Yale’s mental health policies continue to be scrutinized.
On Oct. 7, a Huffington Post article discussed questionable mental health counseling practices at several universities, including Yale. The piece cited the experiences of two Yale students with the University’s Mental Health and Counseling services. The article featured Rachel Williams ’17 — who wrote a feature in the News on her experiences — and an unnamed Yale senior, who were both removed from campus after they independently sought mental health counseling. Despite changes by Yale Health to clarify its policies on student withdrawal and readmission, students interviewed said the University still has not done enough.
“It’s clear that [the mental health and counseling staff] are aware that some students perceive certain barriers to accessing care like confidentiality concerns, potential withdrawal and elongated wait times,” Corinne Ruth ’15, a member of the MH&C student advisory committee, said in an email. “They want to do their best to dispel these misconceptions.”
While mental health policies have long been a topic of conversation at Yale, debate on campus has grown in intensity during the last academic year, said Christopher Landry ’15, who organized an event to raise awareness of the issue last spring. A Sept. 2013 Yale College Council survey found that 30.5 percent of respondents who were treated by MH&C services rated their experiences as “poor” or “very poor.”
To improve communication between counselors and students, Yale Health reformatted their website in spring 2014, introduced “listening sessions” during which students give feedback to Yale Health administrators and created a MH&C student advisory committee to relay undergraduate concerns and complaints to Yale Health.
One of the issues Yale Health hopes to address with these efforts is the clarification of current policies on student withdrawal and readmission for mental health reasons, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin said.
He added that the current withdrawal policy is “a measure of last resort” in order to protect the student’s safety and academic standing at the University. Students are only removed from campus when they have actively demonstrated that they are not able to protect themselves, Genecin said.
“Having a conversation with a mental health professional will never result in forced leave,” he added.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said in an email that because the University is not permitted to disclose any information about students’ mental health concerns, the students’ perspective is often the only one represented in the media.
Still, most students interviewed said that they do not feel that the University has appropriately adapted.
Landry said the University has not acknowledged the larger need for reform. Student withdrawal on mental health grounds should not be stigmatized, and students should feel in control when and if they seek help from MH&C, he said.
There are multiple methods to reduce the stigma against mental illness on campus, Holloway said. He added that students are made aware of the variety of resources that are already available and freshman orientation now includes more information on mental health services.
Yale’s MH&C Center recently released a series of informational videos about the process of withdrawal and readmission when mental health is a serious concern, said Paul McKinley, director of strategic communications for the Yale College Dean’s Office.
While most students interviewed had no personal experience with mental health resources at Yale, most of those who did found their experiences to be subpar.
“If I were suicidal I wouldn’t go to Yale Health, no way,” said one senior who wished to remain anonymous. The senior said she was diagnosed with a mental disorder two years ago.
But Yale’s policy on withdrawal was unclear, which made her afraid to admit to her nutritionist that anything was wrong, she said.
A freshman who recently sought help at MH&C and wished to remain unnamed characterized the experience as uniquely impersonal, adding that it seemed as if the counselors did not care at all. Still others cautioned that MH&C at Yale is not universally bad.
“I think the Huffington Post article, while it presents real and terrible experiences, is somewhat irresponsible in its overwhelming focus on horror stories, which are not the norm for most students,” Landry said.
He added that while it is important to address the problems with Yale’s mental health services, students should be careful not to discourage others from receiving the care they need.
About half of the undergraduate student body will use mental health resources during their time at Yale, Genecin said.