University Health Services officials proudly declare that Yale students receive the best mental health care in the collegiate world. Yale was the first university in the nation to have a mental health program, and the school remains committed to high standards of care.
But the environment in which college mental health services now operate is a dramatic departure from the past, when discussion of mental illness was taboo and treatment rarely sought. Today, Ivy League mental health professionals agree that incidence of serious mental illness and demand for therapy among incoming students has never been higher. This is not necessarily a source for dismay. Increased access to medication and therapy has opened college doors to gifted but troubled individuals who might never have made it through high school in previous years.
But these laudable changes have also brought an increasing number of students with latent or overt mental problems into a high-pressure environment apt to exacerbate their conditions. A rash of suicides at elite universities is only the most visible symptom of the severity of the problem.
With its vast intellectual, medical and financial resources, Yale is equipped to handle the problems of this new era in mental health care. The current system, however, must be thoroughly evaluated and at least partially reformed.
Those reforms ought first to address the utter lack of transparency of Yale’s program. While officials at other schools gave the News precise statistics on demand for treatment, use of anti-depressants, and year-to-year increases in patients seen, UHS officials were unwilling to provide even an estimate of the number of undergraduate patients, let alone pertinent information on trends.
Aggregate statistics can be released without compromising patient confidentiality, and Yale should take steps to collect and publicize information that can help students and administrators gauge the state of mental wellness on campus and the adequacy of the services the University offers.
When it comes to treating mental illness, there is often little substitute for one-on-one interaction between therapist and patient. Furthermore, the University’s policies of limiting free one-on-one therapy to one semester and promoting group therapy sessions should be reconsidered and perhaps changed.
Finally, UHS should make reduce staff turnover and encourage long-term retention. This is in the interest of students, who should have access to the same therapist throughout their undergraduate years, and of health professionals, who should have the chance to better familiarize themselves with the unique pressures a Yale life places on patients.
Given the costs of psychiatry, such improvements will carry a hefty price tag for the University. But an investment in mental health services is in a very real way an investment in the intellectual and moral security of the college. As such, it deserves a greater share of the University’s resources and attention, and a self-critical, candid and pragmatic attitude on the part of its administrators.