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Undergraduate Council to Launch Free Mental Health Screening Service

Sruthi Palaniappan '20 and Julia M. Huesa '20 lead the Undergraduate council's Sunday meeting.
Sruthi Palaniappan '20 and Julia M. Huesa '20 lead the Undergraduate council's Sunday meeting. By Amanda Y. Su
By Kevin R. Chen and Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writers

The Undergraduate Council plans to launch a mental health screening in partnership with Counseling and Mental Health Services, according to UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20.

The platform, which includes a brief questionnaire aimed at identifying students’ mental health concerns, will be both free and confidential, according to Palaniappan.

“I think the idea behind creating something as such, was that a lot of students sometimes feel as if they're struggling but don't quite know whether or not they should contact a mental health professional,” she said.

Palaniappan added that the UC designed the questionnaire to be brief and easy to complete, clocking in at fewer than five minutes for students who fill it out. Universities including Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley currently offer similar online mental health screening services.

After completing the screening, the questionnaire will provide feedback regarding whether students are experiencing something “temporary” or if they should seek out more formal help.

“Whatever the results spit out, basically, what it will also give you is relevant information about what you are experiencing whether that’s anxiety or depression or an eating disorder, bipolar disorder,” Palaniappan said. “[It will] also tell you kind of what type of support would be best and show you the types of relevant resources that exist.”

Software company MindWise Innovations will run the questionnaire. The company’s offerings include online mental health tools to provide guidance to patients, according to its website.

Though Palaniappan and UC Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20 started working on the initiative last March, Palaniappan said they had to go through administrative formalities before implementing the screening — including vetting questions and making them Harvard-specific.

In addition to customizing the questions to be specific to Harvard students, Palaniappan said her group also had to ensure the survey wouldn’t present legal problems.

“We also had to go through the process to get approval from the Office of General Counsel, so ensuring that we’re not going to run into any legal troubles,” Palaniappan said. “That kind of took up the summer.”

Beginning next week, the UC will make the questionnaire available to Harvard-affiliates. Palaniappan said that she and Huesa will send out an email to undergraduates once the questionnaire goes live.

“I think it is important to note this is also a University-wide resource,” Palaniappan said. “It is not something specific to the College — but if you are a graduate student or a staff or a faculty member — this applies to all of Harvard’s 22,000 members.”

Chief of CAMHS Barbara Lewis will meet with Harvard University Information Technology on Tuesday to launch the screening tool, according to Palaniappan. Harvard University Health Services did not respond to a request for comment on the partnership.

Palaniappan said she does not view the questionnaire as a replacement for mental health resources, but that she hopes it will fill a “gap” on campus for students seeking mental health resources by providing immediate feedback and encouraging students to seek help.

“I’m hoping that this system in particular will help with that early level detection,” she said.

— Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

— Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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