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Philanthropy Shouldn’t Be The Only Path to Fixing CAMHS

By Michelle H. Aye
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board

Mental health struggles aren’t scheduled or neatly planned, but are often urgent. So we have reason to look favorably upon a new Harvard initiative which acknowledges that emotional turmoil can’t always adhere to regular business hours and seeks to fill gaps in care.

Earlier this summer, Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services announced a promising extension of its programming: A brand new, 24/7 hotline. Through it, students can reach a licensed counselor for reasons large or small, any time of the day. The program owes its creation to the generosity of Anita Gajdecki, the parent of a current College student who gave a donation to support the 24/7 hotline for five years.

We welcome both the hotline and the donation that enabled it. It could serve as a reliable resource for students attempting to re-navigate and re-acclimate to a stressful academic environment for the first time in many, many months. Our peers have been reporting significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety than the national average for years; living in the age of this pandemic surely hasn’t helped. Gadjecki’s philanthropy is, therefore, heartily appreciated.

Yet the tangible, immediate benefits of this hotline shouldn’t distract us from eyeing the viability of its funding model. Reporting on the 24/7 service revealed that Gadjecki was presented with a litany of projects CAMHS would love to fund; the hotline’s existence was the result of her selection among many. We are disappointed to learn that CAMHS, which has consistently been criticized for not meeting the needs of students, has a host of unimplemented initiatives due to a lack of rich donors eager to bankroll them.

While we understand the importance of philanthropy as a funding mechanism, a complete reliance on gifts to fund urgent investments in student wellbeing is simply not good enough. CAMHS is clearly burdened by a laundry list of unfinished, underfunded projects. The new hotline, for example, had been in development for years, but could only be actualized by a parent’s generosity. If it weren’t for Gajdecki, our peers would still suffer through late-night crises alone.

Frustratingly, the lack of appropriate investments in CAMHS don’t seem to stem from a lack of capital. Harvard is no stranger to grand, expensive projects. The new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston cost roughly $1 billion to develop, a hefty price that took care of everything but the growing worries about gentrification from the local Allston community. Oh, and concerns about sea levels swallowing the campus.

Mental health resources for students should not be contingent upon serendipitous donations. With an endowment in the billions, why can’t the University fund these mental health initiatives itself? With sky-high rates of depression on our campus, what could be more vital?

Harvard has the resources to properly safeguard the mental well-being of its students. Choosing not to do so — waiting instead on parents and wealthy donors to fulfill a need that surely predates them — shows exactly where the University’s priorities lie.

But if Harvard, the world’s richest university, cannot “afford” to adequately fund mental health resources, how can we expect any other university to do so?

We have critiqued, time and time again, Harvard’s reluctance to fund CAMHS more generously — a deficit that results in long wait times and dangerously poor service. Restricting or slowing down the development of initiatives that, like the newly inaugurated hotline, have been endorsed by mental health professionals seems borderline negligent.

Perhaps, for now, our best strategy is to court generous parents in the hopes they may fund more initiatives on CAMHS’s wishlist. We’ll thank them if they do. And to the children of rich and charitable parents, consider your peers when you complain to them about what’s missing at this school. Apparently, their generosity is our first (and maybe only) option.

This new hotline has the promise to do much good. But it's sad that the laundry list of other needed reforms will have to wait.

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.

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