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Mental Health Committee To Form

By Katharine A. Kaplan, Crimson Staff Writer

University administrators are developing a committee to look into mental health services at Harvard, according to Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04.

University Provost Stephen E. Hyman and Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 are creating the committee as concerns from the governing boards and student groups mount about the quality and organization of campus mental health care, according to a letter from Chopra to alumni obtained by The Crimson.

Gross confirmed that he and Hyman are looking into the issue, but declined to comment further.

The composition of the committee—which will be formed in the near future—is unclear, though Bureau of Study Counsel director Charles P. Ducey said he hopes it will include students.

University Health Services (UHS) Director Richard D. Kadison said that the specific focus of the committee had also not yet been settled upon.

According to Chopra, the committee’s creation is likely in response to concern about the legal case filed last year against MIT following the suicide of a student.

The suit claims that doctors and administrators at MIT should be held liable for the death of Elizabeth Shin, who fatally set fire to herself in April 2000.

“I think this absolutely has to do with the Shin case at MIT,” Chopra said. “The case is having a dramatic effect on college policies on mental health.”

The committee will likely look into implementation of the recommendations put forth by a 1999 Office of the Provost committee on the same topic, Chopra wrote in his letter. That committee represented the school’s first comprehensive look at mental health throughout the University.

The 1999 report stressed a need to free up mental health resources in use by current and retired staff, and other non-students cared for by Harvard’s health plan. It also called for greater coordination between mental health providers within the school, more staff, an effort to destigmatize mental health care and more comprehensive training of House tutors in recognition and support of mental health issues.

UHS Mental Health Services and the Bureau began addressing the coordination concern last year by allowing patients to release care records between the two offices. UHS also instituted a triage system aimed at providing appointments for mental health emergencies within 48 hours.

In the last two years, all Houses, save one, have also begun holding panels with the student-run Mental Health Advocacy Awareness Group (MHAAG) to train tutors.

But MHAAG members say the University must still address some of the key issues hit on in the report, such as destigmatization, a greater centralization of resources and an increase in mental health care providers.

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