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Alumni Pledge Funds for Mental Health

By Quinn D. Hatoff, Crimson Staff Writer

As conversations on mental health at Harvard continue across campus, alumni have added their voices—and their dollars—to the call for reform. In a letter to top University officials sent Monday night, more than 100 members of the Class of 2010 demanded that the administration address students’ mental health concerns and start a new alumni-supported mental health fund.

“We would like to express our support for the reform of mental health services on campus, including an initiative to address the financial burden of mental health and ensure that every student can experience Harvard as a place of learning and growth, as we did,” the letter read.

So far, signatories from the Class of 2010 have pledged $5,775 towards a mental health fund that they hope the University will create to support medical services for students with financial need.

Alumni urged administrators to guarantee that students seeking treatment can see a therapist within one week of first reaching out and continue to meet on a weekly basis if necessary. They also emphasized the importance of requiring quicker turnaround times for appeals made to the Financial Aid Office in an emergency and eliminating the work requirements for students taking mental health leaves of absence.

“A student’s medical treatment should not be held hostage by the Administrative Board and its opaque decision making process,” the letter read. “Even with the best intentions, this system intimidates students and may keep people from getting the care they require.”

In a response sent by Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul J. Barreira to the letter’s organizers Wednesday night, Barreira said the University seeks to constantly improve access to treatment for students.

“The issue of the amount of treatment deserves a thoughtful conversation, which involves an appreciation of the current literature regarding standards of practice for particular psychiatric conditions as well as the standards for providing care in a college setting,” Barreira wrote. “This may not always match what students demand.”

Two of the letter’s organizers said they were moved to voice their concerns to top officials—including University President Drew G. Faust, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, Barreira, and the Harvard Alumni Office—after reading an anonymous Crimson op-ed written three weeks ago by a student suffering from schizophrenia.

The op-ed, which sparked a student-led rally for mental health reforms, raised many of the same concerns expressed by the alumni in their letter. Although the University did not respond to the op-ed’s specific proposals, the University did host a panel on mental health resources last week at the Undergraduate Council’s urging.

Intiya Isaza-Figueroa ’10, one of the letter’s organizers, wrote in an email to The Crimson that seeing friends urged off campus by the Ad Board—regardless of their financial, emotional, or academic circumstances—has convinced her that the University should reconsider the way mental health decisions are made.

Sangu J. Delle ’10, the other organizer, said that the Harvard community should work to decrease student stress and improve the mental health system.

“Harvard should set the bar and be the gold standard for provision of mental health care,” he said.

—Staff writer Quinn D. Hatoff can be reached quinnhatoff@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnHatoff.

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