BOTNICK: Don’t neglect us

I have never told anyone on campus that I sought treatment at Yale Mental Health & Counseling my sophomore year. I went for a chronic mental disorder that, at Yale, started affecting me to the point where I needed professional help. What I regret is never sending the email I drafted to my dean and master asking for help after I had such a terrible experience with the system.

But now, as a senior, and after reading the Yale College Council’s Mental Health Report, I need to share some of what I wrote. The state of mental health care at Yale is unacceptable, and we should be outraged.

The majority of students in the report felt the care they received was less than good enough, and that the time they waited to have an appointment scheduled was unreasonable compared to the urgency of their condition. I waited over a month to be assigned permanently to a staff member, and even then, she was a social worker, not a psychiatrist as I had requested.

Like others in the report, I felt she was bored and unresponsive to what I was actually saying. I told her I wanted to tell my best friend about my condition, but I had never told anyone and I was nervous about my friend’s reaction. She said I should tell my friend because she would have a negative reaction to what I said, and that would shame me so much that my symptoms would disappear.

She also told me that there were others with my same rare condition here. But when I expressed an interest in group therapy, she said I would have to organize it on my own by putting up fliers around campus with my name and contact information. I felt uncomfortable doing that — and further, people with a mental condition do not want to be seen pulling off tabs from fliers.

I stopped going after two or three sessions, and I was never contacted to see if I was all-right. Two years later, my condition is still untreated, and I still have not talked to any of my friends about it.

Of course, not every Yale student has a mental illness. But we do glorify stress and encourage a veneer of constant happiness; and as a result, we neglect discussion of mental illness and stigmatize those who might actually need treatment. Sufferers of mental illness cannot just “pull themselves out of it.” And sadly, they are also usually the individuals least comfortable with calling the health center every day to advocate for themselves.

The most devastating part of the report is a paragraph from a sophomore who was “near suicidal” and did not get an appointment. “They said if I felt as though my needs were ‘extremely urgent’ then I could get an appointment sooner,” the sophomore stated. “The problem is that when you’re depressed, it’s already a lot to reach out to someone. To be told that your case needs to be an emergency makes you feel as though you’ve been rejected.”

The sophomore should have received an appointment immediately. They somehow got through their struggle, but many do not — including other Yale students and my own sister.

Cameron Dabaghi ’11 took his own life the spring before I started Yale. I remember wondering how his death would be brought up in orientation. But while I learned all about hazing and how many ounces are considered “one drink,” his suicide — and the broader topic of mental health — was not once mentioned in passing.

I wish it had been. Over a year ago, I grieved over the death of Zachary Brunt ’15, though I had never met him. A fellow student was gone, and as someone who had gone through freshman orientation and dealt with Mental Health & Counseling, I doubted that he had known where to turn for help.

And even though we have experienced two of these tragedies in the past three years — and a remarkable 39 percent of students in the report have sought mental health counseling — basically nothing has changed.

Students need to be equipped with basic suicide prevention skills and the ability to recognize symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety. But students whose conditions fall outside of these categories also need to know there will be someone to turn to when we need professional help.

As a campus, we have come together for dialogue on issues that affect us all, like our sexual culture. It is past time for us to come together on this issue. We all need to be well versed in the vocabulary of mental illness. We need to move past our stigmas about our conditions. We need a comprehensive response from the administration on how they will fix our ineffective mental health counseling system.

Julie Botnick is a senior in Branford College. Contact her at julie.botnick@yale.edu.

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