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UHS May Rename Mental Health—But Groups Won't Play Name Game

What’s in a name? According to some students, the rechristening of a department in University Health Services could stand between undergraduates and the College’s mental health provisions.

This September, after toying with the plan for a few years, University Health Services floated the idea of renaming its Mental Health Services department “Behavioral Health Services” to make it sound more accessible.

But last week the student Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Group (MHAAG) started a campaign against the change, arguing that, if officially adopted, it could actually drive students away.

Richard D. Kadison, chief of Mental Health Services, suggested the name change to better reflect the breadth of the department’s offerings, according to Director of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling Paul Barreira, who is in charge of the Bureau of Study Counsel and other support services.

Kadison was not available for comment.

Barreira added that the department did not deal only with psychiatric or medical problems but also with emotional problems, such as disagreements with roommates or questions about sexual orientation.

But Susan I. Putnins ’08, treasurer of MHAAG, said that the organization’s board objected to the implication that all the problems Mental Health Services treat are the result of students’ behaviors.

“To go back to calling [conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders] behavioral is a regression,” she said.

Barreira conceded that the newer term has connotations of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behavior but said that the term “mental health” also has a certain stigma and may drive away some students who feel their problems aren’t especially grave.

MHAAG board members met with Barreira on Friday to discuss their concerns, and the two parties agreed to survey tutors, proctors, and deans—as well as students—about the nomenclature.

“Kadison indicated that no one is wedded to a specific outcome,” Barreira added.

Both Barreira, who will be the faculty adviser for MHAAG this year, and Putnins said that they welcome the ensuing discussion.

“I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for the broader community to have discussion about the meanings of these words,” Barreira said.

Putnins said, “On an ideological level, although I think it should be called Mental Health Services, in the end it wouldn’t matter if the debate makes people more aware of those services.”

—Staff writer John R. Macartney can be reached at jmacartn@fas.harvard.edu.

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