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CAMHS Launches 24/7 Mental Health Hotline for Harvard Students

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UPDATED: August 5, 2021 at 5:42 p.m.

Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services announced last Friday the launch of a new 24/7 mental health hotline, CAMHS Cares, for students in need of immediate help.

In an interview with the Harvard Gazette — a University-run publication — Harvard University Health Services executive director Giang T. Nguyen said he and CAMHS chief Barbara Lewis had talked about the need for a 24/7 mental health hotline even before the global pandemic. Then, Covid-19 hit, and students experienced a decline in mental health amid the loss of on-campus life and more than a year of distanced, online learning.

CAMHS Cares came to fruition following talks between Nguyen, Lewis, and Anita Gajdecki, the parent of a Harvard undergraduate who wanted to sponsor an aspect of students’ mental health care.

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“Over the subsequent year, those conversations solidified, and we were thrilled that [Gajdecki] chose to support the mental health hotline,” Nguyen told the Gazette.

Both Nguyen and Lewis said the hotline represents an “additional avenue” for students seeking mental health care.

“Students can reach a licensed counselor at all hours, and it doesn’t have to be a full-blown emergency,” Lewis told the Gazette. “A clinician is ready to speak with them in a moment of stress, at a time when they might wish to speak to someone the most.”

“The counselor can connect the student back to CAMHS if it’s something that will need in-person urgent or ongoing support; they also might refer the student to the Office for Gender Equity, the Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, or with the Academic Resource Center, depending on the issue at hand,” Lewis added.

Nguyen said CAMHS Cares can provide help when traditional CAMHS services may not be immediately available to students.

“When a student decides that they want to speak to someone at CAMHS, it is a great opportunity to provide them with options for care,” he said. “But sometimes, when we’re not available at the exact moment a student is ready to speak with a professional, that moment goes away. A service like this helps solve that problem.”

The mental health hotline is part of a “broader approach” Harvard is taking to support students’ mental health, according to Nguyen, citing the report from a University-led Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health, which was released last summer.

“[T]he Task Force report did recommend exploring ways of expanding access to mental-health services, which the CAMHS Cares hotline certainly does,” he said.

Lewis said CAMHS would be assessing how students use the hotline in order to provide better care and ensure it remains an option for students.

“Understanding the volume of calls will be critical toward ensuring the hotline remains an option for years to come,” she said.

The hotline is reachable by calling (617) 495-2042.

CORRECTION: August 5, 2021

A previous version of this article misstated the phone number for the new hotline. It is (617) 495-2042.

—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be reached at hannah.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.

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