Report: Expand Counseling Outreach

Wide discrepancies in awareness of mental health resources pervade residential Houses, peer counseling groups and graduate schools, and the administration must implement better ways to disseminate information, concluded a task force to examine mental health services at the University.

According to the draft version of the final report of the Student Mental Health Task Force, obtained by The Crimson last week, the school should utilize a variety of methods—including online resources and new working groups—to reinforce information that is now given out mainly at one-time training sessions and Freshman Week orientations.

The task force was convened in December by Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and University Provost Steven E. Hyman, and held its last meeting in April. In a February interim report, it recommended the implementation of a single administrator position to oversee all aspects of mental health care on campus. That post has since been created and will be filled by task force chair Dr. Paul J. Barreira starting July 1.

Barreira has said that many of the changes in outreach will be implemented by the beginning of fall semester.

“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 [of Study Counsel] and UHS [University Health Services] and what kinds of resources exist,” Barreira said in May.

Barreira and Hyman could not be reached for comment yesterday. Gross declined to comment last week.

The draft final report, which includes sections focusing on residential life and outreach along with the original recommendations from the interim report, advocated for the creation of a “mental health resource person[s],” which could be any member of the faculty or possibly seniors.

Each mental health resource person can advise up to 40 designated first-years who feel they are not getting adequate information from proctors or primary care practitioners (PCP).

The seven-page report also outlined improved methods for disseminating information, including giving cards to incoming first-years listing their advisers, PCP, mental health resource person and other resources.

Reminders about mental health resources must be provided to students throughout their years at College, not just at first-year orientation or in crisis situations, the report stated. The report added that students have said there is not enough information available to them about venues for help adjusting to campus life.

“In this instance...redundancy is good,” the draft report said of outreach efforts.

The report noted the potential usefulness of structures already present within residential Houses, but stressed a need to ensure that these options are used consistently.

“The residential house system is a potentially invaluable resource to the students,” the draft final report stated. “Inconsistency across the houses is great and a cause of frustration to students.”

The report found that the strength of the connections between Houses and mental health professionals also varies, in part, due to level of interest of house tutors and masters, and said that it should be improved.

A pilot program to increase education and support for tutors interested in specializing in mental health and wellness was also suggested in the report, along with increased training coordinated with sexual assault prevention and alcohol education.

Even among peer counseling groups designed to aid students with mental health concerns, information about services available through the school is “not consistently known” and the report recommended more stable mentoring and supervision of these groups, along with a reevalution of their utilization.

Among graduate students, knowledge of Mental Health Services at UHS and the Bureau of Study Counsel’s services is also inconsistent and should be improved through the establishment of a working group.

“Some [graduate schools] have very well established mental health and academic support services, while others have virtually none,” the report stated.

The draft report also said that most international students, who represent 25 to 50 percent of the graduate student body, “find the process of adaptation very challenging” and that efforts to “demystify” UHS and ease the transition must be implemented.

The report concluded that moving forward, Barreira should convene an advisory group composed of students, faculty, administrators, residential staff, and academic support and mental health practitioners to keep him informed about mental health on campus and to vet new options to improve the system.

The primary goals Barreira identified in March for this section of the report all appeared in the final version.

“There’s a number of things we’ll be looking at: residential life, how to get information to students, how to have the right people to be there to help students and understand if they need help,” Barreira said in March. “The international student population is really something that needs addressing.”

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