Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line
At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions
Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists
‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam
‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6
In a major organizational shakeup, the University’s two principal mental health providers will now report to a single administrator.
The change was proposed as part of an interim report of the Student Mental Health Task Force, the committee charged with recommending strategies for overhauling the University’s mental health services.
The Task Force interim report—which is slated to be released Monday—also calls for closer integration between the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC) and University Health Services’ Mental Health Services (MHS), more mental health clinicians and improved approachability of Harvard’s mental health services.
University Provost Steven E. Hyman said in a written statement last night that he and Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, who together convened the Task Force, accept the committee’s interim recommendations.
“I believe that these steps, once taken, will significantly strengthen mental health services for our student community,” Hyman said in the statement. “Because Dr. [Paul J.] Barreira has kept me informed about the Task Force’s deliberations throughout, we have already been able to begin work in a number of key areas identified in the interim report.”
Undergraduate Council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05 said that while these concrete recommendations are a positive step towards improved services, the University must also address cultural causes of mental health problems, such as stress and methods of preventing them.
“Those are all good improvements, but they are the easiest and the ones that are most apparent,” Mahan said. “Not to belittle them, but they work on the problems that are most obvious, the problems that people have been talking about for a few years,” he said.
While the Task Force will not release its final report until April, Hyman and Gross pressed the Task Force to release preliminary findings early.
“Both Hyman and Gross really wanted—if we knew where we were headed—to have something sooner” than April, Task Force Chair Barreira said.
A source familiar with the report said Hyman and Gross wanted to publicize the group’s work “to prove that [the Task Force is] doing something.” Top administrators also pushed for the report in order to begin revamping the BSC, according to a source close to Gross’ office.
“This interim report is being issued because some concerns at the Bureau needed to be addressed immediately,” the source said.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
The report recommends creating a new “Mental Health leader” to coordinate and oversee all aspects of mental healthcare and outreach across the University.
The position would have twin roles: a clinical capacity involving oversight of all Harvard mental health services, including both the BSC and MHS, and an administrative capacity to coordinate campus education and outreach efforts.
Barreira said the new administrator will also be responsible for more efficiently allocating mental health resources across the University.
The position would organize education of residential tutors and faculty and would be responsible for the annual Caring for the Harvard Community outreach initiative. The leader would also work with the Administrative Board, freshman wellness representatives, United Ministries and other related programs.
“This person would also have a broader view of the whole life at the College and the University with respect to well-being and mental health,” Barreira said.
The administrator would likely report to University Health Services (UHS) Director David S. Rosenthal ’59 on mental health services and report to Gross on student life issues, according to Barreira.
This recommendation works with the report’s separate but related goal of improving integration between the BSC and UHS.
The BSC should be restructured on a clinical model and its qualified clinicians should be licensed by UHS, the report concluded.
Mental healthcare should be organized as a unified range of services, not as two isolated clusters, Barreira said.
“The way they grew up at Harvard, they’re sitting in different silos,” he said. “If you looked at comparable places, they run a continuum, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
In the near term, the BSC director will report to Rosenthal, but it will eventually report to the new administrator.
This recommendation represents a step in the right direction, Mental Health Advocacy and Awareness Group co-chair Andrew L. Kalloch ’06 said. “There’s no such thing as too much integration between the Bureau and UHS on an administrative level,” he said. “Harvard is the only college in the nation that’s not centralized.”
He added that while bureaucratic unification is important, the two must remain as separate treatment options.
The report’s third recommendation focused on increasing the number of mental health professionals—especially in MHS, but also potentially in the BSC.
“The sense within the student community is that the level of clinical staffing at MHS in inadequate,” the report said.
Barreira noted that relative to Yale University, Harvard’s mental health services are understaffed.
“We did a little comparison of what it looks like for 11,000 at Yale versus 19,000-plus at Harvard,” he said. “It was pretty clear that we are short.”
The report recommends an analysis of current staffing levels and needs at both the BSC and MHS in order to determine where to create new clinical positions.
The Task Force also concluded that “some students perceive the staff of MHS is less student-friendly than is desirable,” and recommended that all University mental health services focus on projecting an approachable and comforting image.
The report’s final recommendation echoes this in stressing that the BSC should maintain its reputation as a less stigmatized entry to mental healthcare.
The report urges that the BSC building be brought into line with Massachusetts state law for medical clinics so that it can credential its staff and participate in professional peer review. Currently, BSC’s building is not an official clinic because it fails to meet Massachusetts state legal requirements.
“Our preference would be to get that building up to code so it could stay as one of the places where students could go to get services,” Barreira said.
The committee will continue to meet and will now begin to consider the residential and academic aspects of mental well-being.
“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. “The international student population is really something that needs addressing.”
The committee is still on track to conclude its work and release a comprehensive report in April.
Gross declined to comment last night.
—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.