July 23, 2020
Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
In February 2019, I convened the University-wide Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health to examine the state of student mental health at Harvard, the resources and supports that are available to students, and the actions the University might undertake to improve their mental health.
The Task Force has now completed its work. An article was published in today’s Gazette highlighting its major findings, and the full report is available on the Provost’s Office website. The report lays bare the challenges that our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students confront and highlights the need for a clear message at all levels of the University – reinforced by both words and actions – that mental health is a priority and that intellectual growth and academic achievement should not come at the expense of well-being.
The needs highlighted by the report have only grown over the past several months. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered student life at every university and has introduced new sources of stress and uncertainty into the lives of Harvard students. The delivery of mental health services via telehealth is one example of how we have adapted to this new reality. We will need to be agile and creative in thinking about how best to support our students in the near term while also keeping sight of the longer view.
Over the coming months, I will begin implementing the recommendations of the Task Force. They include convening a group of experts to plan for a mental health awareness and culture change campaign; exploring how we can take a more holistic approach to our work on mental health, sexual climate, inclusiveness, isolation, and belonging; and working with the School deans and their leadership teams to determine how we can assist them in coordinating and learning from each other’s efforts. Ensuring that Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) appointments are available promptly and that students from all backgrounds feel well supported are top priorities for the Executive Director of Harvard University Health Services, Dr. Giang Nguyen, who joined us in November 2019. I will work closely with him to determine how best to address the concerns described in the report.
I am deeply grateful to the Task Force members for giving so generously of their time and expertise, particularly Mario Small, Emma Dench, and Matt Nock for chairing the Task Force, Graduate Working Group, and Undergraduate Working Group respectively. I also want to thank the many students and other members of the Harvard community who took the time to share their thoughts and experiences as part of the process. Mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing universities today. This report and its recommendations will guide our planning and will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the lives of our students and on the broader University community.
Alan M. Garber AB '77, PhD '82, MD