Coalition hosts mental health weekend

Students and faculty came together to discuss solutions to mental health issues from the perspective of members of the Yale community.
Students and faculty came together to discuss solutions to mental health issues from the perspective of members of the Yale community. Photo by William Freedberg.

This weekend, students, faculty members and administrators came together to discuss issues of mental health at Yale.

Mental Health and Wellness Weekend, organized by the Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Yale, ran for three days from April 11 to April 13. The initiative featured workshops and panels focused on improving students’ personal well-being and awareness of mental health issues at Yale. The three-day event is the first of its type held by the Coalition.

“Conversations all year are culminating in this weekend,” University President Peter Salovey said at a panel on Sunday. “I’m proud to see students take charge of the issue to make progress.”

The weekend consisted of a variety of events run by the Coalition, which encompasses 15 campus organizations that are involved with mental health and general wellness from various perspectives. The Coalition grew out of the Yale College Council’s September report on mental health authored by Reuben Hendler ’14, Mira Vale ’13 and John Gerlach ’14, and the trio has taken the lead in planning Mental Health and Wellness Weekend over the last two months. The diversity of perspectives brought by the various organizations sparked the idea for Mental Health and Wellness Weekend, Hendler said.

“We had an idea for a series of events that manifest the diverse ways to engage with mental health and well-being as students for students,” Hendler said.

The constituent organizations suggested various events and jointly decided which ones would most effectively promote dialogue about wellbeing on campus, Vale said.

Many of the events were interactive workshops that taught students skills for different types of personal well-being. Saturday morning began with a class on mindfulness-based yoga, while events later in the day included a workshop on peer counseling skills with a queer focus, leadership and sexual literacy.

“There are techniques that promote wellness that can be taught,” Hendler said. “It was important to have events to teach people practical, concrete skills for resilience.”

Panels throughout the weekend drew attention to the presence of mental health issues at Yale through the voices of students and administrators. A student panel on Sunday featured four students speaking about their experiences dealing with a variety of mental health issues while facing the pressures of being students at Yale. The panelists all highlighted the various resources available through Yale, but cited the support of their friends as one of the most valuable resources in their recoveries.

A panel hosted by the student magazine Vita Bella! provided faculty the opportunity to share their personal stories. “A Meaningful Life” featured Yale Deputy Provost for the Humanities and Initiatives Tamar Gendler ’87, film studies lecturer Ron Gregg and English professor Amy Hungerford speaking about moments of fear and uncertainty in their lives.

“We forget that it’s normal to have failures or be anxious,” said Claire Zhang ’15, editor-in-chief of Vita Bella!. “Listening to Yale professors at the top of their game saying they have that too is really affirming.”

The weekend culminated with a panel of administrators speaking about their roles in shaping campus culture. Salovey opened the panel by speaking about the need for a new solution that is not “more of the same.”

“There is a need to reach beyond the walls of Yale Health to meet mental health problems exactly where they occur,” Salovey said in his opening remarks.

The panel was moderated by University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and featured Yale Secretary and Vice President Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90, Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway and Assistant Dean of Yale College and Director of the Latino Cultural Center Rosalinda Garcia. The conversation centered on the ways in which Yale’s campus culture plays a role in mental health, and identified overcommitment and fear of failure as contributing factors among college students. The panel emphasized the importance taking time to reflect on and reevaluate your commitments. Students need to remember that they’re human, Kugler said.

The Coalition is considering whether to make Mental Health and Wellness Weekend an annual event, Hendler said.

“There are a lot of negative feelings about mental health and how people are treated when they go through the system,” said Emily Luepker ’16, president of InspireYale, one of the constituent groups within the Coalition. “It was a good weekend because it brought out the fact that there are problems, but people are trying to fix them, which is the first step to changing how people feel about mental health at Yale.”

The Coalition was founded in January.

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