My freshman year of high school, I struggled from depression and an eating disorder. I had to leave school to enter an inpatient program for the summer where, against the statistical odds, I recovered. My recovery was only made possible by the support I received from my family, friends and importantly, my school. I was welcomed back in August to a community willing to invest in my best interests. Without their support, I would likely have never fully recovered, reached my full potential as a student, or been admitted to Yale.
Because of my experience, I feel very strongly about the problems with some of Yale’s policies regarding mental health, particularly the policies regarding students who are asked to leave campus. A friend of mine was required to leave Yale last semester due to a mental illness, and I was shocked to hear of the appalling manner of treatment and care he felt he was given. Even still, I am ultimately an optimist and trust that the administration has our best interests in mind. I am confident that the leave policy can be amended in ways that are positive for both the students and the administration. There are three components of the policy to which I would like to propose changes.
First and foremost is communication. A consistent complaint among students who have been required to leave Yale under this policy is that they have been asked to leave in error or without their opinions being heard and accounted for. Yale should publish the criteria under which a student is asked to take leave for a mental illness, as is done on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s mental health website. Yale should also inform students about the factors that go into the decision-making process for various cases, which would merit the forced-leave policy public credibility and consistency.
Second is availability of resources. Yale should support students on medical leave by allowing them access to the same resources as enrolled students. Another persistent criticism is that the leave policy does not allow students to have access to many of Yale’s resources; denying students this privilege may not be in their best interests for recovery.
Yale should amend the leave policy to address cases individually. Students should not be forced to go home to a potentially harmful environment, nor should they be kept from environments that may help them recover, including Yale’s campus. Students receiving financial aid should also have this package carry over to their health coverage if they are asked to take leave. This would incur a low expense for the school since very few students go on leave, and the benefit to the students would be enormous.
And third is the readmittance policy. An umbrella policy requiring all students on forced leave to wait one full term after the term in which they took leave to reapply for admittance is not sensible. Additionally, students on leave should not be required to remain “constructively occupied” during their leave of absence, as those seeking help for a mental illness should not be worried that the policies in place are punitive instead of therapeutic. I again propose that the terms for a student’s forced leave are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
I understand that the points I addressed only scratch the surface of the very complex issues surrounding mental health on a college campus, and that the course of action a team of doctors and administrators deems best for a student in the case of a mental illness may not align with the student’s wishes. Also, that there are many resources already around Yale working to address these issues. But this mistreatment and infringement of students’ rights cannot be ignored.
Improving the mental health environment on campus is not solely the responsibility of the administration, however. Students can take action to help address some of these issues. For one, we should reach out to our friends who are struggling with mental illnesses or have been asked to leave Yale. A simple text, Facebook message or email can make an immense difference. We should also take advantage of the many peer resources that promote mental health and well being on campus and encourage friends who may be struggling to seek help when they need it. And, most importantly, we should not just complain about policies we are unhappy with, but look for ways to initiate change.
I truly believe that the administration seeks to promote the wellbeing of its students, but things need to change. I am imploring that students voice their opinions regarding this issue and help me to urge the administration to make this discussion an utmost priority.
Alyssa Miller is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .