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Under Arrest For Being Stressed

Sam Seong

We all know the saying about an MIT education being like getting a drink from a firehose. It’s a cliche, but it is founded in truth: MIT is a stressful academic environment, and it takes time for new students to adjust to dealing with all the deadlines and responsibilities that bombard relentlessly from all sides. This is a safe idea in general; but be wary if you admit that this applies to you.

Last week was a hard one for me. I didn’t do as well as I had hoped on a test; I had a big essay due; and a member of my family was having health problems. On Friday I went in to MIT Mental Health to talk about dealing with stress. I had hoped to learn some stress and time-management techniques I could employ to relax and focus on getting my work done. Instead, I was committed, under duress, to a local mental institution where I have been under suicide-watch for the last five days.

Apparently, it is the policy of MIT Mental Health to ask every patient if they have thought of committing suicide. This question was so preposterous to me that I answered as any normal teenager would: like a smart-ass. (For the record, I do not, nor have I ever, wanted to commit suicide; I’m just a normal MIT student dealing with normal MIT stresses). The social worker I was talking to took me seriously, deemed that I was a danger to myself, and had me locked up.

To this point I cannot fault MIT Mental Health. They did what they had to do to cover their own butts. Better safe then sorry, and all that jazz. The fault was mine in answering a serious question in a silly way. I know I’m not a danger to myself, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to catch up on my sleep and be out in a day or two (after the misunderstanding was cleared up), well-rested and with a funny story about my stay in the loony-bin.

That was five days ago. I have not had contact with anyone from MIT Medical or the administration since then, except once on Monday when I attempted to call them to see what was going on. The doctors here at the hospital tell me I am fine and free to go, but they are waiting for word from MIT that I am allowed to come back. If they release me before MIT gives them the okay, MIT will put me on medical leave and ship me home to my parents, with no guarantee of ever re-admitting me.

And so I wait, twiddling my thumbs while my friends try to stir up enough trouble to get me out of here. You are a normal, stressed-out MIT student; imagine, on top of that, being incarcerated against your will for nearly a week, without internet access, without being able to attend your friends’ birthday parties or concerts, and falling ever farther behind in your classes.

I understand MIT sending me here. I understand their liability and “better safe than sorry.” But being abandoned? Being swept under the rug so they don’t have to deal with the problems they think I have? Do they really want to send the message that if you seek help the default response is to lock you up and forget about you? I understand that MIT Mental Health is trying to make up for past deficiencies in their treatment of ill students, but they must find a balance. The pendulum is swinging too far the other way and I’m the one caught in its path.

Sam Seong is a member of the class of 2008.