Yale Health will hire more psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin announced in a Thursday campus-wide email.
The changes follow weeks of heightened criticism surrounding the accessibility of mental health services, prompted by the suicide of Luchang Wang ’17.
But while Genecin outlined additional changes, such as streamlining the referral process for new patients and creating new helplines for students with mental health complaints, students interviewed were left perplexed by the lack of clarity in Genecin’s proposals.
“Overall, there was a lack of specifics,” said Geoffrey Smith ’15. “The email … mostly hinted at reforms in other contexts that sound promising but may or may not be substantive.”
Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling Department currently employs 28 clinicians. How many will be added, though, is unclear.
This, along with the fact that Genecin’s email did not elaborate on how the new referral system will differ from the current one, made the announcement underwhelming, Smith said. He added that it did not address what he considers to be high-priority issues, such as withdrawal and readmission policies.
Although Genecin and MH&C Director Lorraine Siggins held “listening sessions” at several residential colleges last spring to collect student feedback on Yale Health’s MH&C provisions, Smith and other students interviewed suggested that their concerns have not been heard.
In addition to expanding its staff, Yale Health will streamline the transition process between patients’ first MH&C appointments and the start of their treatments. Now, Genecin said, clinicians will spend each student’s first visit to MH&C discussing their concerns, preferences and goals, in addition to advising on the next steps for treatment, making intake sessions more similar to therapy than they currently are.
“In a very real sense, this first appointment is now also the start of treatment,” Genecin wrote in the email.
Yale Law School Mental Health Alliance member Rachel Dempsey LAW ’15, who co-authored a survey at the Law School about mental health services at Yale, said she thinks that the long wait times between a student’s initial appointment and the start of treatment are a more pressing concern than what is discussed at the first appointment.
“[Survey respondents] said it was very painful to go to the first appointment, lay bare their problems and not hear anything back for months,” Dempsey said.
One student who uses Yale Health’s MH&C services, but asked to remain anonymous because he wants to keep his mental health issues private, echoed Dempsey’s sentiments, adding that he had to wait one month between his initial appointment and his first therapy visit.
“You only get half a year’s worth of therapy and I didn’t find that out until I was three quarters of the way through [my allotted visits],” he added.
The email also announced the establishment of a confidential telephone line for students to inform Yale Health about any issues they may have with their treatment. Assistant Manager of Yale Health Member Services Daniel Champagne, who will act as an advocate for students dissatisfied with their care, will be available to students on weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., Genecin wrote.
Champagne could not be reached for comment at the hotline number on Thursday — the day the number was slated to begin operating — because, according to an email auto-reply, he was out of the office.
An additional telephone number was also designated for students who did not feel comfortable with their assigned therapist. In his email, Genecin announced that students will now be able to change therapists through MH&C Associate Director Howard Blue, instead of having to tell their therapist directly. Students who request a switch will face no adverse consequences, Genecin said.
The number for this service is also the front desk number for Yale Health MH&C. Students interviewed expressed concern that the number will add a counterproductive layer of bureaucracy to an already inefficient process.
According to the student who asked to remain anonymous, students who are already hesitant to ask for help with mental health issues will be further deterred from asking for support if they must speak with multiple people before being able to switch therapists.
To offer immediate help to students and friends of students experiencing mental health emergencies, the email also listed an emergency line that students can access on weekdays, as well as a separate number for weeknights and weekends.
The number for weekday mental health emergencies is also the main number to Yale Health’s MH&C Department. The number for nights and weekends is already the center’s Acute Care Department’s number.
Dempsey said she thinks that an emergency helpline is not the best long-term approach to preventing mental health crises at Yale.
“We’d rather have solid mental health care than a last ditch safety net,” she said.
Still, several students interviewed expressed optimism about the proposals outlined in the email.
According to one female sophomore who receives treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder and asked to remain anonymous praised the change to how students can switch therapists.
In order to change therapists, students previously needed to tell their existing therapist that they wanted to switch to a new one.
The previous system for changing therapists was an obstacle to effective treatment since students often feel awkward about confronting their therapists so directly, the student said.
Genecin will also host a public forum next Wednesday — which will feature Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, Siggins, Blue and English professor John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, who chairs Yale College’s withdrawal and readmission committee — to discuss outstanding student concerns with Yale Health’s MH&C provisions.
“Dr. Siggins and I have been following the public discussion, just as many of you have,” Genecin said in the campus-wide email, adding that he wants the conversations on mental health issues on campus to continue through the forum.
But Dempsey expressed concern that dialogue surrounding mental health issues was not being shared with the graduate school community, despite the results of a Yale Law School survey from last December, which reported that 206 students in a sample of 296 students had experienced mental health challenges while at the school. Genecin’s email was not sent to Yale Law School students, Dempsey noted.
Students under the Yale Health basic coverage plan are entitled to a maximum of 12 therapy visits a year.
This article has been updated to reflect the version published in print on Feb. 20, 2015.