Earlier this month, Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira announced a new administrative effort to reduce wait times for Counseling and Mental Health Services appointments. The effort, in response to a steady increase in the number of requested appointments at CAMHS, seeks to respond to all students who request appointments less than 48 hours after they contact CAMHS.
While we commend CAMHS for moving to decrease wait times and get students the care they need, we reiterate that mental health issues on campus cannot simply be solved by one approach or by one organization. In order to seriously address issues of mental health on campus, cooperation from the administration will be needed. Only then can concrete actions, such as increasing funding to address mental health issues and ameliorating these issues’ underlying causes, be taken.
In the meantime, we call on CAMHS to continue to explain to students the availability and breadth services it provides. Even as wait times decrease, same-day urgent care services that provide vital immediate support remain a vital source of support. Students often require these services to remain as safe and healthy as possible during their time at Harvard.
Nevertheless, we are glad to see that UHS is taking the issue of student mental health seriously, and we hope this effort sparks more discussion concerning how to correctly and effectively improve mental health on campus. The willingness of UHS to recognize that an increase in the volume of students seeking mental health care demands a corresponding increase in CAMHS’s capacity to treat them shows not only theoretical willingness to acknowledge the importance of mental health, but actual willingness to devote time, energy, and funds to making its system more responsive.
Still, while UHS and CAMHS are worthy of praise, they alone cannot be expected to bear the entire weight of issues of mental health on campus. Though their treatment efforts are critical, some of the most prominent root causes of the surge in demand for mental health services come from outside the purview of UHS. Indeed, Harvard’s stressful culture itself is one of the most important and widespread of these causes. Thus, if mental health is truly going to improve, the administration must work to foster a less stressful atmosphere around academic life at the College.
Given the existence of efforts like the Transcript Project, which asks students to “Discard the conventional markers of academic success,” it seems clear that the administration does desire to change the competitive, high-stress culture surrounding academic performance. However, this attempt to lower stress levels by telling students to focus less on their grades is hopelessly lacking in depth. A culture of driven, ambitious students will not relax itself into a more balanced atmosphere simply because its successful supervisors tell it that constant, unfailing perfection is not required for long-term success.
Simply put, the question of how to form a culture that deals with academic pressure more healthily is not an easy one, and there may be no perfect answers. But if the College is serious about making a difference, it must at least investigate ways of addressing the root causes of mental health.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.