“It’s fascinating and it’s horrible,” Natasha Haradhvala PO ’13 said about eating disorders. “I think I’m in advocacy work because people know I’m studying ED (eating disorders), and it’s incredible, the number of people who come up to me. Friends will come up and tell me, ‘I’ve struggled with this. It makes me mad, it makes me angry.’ ”
That passion for meeting and helping others led Haradhvala to co-found Let’s DO Something, a nonprofit Claremont Colleges group that focuses on raising awareness and working to erase the stigma of mental illness.
“There’s just so much stigma, and so much that people don’t understand,” Haradhvala said.
Haradhvala has an extensive background in volunteer and advocacy work, both on and off campus, including work at Crossroads, a halfway house for women who were released early from life sentences in prison, as well as work on a suicide helpline.
“I was pretty sheltered growing up,” said Haradhvala, who attended a private high school in Boston. “I was introduced to all sorts of issues and all sorts of different people while working the helpline, and it kindled a passion for psychology.”
Haradhvala’s unique perspective and perceptivity allow her to think outside the box and question the conventional notions of mental disability. Her senior thesis studies the causes and subtleties of eating disorders.
“My thesis is about why are people drawn to eating disorders? Why do they use disordered eating behaviors? I think some individuals are prone to addictive behaviors. These are a people especially affected by the media,” she said.
Haradhvala dreams of being a research psychologist specializing in eating disorders and clinical work in OCD, leading her own research initiatives.
“As a 22-year-old I can fill in—or at least shade in—the holes in that literature and that work, and that’s so exciting. I want to be able to make a difference that I can see and feel. That’s why I want to do clinical work. There are more immediate rewards, and I love personal connections,” she said.
Haradhvala is making that difference on the 5Cs through her part in Let’s DO Something. Although the organization does not put on protests or rallies, their individual-based approach is just as effective in furthering their cause, if not more so. The group’s most successful event thus far was a panel where six students shared their own experiences with mental illness with a group of about 50 audience members.
“It was really a great thing,” Haradhvala said. “We had people come up [to us] afterwards. One girl said it was life-changing.”
For Hardhvala, it is events like the panel which show just how relevant mental illness is to college students that are the most effective and necessary. Haradhvala stressed that mental illness is not a binary, and students should not think of it as “others, and then them[selves]” as separate.
“It really does affect everyone on campus, whether or not they see it that way,” she said.