University to step up counseling

As members of the Yale community tried Wednesday to make sense of the tragic death of Berkeley College student Cameron Dabaghi ’11, administrators said they hope to prevent more suicides by stepping up the University’s mental health counseling efforts.

Dabaghi’s death — the first suicide of an enrolled Yale student in 11 years, according to administrators — prompted residential college masters and deans, the University Chaplain’s Office and University Health Services to ask students to take care of each other, and of themselves. Administrators reiterated offers of help, telling students to ask peer counseling groups, advisers and mental health counselors for help.

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Berkeley Master Marvin Chun cancelled his usual “Introduction to Psychology” lecture and instead hosted a discussion with University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and YUHS Chief Psychiatrist Lorraine Siggins, allowing students to voice their opinions on the tragedy.

Chun said it was important that the University grieve together as a community, and Siggins and Kugler spoke about the importance of support from friends in detecting depression and other signs of mental stress.

Siggins said that though there are usually clear warning signs before suicides, there did not appear to be many in Dabaghi’s case. In some cases, depressed individuals, especially males, can mask their illness, said Dr. James Potash ’84, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s Mood Disorders Research Center. Ninety percent of people who kill themselves suffer from mental health problems, which are treatable, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Chun ended his session with a plea to students: Call home.

“Call your parents, say ‘I love you,’ ” he said. “People are worried. These are very difficult times.”

Though Yale constantly reevaluates its mental health counseling programs, Siggins said, she and other administrators will soon be looking to ramp up their efforts to educate students about mental illness. But for now, they are more concerned that Dabaghi’s death will spark a cluster of so-called “copycat” suicides — a common occurrence, especially among younger people, Siggins said in a later interview to the News.

“This is an age group where there’s a tendency to copycat,” Siggins said in the interview. “A great deal of that has to do with sensationalizing the suicide.”

Siggins said the University is being proactive in its efforts to look after students’ mental health. She will be sending one member of her staff to every residential college, in addition to asking freshmen counselors, masters and deans to work with students, Siggins said, adding that the University is reaching out to Walden Peer Counseling, an undergraduate counseling group, and Mind Matters, a mental health awareness student group.

The desire to imitate previous suicides may have played a role in the recent deaths of three Cornell University students, two of them on consecutive days in the second week of March, who all jumped from bridges into deep gorges crisscrossing Cornell’s campus. The university responded aggressively, stationing guards and erecting temporary fences along the bridges, as well as sending mental health counselors and residential advisers to knock on students’ doors and ask if they are alright, Cornell Dean of Students Kent Hubbell GRD ’73 said.

This year has been especially tough for Cornell: 10 enrolled students have died from illness, accident or suicide this year, Hubbell said. (Until August 2009, Hubbell noted, there had been no suicides on campus for the past three years, and suicide rates at Cornell have not exceeded national averages over the past decade.)

The university has even created a Web site, caringcommunity.cornell.edu, which features resources for mental health counseling and video messages from administrators who urge students to seek help.

“We’re reevaluating all of our programs,” Hubbell said. “We’re looking closely at everything we can do in matters related to student stress.”

After a Columbia student died by suicide early last year, that university also stepped up its prevention efforts. Officials opened counseling offices in four undergraduate residence halls and improved the system for making appointments with mental health providers on campus. Students who call asking for help are guaranteed to speak with a counselor within 24 hours.

Potash said it is important to recognize that while depression is usually the result of brain disorders, not simply stressful situations, it is still treatable.

“It generally goes away, and people are themselves again,” he said.

Comments

  • Needs more counselors

    I have given up on Yale Mental Health.

    Last year, at the depth of my depression, I tried to make an appointment with a counselor. They booked me for an appointment 4 weeks later — 4 WEEKS LATER. If I were suicidal, that would have been enough time for me to act on my negative thoughts at the time. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t fit me in earlier and it angered me.

    Mental Health counseling is abhorrently inadequate at this university. As an undergraduate at Stanford, I was able to make appointments with counselors within a week and the counselors I saw actually seemed to care.

  • NuYorker

    You guys are such big babies — and unprofessional liars. I saw the News and Post reporters and they weren’t passing themselves off as YDN. Get a life. Such a non-issue. In the scheme of journalism, you do not matter.

  • agreed, and…

    The Yale Health Plan also severely limits the amount of mental health care any given student can receive. The cap on number of counseling sessions is particularly horrendous, given that a student with serious mental illness (e.g. severe depression) will most likely need more visits than are covered. That may not be a catastrophe for students who can pay out of pocket, but what about those who can’t?

  • Helen Li

    It is so important to have somebody to talk to for young people who are experiencing mental health issues. To have somebody in his prime doing something so sad should shake everybody up.

    I have personal experience of watching a young person who outwardly had everything going for him teetering on the brink for many years. In that case, it was my sister who acted as the saviour of my our youngest sibling. They were in their early twenties and late teens respectively, and both in London at the time. My sister was working, and the sibling studying at a pretigious educational establishment. Despite coming first every year, receiving prizes, having many friends, and being treasured by the family since birth, the unhappiness and self-doubt and worries started surfacing in his mid-teens. Often, there were descents into gibbering, sobbing, and total silence. At that time, counselloring or mental health problems were not talked about. The only one he could talk to was my sister who supported him unconditionally 24/7 as soon as she noticed the problems. Being abroad and away from the family could really haved severe consequences for a young person in that state of mind. Luckily, my sister was there for him the whole three academic years. They would be on the phone for hours on end (my sister was living in a hostel at the time and shivered in an unheated telephone booth for the duration,) and she would rush to meet him anywhere and anytime he wanted. All that sacrifice and sisterly love paid off. After gaining a double-first, he started a job back home which he held for the last thirty years, rising to a very important position. That is the power of love. So if you see one of your family or friend needing help, offer your support. As the Buddhists say, “saving one life is more worthwhile than building a sever-storey monument in praise of the Almighty.” My thoughts and prayers to this young man’s family and friends.

  • Go to YUHS

    To those of you who read this article and think you need help, go to Yale mental health and counseling. Do not let the negative comments deter you and make you think YUHS professionals and system are incompetent. Unfortunately mental health awareness needs to be spread on campus. Unfortunately there are cases in which someone slipped through the YUHS’s cracks (@#1), and it can definitely improve upon that.
    BUT, my experience with YUHS counseling has been positive. I was seen in less than 24 hours. I did not connect well to the first counselor, so they assigned me a different one. YUHS counseling has helped me so much.
    Also be aware: Counseling will not “heal” you. The first sessions are rocky and awkward as you get to know your counselor. You just have to be persistent; you have to work with your counselor, work with yourself….And those are the hardest things to do when you are exhausted from depression. Gradually you will feel better.

  • @#3

    FYI, the cap isn’t real. You can get as much therapy there as you need.

    And those of you who waited a while for an appointment–did you bother saying, “I can’t wait that long, I need to start therapy sooner”? Because I think they assume that if you agree to wait a certain amount of time, that means you’ll be okay during the wait.

  • In the NO

    Just an FYI:

    Those of you considering the State Dept., CIA, or other government facility: those records are not as private as you think. Or, more accurately, while the records might be private, the government will know–and care–WHETHER you sought services.

    I would recommend using your parents’ mental health policy. Or a hotline. Or your pastor. Or a friend. Just an FYI.

  • @#7

    That is patently false. Not even the CIA has access to any information about your mental counseling history.

  • @ in the NO

    That is such a lie. Do NOT avoid getting the help you need because of some insane paranoia about the CIA getting your records. Many times, hotlines, pastors, and friends are NOT enough–you need psychologists! “in the NO,” you should be ashamed of yourself for doing anything to discourage people from turning to professional help, especially in the wake of Cam’s death.

    That being said, Yale’s mental health system is terrible. They’re now cutting appts down to 30 minutes (from 45) because they’re overcrowded; it takes weeks to just get an appointment. This is RIDICULOUS. At a University that can afford to get major bands as headliners, sponsor a Sex Week, and build elaborate new colleges, why can we not take care of our students’ most basic mental health needs? It’s ridiculous, and it needs to change.

  • Y

    I agree with number1. I had to wait 2 months after my initial appointment for my follow-up with Mental Health. I am not a suicidal person, but I spent those two months severely depressed and it affected both my academic and social life. I went in several times to check if my appointment was going to be scheduled soon, so no, it didnt just “slip through the cracks.” For some students, having to wait two months could be too late, especially as many students will only go to Mental Health as a last resort.

  • In the CIA

    In this day and age, do you REALLY think that your records are inaccessible to the agencies responsible for national security? Do you also believe that these YDN comments are truly anonymous?

  • c

    I did slip through the cracks at YUHS mental health services twenty years ago. There was a cap on number of visits, and inconsistent therapists (and medications), as residents rotated through outpatient service.
    The only person proactive in addressing me about what was an obvious depression was an english professor.
    Once I got in way over my head (i.e. nearly died), I did receive support from the adminstration, however.
    I am sorry to hear from the comments that things have not much changed.

    And yes, there are consumer reporting services that track prescriptions, so while attending therapy is not tracked, your prescription history can be.

    My heart goes out to this family.

  • @8

    “That is patently false. Not even the CIA has access to any information about your mental counseling history.”

    If you expect to work for any government agency that requires a security clearance, you do in fact need to give the government access to all your mental health records.

  • so

    i am having a lot of trouble dealing with cam’s death. this article gives me no information on what i’m supposed to do about this. where are these mysterious mental health counselors in each residential college? and yes, yuhs is a bust. i’ve had several friends go there over the last 4 years. they were all treated like they didn’t matter

  • ’12

    It is true that people have had to wait ridiculously long times before they were able to see therapists and get help.

    BUT, if you talk to your res. college Dean, Master, or Fro-Co (if you’re a Freshmen), they can help you expedite the process. I saw a therapist within a week and they told me that I could have seen someone that very day, if I really needed it.

    And therapy here isn’t as awful as some people say it is. It’s been extremely helpful.

  • @#14

    @#14

    If you are having trouble dealing with your friend’s death, talk to someone about it. The grief process takes time, and it looks different for everyone. You may want to find a group online for survivors of suicide. Or you could take an art class/see an art therapist. Sometimes just telling your professors and friends that you are having a hard time is a good idea. Be honest with your feelings and let people know how you’re doing. I cannot imagine how hard this is for you, and I wish you the best.

  • west coast parent

    I am an extremely worried parent. My child, a junior, is suffering from depression and an eating disorder. The stress, lack of sleep, roommate problems, and enormous amount of work are taking their toll. It’s not just the inadequate mental health services, it’s the achievement at all costs mentality that’s drives these students. I’ve gone from being a proud Ivy League parent to one being afraid every time the phone rings. My daughter sought help from Yale health service and it took a long time and then the counselor was “awful.” She is now seeing someone off campus and we are paying but the counselor is telling her to make changes that are impractical for a Yale student. Living across the country I have no idea how serious things are. They will tell us only what they want to – not everyone reaches out for help as we’ve seen with the recent suicide. My guess is she is not telling us everything because she is ashamed and afraid of an over-reaction. Is there a way for parents to connect with University health professionals without invading their child’s privacy or causing an un-welcomed intervention?

  • To #17

    Diane Mickey is the co-president of The National Eating Disorders Ass. and is at the Wilkins Center in Greenwich, Ct. She will address both an eating disorder and the depression. She saves lives.
    If there is a two month wait for care at Yale, there is no care.

  • by another yale parent

    response to # 17
    you may contact the career counselor in your child’s respective school, you can email your child every day or every other day-they will communicate with you when they find time-this provides a way for your child to know someone-you-cares about them, is thinking about them. Maybe your child does need to return closer to home , maybe the distance isn’t beneficial for her. That is okay. The college years and early 20s are years that are filled with uncertainty, change, and this is okay. I think kids in this age group think they are supposed to know what they want to do for the rest of their life, feel pressure to succeed, sometimes at something they find out they are just not that interested in. They see their peers seem like they are fine and then that makes them feel like something is wrong with them. Try to keep communication open, be open if they want to change their course, and above all let them know their happiness, and well-being are what is most important to you. Being a parent is unconditional love- no matter what career , etc they choose.You might also fly to Yale and set up a family meeting with either the counselor or someone in career services, etc. If you are paying for this education, or your child has taken out loans for this education, then that is also an issue-because possibly your child is worried about down the road-how to repay this-maybe questioning why she is so unhappy or unsettled even though she is at the “best” school.Because your child is over 18, whatever she has talked about is confidential, but you can call her therapist or counselor and let them know you are concerned-this may help their interaction with your daughter-it may provide insight for them to certain areas your child is seeking help with, your child will realize you are interested in her well-being as a person- not just her ability to succeed as a Yale student. My child was worried about the disappointment the parents would feel if the child did not succeed or finish at a particular school. My answer is- my child’s happiness, well-being, safety are the most important thing the rest is extra. Good luck to you – you are an important advocate for your child as you raised them, lived with them for most of their life- that provides a wealth of information to a perspective counselor that your child might not be able to bring to the table- and you care!!!!!!!

  • west coast parent

    I appreciate the information and advice from #17 and #18. Completely agree that my child (and all of them) needs to know her happiness and well being matters above all. We say this over and over and only hope it sinks in. Good ideas with the counselors. Thank you.

  • hadthisexperience -09

    @#20

    My freshman year at Yale was marred by a severe bipolar depressive episode, misdiagnosed and poorly treated by YUHS. Further adding to my fears about seeking care at Yale were the enormous difficulties associated with re-admission when you take a leave of absence for mental health. If your daughter decides she needs some time at home with really responsive and good care, take an unspecified semester off by informing her dean ahead of time– NOT “medical leave,” which is notoriously draconian.

    Just to give you hope: I went back to Yale and graduated with honours. Three members of the faculty did more for me than any YUHS bureaucrat ever did (my advisor practically saved my life), so let your daughter know that professors are trustworthy confidants who have had personal experiences with mental illness that can make them great mentors. Tell her that she can fight for this, that coming from a place just like hers, I know she can make it!

    Don’t depend on YUHS to be in loco parentis ever– you are obviously a good parent and an see that it’s just a revolving door over there… my parents were a lot like you, and showed concern when this happened to me that helped me get through it.