could not have.

When I have discussed my depression with professors (a good thing to do before issues arise), they have all been incredibly caring. Most of them have told me that they or someone close to them has also dealt with depression, so they understand how hard it is. They have generally been willing to do what they can to help me by granting me accommodations. I’ve been pointed toward Stanford’s resources (Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), OAE, the Bridge) again and again and professors check in to make sure that I am getting the help I need.

I have only visited CAPS on a few occasions, so I cannot speak to the quality of the counseling, but I have never had trouble getting an appointment. They also have both psychiatrists and psychologists so students have access to both therapy and medicine (if needed).

When I’ve had trouble getting work done and finishing incompletes, my academic director and the academic coaches through Adina Glickman’s office have helped me figure out how I was going to tackle my work, which reduced my stress and lightened my depression when I felt I could not get my schoolwork done.

Because I ended up taking so many incompletes, I was placed on academic probation. Although that may sound scary, it’s just a way for the university to identify students that are having trouble and to get them the help they need. I had to meet with my advisor and talk with her about how to get back on track including options such as taking time off. For my needs, we decided that I should reduce my load to eight units a quarter, spend time working on my incompletes, and continue checking in. Often students who don’t reach out can disappear in the masses, but I think it’s great that Stanford has some mechanisms to find students who are really having trouble to help turn things around.

Because I’m fairly open about it, I’ve told a really wide range of students that I suffer from depression, many of whom I’m not that close to. My candidness has sparked many conversations in which people who don’t often talk about it have shared their experiences of depression. Often it comes as a relief to other students to be able to talk about these things in the open. It always surprises and encourages me to find out how many other people are having similar difficulties; I’m currently taking an extra quarter to finish off my last three incompletes, something I was loath to do, but through talking about it I’ve discovered just how common this is and that I’m really not alone. I’ve found amazing support here by owning my depression, talking to my friends, being upfront and asking for help from teachers, and taking advantage of the resources Stanford has for people with mental health issues. I have never experienced any social stigma associated with mental illness here or been treated like anything less than a fully capable person.

So, despite all of the discussions about the Stanford duck syndrome and how difficult it can be to measure up in our culture of achievement, this is a place that’s there for you if you do find yourself having trouble. If you are depressed, Stanford’s got your back medically, academically and socially. All you have to do is ask for help.

Continue this conversation with Jamie at jamiesol “at” Stanford “dot” edu.

  • Lisa Krieger55

    beautiful piece, and kudos to you for such strategizing.

  • Patrick Orme

    This is an old article, however I wanted to leave a comment. I commend the writer for a well-written and candid piece on a difficult subject matter. Well done. However, this question about the openness of the Stanford faculty to those with mental illness must of course be called into question with a personal experience. A few years ago I was going through a depressive episode during the quarter and was struggling to get my work done. Quite shaken by my condition and not wanting to have it affect my academics I approached one of the professors in whose class I was struggling most. Basically I informed him of my condition and asked for help. Do you want to know what his response was? 1) He did not provide me any sort of accommodations whatsoever and 2) he shunned me the entire quarter — even subtly suggesting in class — no less — that I was an idiot and going so far as to suggest that I was “crazy”. Needless to say: I did not pass the class. If I had to do it all over again, I would have approached the situation differently and gone to the administration to protest what had happened. I agree that Stanford is an open place when it comes to approaching mental health issues — but there are always exceptions. I highly encourage those who are facing mental health problems to take advantage of the resources that Stanford offers — even if it means fighting for them.