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Harvard CAMHS Chief Barbara Lewis Praises Expanded Virtual Mental Health Resources

Counseling and Mental Health Service Chief Barbara Lewis speaks in 2018.
Counseling and Mental Health Service Chief Barbara Lewis speaks in 2018. By Amy Y. Li
By Alexander I. Fung, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services Chief Barbara Lewis touted expanded and more accessible mental health resources in an interview Friday.

Lewis said the CAMHS Cares support line, launched in July 2021, and telehealth service TimelyCare, launched in October 2022, have both seen extensive use by students since launching, adding that the programs have expanded accessibility to students in need.

According to its 2022 annual report, Harvard University Health Services overall received more than 25,000 virtual visits from July 2021 to June 2022. CAMHS Cares answered 2,421 calls over the same period.

Lewis called the support line’s first year “hugely successful,” adding that the line continues to receive about 300 calls a month.

“It’s not a crisis line; it’s a support line,” Lewis said. “Students in a crisis can certainly call it, but we want to make it clear that students who just need to talk to someone also feel free to use it in the moment when they are having anxiety or something’s going on where they want to talk to someone.”

Lewis praised TimelyCare’s work since its October launch, noting that on average, student surveys had awarded the virtual service 4.95 stars out of five on counseling visits and 4.93 stars on psychiatric visits. A total of 1,743 students have signed up for TimelyCare so far, and there have been 2,403 virtual visits to the service, she added.

The service has seen 2,030 counseling visits and 325 psychiatric visits since its launch in October, according to Lewis.

“We continue to work to improve the access to mental health care in CAMHS,” Lewis said, adding demand for mental health services remains “consistently high.”

Lewis said CAMHS’ target for their wait times is 10 business days, a goal which was difficult to hit in the fall due to staffing shortages. In March 2022, wait times stretched as long as six weeks — nearly half of a 14-week semester.

TimelyCare wait times are as little as five to eight days, Lewis said.

Lewis said CAMHS is working to develop a clinical access team, at the recommendation of the Office of the Provost’s Mental Health Task Force — launched in 2019 to combat CAMHS’ long wait times and an increase in mental health issues on campus.

The fall 2022 semester saw student suicides at the College and the Law School.

“Our goal is to have a total of six full-time clinical access coordinators, who will be the ones to meet with students for their first consults and coming to CAMHS,” Lewis said.

In the last few months, CAMHS has hired 16 clinicians as part of an effort to combat prior staffing shortages, Lewis said, which previously hindered student access to the service.

“That limits your accessibility when you don’t have all the people that you need to be here,” Lewis said.

The CAMHS chief expressed optimism about efforts to promote accessibility, and in particular, for the new hires that have fleshed out the service’s staff.

“I think they’re very motivated,” Lewis said of the new clinicians. “They’re very passionate about the work.”

—Staff writer Alexander I. Fung can be reached at alexander.fung@thecrimson.com.

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