Barreira Tapped As Mental Health Head

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

Courtesy Photo


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.