Mental health is one of those topics — like religion, sex or money — rarely discussed openly. Yale is not unique in this regard. For individuals anywhere who need support, admitting that need can often be a daunting challenge.
But the University should not assume that the problems with its current system of mental health support are the unavoidable result of the inherent challenge of keeping students sane. As a panel discussion held Wednesday by the student group Mind Matters demonstrates, significant confusion surrounds Yale’s decentralized panoply of mental health services. Whom to speak to, whether someone can be forced to take a leave, how confidential medical files are — the number of questions raised by at the discussion shows clearly the need to communicate how students who need help can get it.
It’s no secret that Yale is a stressful place. Sleep deprivation is worn as a perverse badge of honor, and eating disorders are not surprising in our perfectionist community. Between midterms and job interviews and extracurriculars, it sometimes seems surprising that more students do not buckle under the strain.
But Yale’s administration — in residential colleges as well as University Health Services — could, and should, do a better job of informing students how to find help. Right now, there are many points of entry into the mental health system: deans, advisers, mental health college liaisons, UHS itself. But as in the debate over Yale’s approach toward reporting sexual assault, a decentralized system can have the perverse effect of paralyzing students with confusion and dissuading them from seeking help.
Because of the emotional effort it takes to decide that one needs help, the University should focus not only on the quality of care it can offer, but also the effectiveness with which it makes that care available to students. The advising gap between freshman and sophomore year, for example, when students lose their freshman counselors, is one example of when students are likely to lose their way and not know that the same deans who sign their schedules can help them with more than just a dean’s note.
Yale proved it could improve its system for reporting sexual harassment, and it surely can find the capability and will to improve its system of mental hygiene. The stakes are too high for it to fail.