College Consolidates Mental Health Care Services

After reports of problems, administration initiates changes

In a major reorganization of the University’s mental health-care system, its two major providers were placed under a single director who is charged with better coordinating mental health treatment and outreach at Harvard.

The recommendation emerged in a February interim report from a task force convened in December. The document resolved that a central leader for both the Bureau of Study Counsel and University Health Services (UHS) Mental Health Service (MHS) was necessary to eliminate the disconnects and overlapping roles of the two facilities.

“The way they grew up at Harvard, they’re sitting in different silos,” said Student Mental Health Task Force chair Dr. Paul J. Barreira. “If you looked at comparable places, they run a continuum, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”

The task force and restructuring of mental health facilities have materialized in a year in which mental health has been under particular scrutiny.

“It’s remarkable that a university like Harvard would make such a public debate of this issue,” said Barreira, who also has been chosen to be the superviser of mental health services and outreach on campus starting July 1.

A six-month Crimson investigation published in January found that bifurcation of mental health care at Harvard has allowed students to slip through the cracks as they try to navigate a complex system while also dealing with their own conditions.

It also noted that inconsistent and inadequate training of residential tutors and faculty members hampers the ability of those who know students best to advise them on how to get help.

And the increasing cost of health care nationwide has manifested itself at Harvard in an assembly-line like system that takes in, treats and nudges out students too quickly in some cases.

A 1999 Provost’s Committee on Mental Health report concluded that “mental health services at Harvard resemble a symphony orchestra of talented performers, but without a clear conductor and with all musicians playing different music.”


In December 2003, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and University Provost Steven E. Hyman convened the Student Mental Health Task Force to jump start the implementation of previous studies’ recommendations.

“Our task is not to rethink what has been done before,” task force member Elizabeth J. Quinn ’04 said in December.

The committee met from December to April to review a broad range of material, including the Provost’s 1999 report and an internal study on the Bureau and MHS.

“I was really impressed at how the administrators and clinicians who are there really do know the problems with UHS and the Bureau,” task force member and former Mental Health Advocacy and Awareness Group co-chair Caitlin E. Stork ’04 said after the task force’s first meeting. “They actually do have really detailed information on all the problems, and don’t know how to fix them.”

The task force also held outreach events and solicited comments online from students.

With a mandate to look at both the treatment side of mental health—principally at the University’s two main mental health care locations, the Bureau and MHS—and the outreach and prevention facet, particularly in Harvard’s residential Houses, the task force released an interim report on treatment recommendations, including the move for a centralized head, in February.