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Facing a rising chorus of calls to reform mental health services on campus, Harvard officials are emphasizing mental health resources and financial support systems already available to students.
On Feb. 21, an anonymous Crimson op-ed written by an undergraduate who suffers from schizophrenia sparked student conversation in dining halls, on social media websites, and over email lists about perceived problems in the availability of mental health services at Harvard. That conversation culminated in a next-day rally outside Massachusetts Hall that drew more than 150 students, including the four current and former Undergraduate Council presidents and vice presidents.
Students at the rally said they were moved by claims made by the author of the anonymous op-ed, who, facing $650 a month in antipsychotic drug costs, argued that Harvard is still not doing enough to provide adequate mental health care for students, especially for those facing emergency expenses.
“I can apply for $5,000 to study bat droppings over the summer, but there is no application to pay for the treatment that enables me to function,” the student wrote.
In an interview this past Thursday, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds described the anonymous op-ed as “concerning” and said that administrators work hard to address students’ mental health concerns. Still, she took care to highlight the resources the University already offers.
“Students have questions and they should raise those questions. I think it’s very important for students to do that. But I also think it’s important for students to understand, as fully as they possibly can, what’s actually going on on campus and what’s being provided,” Hammonds said.
This past Friday, eight days after the anonymous student’s account ran in The Crimson, Paul J. Barreira, the director of University Health Services, published his own op-ed in The Crimson. In the piece, Barreira called attention to several improvements made to Student Mental Health Services over the last decade: the addition of wellness tutors in Houses, the hiring of additional full-time psychiatrists, the doubling of outside mental health visits for students on Harvard insurance, and the addition of two full-time access coordinators to schedule initial psychiatric visits.
Barreira emphasized in his op-ed that all students are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan, which covers prescription drugs and services at HUHS. He cautioned that students should carefully review the coverage provided by their own plans before electing to waive the Harvard-sponsored plan.
Even students who elect to waive enrollment in the Harvard plan are still eligible for financial support from the University in cases of unexpected medical costs, according to Jeff Neal, spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The Beneficiary Aid Program, which awarded nearly $70,000 to more than 400 different students last year, reimburses students facing emergency medical expenses at a rate equal to an individual’s overall financial aid package, according to Neal.
“A student on 90 percent financial aid likely would be awarded 90 percent of the cost of the unexpected expense,” he wrote in a statement.
The Committee on Financial Aid meets regularly throughout the year to consider requests, but students with urgent needs should alert the Financial Aid Office or a Resident Dean to expedite the process, Neal wrote.
At the rally for improved mental health care over a week ago, students and members of the UC called on the administration to hire more therapists, clarify policies governing students taking time off, and guarantee reasonable turnaround times for decisions from the Financial Aid Office, especially in emergency situations.
Despite Barreira’s op-ed, student activists involved in the newly formed “Coalition to Reform Mental Health Services at Harvard” plan to continue their activism efforts and sustain the energy of the original rally, according to Coalition organizers. As of Saturday afternoon, the group had amassed nearly 300 members.
The week’s heightened interest in mental health led UC President Tara Raghuveer ’14 and Vice President Jen Q. Y. Zhu ’14, in conjunction with the Student Mental Health Liaisons, to email undergraduates about the resources available to students.
“We want to use this moment of heightened campus interest around this issue to encourage students to continue asking questions about existing services and policies, and—most importantly—to inform students about resources should you need to seek help now or in the future,” they wrote.
Barreira plans to attend a UC-sponsored mental health town hall event on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Emerson 105. In addition, SMHL is finalizing plans for a new video project based on the popular LGBT anti-bullying series “It Gets Better.”
—Staff writer Quinn D. Hatoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnHatoff.
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