Barreira Tapped As Mental Health Head

Task Force chair will oversee school resources and outreach starting July 1

Courtesy Photo

PAUL J. BARREIRA

Almost three months after a the Student Mental Health Task Force recommended the creation of a position to coordinate all mental health services at the University, the administration has appointed the task force’s chair to the new post.

Dr. Paul J. Barreira, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, will oversee Harvard’s mental health outreach and services—bridging the former divide between the Bureau of Study Counsel and University Health Services (UHS) Mental Health Services—starting July 1.

The position, which will be called Director of University Counseling, Academic Support and Mental Health Services, was recommended by the task force in its March interim report as a way to better coordinate the school’s disparate mental health resources.

Both the Bureau and UHS Mental Health Service will report directly to Barreira, and he will also coordinate prevention education, outreach and support services in the Houses.

Barreira, who is also chief of community clinical services, director of medical education and director of the chronic psychiatric illness support program at McLean, said that the dedication of students, administrators and mental health professionals who he worked with on the task force was a major reason he decided to take on the new position.

“A lot of people are very invested in making all of these services work better for the students,” Barreira said. “There are a lot of different constituents who care deeply and passionately about this and want to work with everyone to make it better.”

Barreira said he has been surprised by how seriously Harvard has treated the need to reform its mental health services.

“It’s remarkable that a University like Harvard would make such a public debate of this issue,” he said. “Many colleges continue to have their heads in the ground, and think that there is no issue.”

The community psychiatry or public mental health aspect of the project is also highly appealing, Barreira said.

“Part of what I find very exciting is that this position is very much like taking a public mental health view, looking at a large community of very talented people and thinking about what are the things we can do together in making Harvard a place where people feel they are supported,” Barreira said.

He added that the difficulty of the task and the potential to make lasting improvements to the Harvard system also drew him to the post.

“This is a thing that could be very challenging and continue to make a difference for following years,” Barreira said.

University Provost Stephen E. Hyman said that Barreira’s an “ideal combination” of diverse skills for the position.

“I couldn’t be happier because Paul Barreira combines the most important thing which is real concern for students, real empathy, with extraordinary clinical skills and deep administrative experience,” Hyman said.

Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, who convened the task force in December with Hyman, said that Barreira’s past work made him a strong candidate.

Hyman said it was also a plus that Barreira is already so familiar with the problems and intricacies of the Harvard system after chairing the task force for several months.

“He is in some sense a proven quantity through his very skillful leadership of the task force, which will allow him to hit the ground running, which is very, very important,” Hyman said.

Hyman specifically cited Barreira’s knowledge of the communication problems inherent in Harvard’s current mental health system.

Barreira said that while his work on the task force will be helpful to him, he still needs to familiarize himself with graduate students and programs, the international student population, the connections between substance abuse and mental health and other facets of mental health that the task force did not examine in depth.

Barreira said that changes in outreach and residential support will be implemented by the beginning of the next school year.

“I hope that when students return they’ll see an even more robust effort at providing information and education about the broader issues of wellness and mental health, as well as information in different formats about the Bureau and UHS and what kinds of resources exist.”

There will be tutors focused specifically on mental health in the Houses, and a push to provide more consistent residential resources overall.

Barreira said he did not know if he would have a separate staff, but that he would probably have his office in the Bureau of Study Counsel building.

The disposition of the Bureau fits best with the broad range of services and educational outreaches, he said.

“The Bureau deals with more than just providing clinical services to students. It aims to look in a broader way at the needs of the Harvard community,” Barreira said. “It’s useful to be located at the Bureau.”

Barreira said he will also probably see some patients at UHS Mental Health Services urgent care hours and do some initial evaluation of students who are seeking mental health care.

Though he will continue to see a few long-time patients, Barreira will give up most of his responsibilities at McLean to concentrate on his new position.

Hyman said that there currently exists a critical need to reexamine mental health services at universities across the country.

Having one person dedicated to the full range of mental health services on campus is vital, Hyman said.

“The first and most important thing is that now we’re going to have some person who wakes up every morning thinking about the whole range of mental health issues—we just haven’t had that before. That’s really critical,” Hyman said.

—Stephen M. Marks contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at kkaplan@fas.harvard.edu.