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Barreira Says HUHS Shares Mental Health Evaluations with College Before and After Leaves of Absence

The Counseling and Mental Health Services office on the fourth floor of the Harvard University Heath Services clinic on Wednesday afternoon.
The Counseling and Mental Health Services office on the fourth floor of the Harvard University Heath Services clinic on Wednesday afternoon. By Michelle H. Aye
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University Health Services shares undergraduates’ mental health evaluations with College administrators before students go on or return from leaves of absence with their permission, Paul J. Barreira, the outgoing director of HUHS, said in an interview April 1.

Barreira said HUHS provides the College with student health information that factors into administrators’ decisions about placing students on leaves of absence, but that HUHS does not play a “decision-making role.”

“If it is a clinical issue — they’re not always clinical — is to give our opinion about the student’s emotional well-being and ability to function from the clinical point of view,” he said.

Barreira also said HUHS takes into account student confidentiality and said medical staff will only provide student information to the College with students’ permission.

“We only share information if the student says yes or if there is already some agreed upon communication,” he said.

College policy allows for students to petition for voluntary leaves of absence, though it occasionally requires students to go on involuntary leaves of absence in certain circumstances, including issues of medical safety.

HUHS input is listed as one of several factors in decisions on leaves of absence. Risk assessment, consideration of student conduct, potential for injury, and the feasibility of alternative solutions are also factors according to the College’s handbook.

When students return from a leave, they must petition the College and follow a checklist provided to them by the Administrative Board. When a student returns from medical leave, they must get HUHS approval.

In cases involving student mental health, CAMHS clinicians compile information — including from outside practitioners — about whether the student should return to Harvard. Clinicians also meet with students and evaluate their readiness to return. CAMHS Chief Barbara Lewis then signs off on a letter to the Ad Board summarizing her office’s findings.

After weighing the letter and other factors, the Ad Board then makes a decision about whether to approve the student’s petition to return.

The factors influencing students’ leaves of absence have come under increased scrutiny in recent months.

A December study assigned Harvard — along with every other Ivy League college — a failing grade for its leave of absence policies and concluded that the Ivies “fail students with mental illness.” In particular, the study criticized Harvard’s policies surrounding petitions to return to campus.

Harvard is also facing a complaint filed with the United States Department of Education alleging its decision to place former undergraduate Ty Pelton-Byce ’20 on mandatory leave constituted disability-based discrimination.

Alicia Pelton, Pelton-Byce’s mother, alleged in the complaint that Harvard administrators considered her son’s depression as a negative factor when deciding whether to put him on a leave of absence and during a review of his case.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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