Though the new mental health fellows program introduced by the Yale College Council this fall was a staple of YCC Vice President Omar Njie’s ’13 campaign, relatively few students are aware of the program.
The program, which pairs each residential college with a member of Yale’s mental health staff, has only been advertised to freshmen and sophomores at Yale and has yet to reach all 12 colleges. Njie said the YCC is trying to delicately phase in a program that addresses a sensitive issue on campus, but has also prioritized alerting more students of its existence. Indeed, only one of 10 students interviewed had heard of the new initiative.
“The program is slowly being rolled out because mental health is a sensitive subject,” Njie said. “In order for this program to be successful everything needs to be conducted carefully and thoughtfully.”
So far, the program has been implemented in seven colleges, Njie said, and aims to make Yale Health’s counseling services more accessible to students. To better integrate the fellows into their colleges and further advertise the new program, the YCC is also developing workshops that focus on stress management, dietary habits and other healthy practices, he said, adding that he hopes to have the program fully in place by Thanksgiving.
While the fellows do not counsel students directly, they are supposed to offer undergraduates advice on how best to utilize the University’s available mental health resources.
Nicole Hobbs ’14, a member of Ezra Stiles College, said she was introduced to her college’s fellow at a sophomore advising meeting Oct. 10, but said she did not know of anyone who had used the fellow as a resource. Hobbs added that she thinks the program is a good idea, because it gives students another outlet for coping with overwhelming schoolwork and stress.
One sophomore in Saybrook College, who spoke anonymously because she wished to keep details of her counseling private, said she saw mental health counselors at Yale Health throughout last year and had a positive experience with those services. But she said she sought counseling about longer-term issues with family members, and that the new mental health fellows in colleges strike her as geared more toward students dealing with short-term, school-related stress.
She added that she thinks mental health programs are often underused because people can be reluctant to admit they need help.
“I feel like people don’t think their problems are big enough to be worth talking to someone about,” she said.
Zak Newman ’13, who had no knowledge of the YCC program until asked if he would use the new resource, said he thinks the new service will need to overcome a stigma that surrounds mental health at Yale. Using mental health resources is “looked down upon” by many ambitious students on campus, he said.
Njie said he understands that students are often reluctant to approach a mental health counselor, but that the program was largely created to address this attitude.
“These are professionals, so again this is to have a first point of contact that you can reach,” he said. “Your deans and masters are great resources, but not everyone necessarily feels comfortable talking to [them].”
Despite the lack of student awareness for the mental health program, Njie said what feedback the YCC has received so far has been positive. Neither Njie nor YCC President Brandon Levin ’13 were able to specify how they have been measuring the student response.
The YCC mental health committee, which organized the new fellows program, meets in Silliman College room 417 every Thursday at 8 p.m.