Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services has witnessed an influx of students seeking mental health resources since they returned to campus this fall, administrators said in an Oct. 28 interview.
CAMHS Cares, a 24/7 support line that CAMHS rolled out in July, is currently receiving roughly 300 calls per month, CAMHS Chief Barbara Lewis said. The hotline received 190 calls in its first month, close to 200 in August, and just more than 300 for the month of September, per Lewis.
CAMHS launched the hotline — which can be reached at (617) 495-2042 — to help meet students’ urgent mental health needs and reduce wait times for students seeking therapy.
For years, students have experienced long wait times to schedule a therapy appointment through CAMHS. Last March, University spokesperson Jason A. Newton estimated the wait time for CAMHS therapy appointments was roughly 10 to 12 days; at the time, students estimated it was “months long.”
“If we didn’t have the CAMHS Cares line, it would really be hard to meet the demand,” Lewis said.
Some students call the line for “one-off” needs, while others use it as an “entry-point” to regular therapy appointments, Lewis said. The calls, which last from 10 minutes to about an hour in length, range from “a quick interaction” to make someone “feel better” to initiating hospitalizations in extreme cases, she added.
University Health Services Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen also said in the October interview that he believes the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the high rate of students seeking support from CAMHS this semester.
“We’re really seeing the true impact of the pandemic as students have returned,” Nguyen said. “So we are responding to that, and we’re thrilled that students are accessing the services.”
In addition to therapy, Lewis said students are turning to CAMHS to manage their prescriptions after many students who lived away from Massachusetts during the pandemic had to register with other health care providers to receive prescriptions.
“A consequence of having been remote for 18 months and having students be all over the country — all over the world — [is] we’ve had a huge influx of students who’ve needed to see a prescriber, so they need someone to manage their medication,” she said. “In years past, students see us through the spring. They may be away for the summer, but they come back and get connected again.”
Lewis said CAMHS has seen an increase in students of color seeking its services, which she found encouraging.
“About 50 percent of our student appointments have been from students from non-white backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve always hoped to kind of break down some of the barriers for students who really would benefit from services that have been afraid or anxious about coming in.”
Hiring new staff this semester has also allowed CAMHS to open up more appointments and help meet student demand, according to Lewis. CAMHS currently employs 32 staff, including four in leadership positions, according to its website. Still, CAMHS currently has fewer staff than it did in 2018, when it employed 41 people, per CAMHS website archives.
During the interview, Nguyen urged students to take the National College Health Assessment, a survey designed by the American College Health Association to assess students’ health behaviors and perceptions of campus well-being. The survey was sent to students via email on Monday and is open until Nov. 19.
“I think that it’s going to be a real benefit for us to be able to guide our policies, for us to make decisions about where to put our energy and our resources in the future, and just give us a greater sense of what the real needs are among our students,” Nguyen said.
—Staff writer Claire H. Guo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @clairehguo.
—Staff writer Christine Mui can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MuiChristine.