Last week, Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services announced that it will launch a pilot program in which it will offer a limited amount of same-day appointments for non-urgent cases. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. on weekdays, students who are not already regularly seeing a CAMHS counselor can now call to book 30-minute appointments on a first-come, first-served basis.
We welcome this announcement, and believe that this new service offered by CAMHS will provide much-needed help to students facing unanticipated challenges. It can be hard to foresee mental health issues and episodes. Allowing students to set up a same-day appointment is an important development in improving the quality of mental health care at Harvard for individuals with unique and rapidly evolving needs.
But we find ourselves wondering whether this new pilot program isn’t just a band-aid for the proverbial wound.
Mental health on campus is in a dire state. According to the mental health survey the University conducted in 2017 and 2018, Harvard students experience depression and anxiety at rates significantly higher than the national average reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outgoing Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira has said that in addition to clinical symptoms, many students regularly face acute feelings of loneliness, feeling like an imposter, and a sense of being overwhelmed.
Despite recent hires, CAMHS is seriously understaffed, which results in students often waiting several weeks for an appointment and turning to student peer-counseling groups for help. Especially with the closing of the Bureau of Study Counsel and its replacement by the Academic Resource Center, many students have legitimate concerns both about their own mental health care and the University’s commitment to providing robust and comprehensive mental health services.
We encourage Harvard to increase accessibility to mental health services by hiring more CAMHS counselors and making mental health a priority in the same way physical health care is. In that vein, we believe that ideally each College student should be assigned a mental health care professional, just as we are assigned a physician or an academic adviser. This would serve as a critical step in destigmatizing mental health issues, ensure that all students are equipped with the knowledge of where to turn in case of a mental health crisis, and provide the infrastructure for them to do so.
Yet, it is not enough to merely focus on how to deal with mental health issues after they arise. The University should recognize that it is partially responsible for these widespread mental health issues and focus on instituting more preventative measures. One way in which the school could do this work would be to train all faculty on what healthy academic environments look like, how struggling students can be assisted in the context of their academic work, where courses can be tailored and reinforced to accommodate students who are dealing with mental health problems.
The creation of same-day appointments is certainly a positive measure in providing stronger mental health care. But to tackle the mental health crisis, a much larger and more ambitious approach is needed.
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.