Sleeping Beauty Awakes in Columbia

In the midst of all the sad, disturbing stories about Virginia Tech I read this morning, this one story about a volcanic eruption in Columbia made me happy. No one died in the eruption, making the story doubly beautiful in my mind.

Really, though, I find myself somewhat distracted and discouraged today this week by the tragic events at Virginia Tech. Walking around MIT’s campus, the tragedy in Virginia hits home. College is difficult enough without worrying about school shooting rampages. There are many unhappy, suicidal students at MIT. Could one of them crack the way the student in Virginia did? Potentially, yes. However, I am not too worried. MIT does have excellent mental health services and tends to err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to dealing with students with mental illness.

Still, I can only be somewhat disturbed and worried in the back of my mind. I think I’ll read that volcano story again now and try to find some more photos of the eruption. That will make me happy.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. MIT does not have excellent mental health services, and, furthermore, because they do often err on the side of caution, many many people who need help who would normally seek said help do not go for fear of someone over-reacting.

  2. I've heard pretty questionable things about MIT's psych department as well; the odds of this happening there are no different today than they were a week ago, and the chances are fairly low.

  3. Uhm, a place's mental health support and their psychology department are going to be independent of one another, unless the psychology department is also attached to a medical school, which is doubly not the case at MIT, especially since the "psych department" is actually a Brain and Cognitive Sciences department.

  4. I go to an art schoolin Savannah, where students sit around and compare their mental illnesses over coffee. Yesterday, several of my friends decided to go, as a group, to the counselling department. At least around here people are learning a lesson from the shootings at VT.

  5. Oh, the stories I could tell. . . .

    MIT Mental Health has this habit of packing students off to McLean Hospital and, too often for comfort, not letting them come back even when McLean's white-coated docs say that nothing's wrong. See these stories from 2004, and note that the two friends of mine who had the same experience aren't the ones described in them.

    Between us, my old roommate and I made eight trips out to McLean to visit friends incarcerated there. (No, wait, I think the actual figure is nine.) Sometimes, those hospitalizations were for serious, legitimate reasons like temporal lobe epilepsy. However, we also drove out to Belmont to visit a young woman who had been IM-ing with a high-school friend and happened to mention that she was feeling a little tired and depressed. Several minutes later, the campus police knocked on her door and took her to MIT Mental Health, who then packaged her off to McLean. When the psych people there said she was just tired and stressed, that she needed a vacation more than medication, MIT Mental Health refused to take her back.

    This is what happens when your health-care professionals are paranoid that you're going to kill yourself and cost the school a few million dollars.

    That roommate and I wrote an essay, "An MIT Student's Guide to McLean," where we gave directions for getting there — either to see a friend or to stay yourself — and a guide to local restaurants and so forth. We were going to get it published in Counterpoint, the MIT/Wellesley joint campus magazine, in order to score with Wellesley chicks or something. The plan kind of fell through.

    Another friend of mine, back during his freshman year, was feeling a bit down and out about his classes, so he took to eating the free cookies available at some weekly function in the Green Building's upper floors. Eventually, he took his stress problems to an MIT Medical counselor. When he mentioned that he liked looking out over the campus from the Green Building's windows while he ate his cookies, the counselor asked — I swear I'm not making this up — "Have you ever thought about jumping?"

    He tells me he was strongly tempted to say, "No, not until now — thanks for the idea!"

    Mollishka said,

    Uhm, a place’s mental health support and their psychology department are going to be independent of one another, unless the psychology department is also attached to a medical school, which is doubly not the case at MIT, especially since the “psych department” is actually a Brain and Cognitive Sciences department.

    I'd actually much prefer taking my troubles to the Brain/CogSci department. If you tell one of them that you're feeling sad, they'll probably stick you in an MRI scanner and take pictures of molecular melancholy. And they'd probably give you cookies, too.

  6. It's not just MIT Mental Health that won't take you back; it's MIT. As in, people are often informed that they are now on "medical leave" and cannot return for the current semester (and "need" to take an additional semester off), and meanwhile they lose their MIT dorm housing. Overreacting? What overreacting?

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