Where were you when you heard about the death of Luchang Wang? I was sitting at home chewing on a pen and counting my Prozac milligrams, writing down my progress in a marble notebook for my psychiatrist and trying to decide what to do with myself.
I am not unfamiliar with what it is like to be at Yale while battling depression, and to describe such an experience as “difficult” isn’t enough — it is nearly impossible.
Months before I decided to take a voluntary leave of absence, I had already been quite distraught over the system established for mental health at the University. The bottom line is that there is simply not enough time to thoroughly treat mental illness while juggling Yale’s workload.
I tried: I saw a psychiatrist at Yale, I played around with my medication during shopping period, I went home for a few weekends to see another psychiatrist. But, as indicated by the fact that I’m writing this column on my mom’s computer, this didn’t work for me. Therapy takes time, medication adjustment takes time and progress takes time. When I made the choice to take a leave of absence, I wanted nothing more than to return and to tell my story as soon as I could.
But my story isn’t over yet, so this is not a tale of woe. This is a cry for change.
The news of Luchang Wang and the immediate reactions convinced me that my experience was not an isolated incident. As vital as it is to change public opinion on depression and emphasize the importance of seeking help, neither is enough. Universities must launch initiatives to do everything they can to help students who are in need.
Yale would do well to consider “Let’s Talk,” an initiative started by Cornell University. “Let’s Talk” provides students with easy access to direct help. During certain hours, from Monday to Friday, students at Cornell can walk in without an appointment to talk to a certified counselor. The consultation is confidential and anyone is eligible to see a counselor without being turned away. It is not the silver bullet for mental illness, but “Let’s Talk” could provide time: Easy weekday availability to talk to someone would be an enormous step toward enhancing the accessibility of counseling and could do wonders to cure the “I just don’t have time” problem that is so often voiced at Yale and other high-pressured institutions.
Yale should introduce its own version of “Let’s Talk,” because one of the most problematic symptoms of mental illness is a feeling of isolation. Through my experiences I have seen that this feeling of isolation can make seeking help feel incredibly daunting.
The genius of “Let’s Talk” is that it is not a psychiatric visit: It is simply a session where you are free to talk about whatever concerns you have. These concerns can range from simply needing to talk to somebody that day to more deep-seated issues such as the fear of going on medication. Access to an expert opinion every day of the school week would be revolutionary at Yale, a place where it’s not a secret that getting an appointment at Yale Health can take weeks.
There will always be a need for conversation and open-minded communities, but right now that’s not enough. Institutional reform is needed more urgently. It is now more essential than ever to demand tangible initiatives that can truly change the way the University provides for students who are battling mental illnesses. No one should have to suffer through this particular battle blindly.
I’ll quote Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am who I choose to become.” But Carl Jung, bless him, doesn’t mention that choosing who to become is incredibly difficult to do alone — I would not have been able to choose to become a healthier person without the help of the administration and my loved ones. Similarly, I cannot change policy just by telling my story. So while I write this last thought down in my former “Media and Medicine” notebook, I am asking for help, from those on campus or not, to bring about real changes towards a healthier Yale.
Eugenia Zhukovsky is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.