UHS Director Shares Mental Health Initiatives

Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul J. Barreira introduced new initiatives to help undergraduates cope with mental health issues during a Committee on Student Life meeting Thursday.

To strengthen UHS’s efforts in confronting mental health challenges, Barreira said that the University has begun to hire a number of full-time psychiatrists who will focus their attention exclusively on students’ mental well-being.

“The college age group is when many of the most common psychiatric problems first commonly present themselves,” Barreira told The Crimson in an interview.

HUHS has been criticized in the past for its mental health services, with students complaining about the lack of personalized attention for patients and the perceived specter of being pressured to take time off from school for mental health concerns.

According to Barreira, the hiring of more psychiatrists will not only strengthen the University’s ability to deal with mental health cases, but also help tackle some of the underlying pressures that students may face.

Being away from home for the first time, managing the college workload, and dealing with uncertainty about the future are all factors that contribute to student stress, Barreira said.

Barreira said he thinks getting students to open up about their well-being may be the biggest challenge. Although it is becoming increasingly more acceptable to talk about depression and other mental illnesses, there is still a “stigma around admitting failure,” Barreira said.

“Rather than coming in open-eyed and inquisitive, [students] shut down,” Barriera said.

To help address the problem, UHS plans to release a series of videos similar to those in the “It Gets Better” video campaign—a nationwide project that releases videos encouraging LGBTQ youths to believe in their potential for happiness as adults

“It’s always good to hear that people are actively involved,” said Tijana Katushevska '16, a member of the Undergraduate Council’s Committee on Student Life. “Everything [Barreira] suggested seemed helpful.”

At the meeting, Barreira also introduced a number of student-initiated programs relating to both mental and physical health, including the creation of a peer education group related to general health scheduled to debut in the fall 2013, and Crimson EMS—a student run ambulance service that already has about 30 trained students.

—Staff writer Laya Anasu can be reached at layaanasu@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @layaanasu.

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