Wednesday, June 07, 2006

17 Pct. at 2 Schools Practice Self-Abuse

17 Pct. at 2 Schools Practice Self-Abuse - AP

No doubt that Ivy League schools are academic pressure-cookers. However, pressure that was once reserved for these elite schools is trickling down, and our mainstream worry is well founded for these students.

Nearly twenty years ago, during my ‘tour of duty’ at the Harvard Business School (HBS), I was initially surprised to realize that the school had twelve (12) full time psychologists to tend to the mental well-being of 900-plus first-year students. Presumably second year students do not need much support as they are past the ‘screen’, the dreaded point of academic termination.

I relinquished my skepticism of the rumor of one HBS suicide every two years when a classmate at that time asked me to speak to her roommate, who was having a difficult time with her studies. After speaking with the woman, I asked my classmate to notify the campus hospital that she was bringing them a new ‘customer’. She was promptly admitted, sedated, and retrieved by her family in a matter of days.

My 90 section-mates, with whom I shared my first year studies, were a disparate group, with the exception that the group's high achievement was clearly fueled by a combination of intelligence and insecurity that somehow translated into academic success. But this does not mean this mixture did not also convert into other, less healthy, behaviors.

Emotional disorders, stress and high achievement correlate and this is a ‘dirty secret’ of leading schools. Some academics, like military leaders, speak of these problems as statistical or even acceptable losses. But these are indeed real people who push themselves, with society’s urging, up to and sometimes beyond the edge.

James C. Collier


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