During my freshman year, I had a problem. My grades were sagging, my stress level was high and (though I didn’t realize it at the time) I desperately needed to talk to someone about how much I didn’t want to tell my parents I was gay. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do about it. Was this the kind of thing I talked to my FroCo about? Maybe my master? What about my dean? Who were peer liaisons anyway? I’d heard something about peer counselors … somewhere. Did this merit a trip to Yale Mental Health & Counseling? And how do I even set up an appointment with those guys anyway?
I remember that exhausting cascade of questions distinctly, and the experience only left me more confused than ever. And though I was eventually able to get the help I needed (through a combination of the options above), those memories recently came rushing back to me as mental health issues rightfully took center stage among students.
Though several great ideas have surfaced over the last few weeks, I want to highlight one practical proposal that is not getting the attention it likely deserves. The plan, which the Yale College Council recently approved unanimously, would create a new group of student “Mental Health Fellows” who would bridge the gap between students and the complex array of mental health services at their disposal.
Think of the Fellows as a cross between the Communication and Consent Educators and FroCos. For example, Fellows could run workshops to introduce freshmen to the University’s resources and encourage them to talk more openly about mental health concerns with their peers. In this setting, the Fellows could even incorporate a couple of ideas that have been pitched in these opinion pages: first, training students to become active mental health “bystanders” and second, educating them about different medications that they or their friends may be using. Each college would have their own Fellows who, in addition to running such workshops, would serve as a point of contact for those in their college trying to figure out which of Yale’s myriad resources to access.
The implementation of such a program would make calling on mental health resources a simple routine for every incoming freshman and possibly even returning sophomores. It would simply be part of their normal routine. For while some may argue that Yale should expand mental health resources, an even greater problem is that students are not comfortable enough or familiar enough with the resources that already exist. We can do more to maximize the utility of the resources we already have.
Personally, I cannot claim to have been deeply affected by mental health issues in any long-term form during my life. But I know that when I did need help, the complexity of Yale’s mental health resources paralyzed me into inaction. It took a forced interaction with a therapist for me to realize how helpful such resources could be. And though I hated the University for that requirement at the time, I now realize the forced interaction helped me heal. It helped me realize I had a temporary problem and needed to talk to a professional about how to overcome it before it got worse.
But I was lucky. Yale needs a more standardized process that makes interacting with Yale’s current resources far less intimidating.
If an athlete breaks her leg on the soccer field, she has no qualms about seeing a medical professional about her quite obvious problem. Nor do any of her teammates raise an eyebrow when she insists she needs to get her leg checked out. But we have not yet learned to talk so comfortably about seeking professional help for mental health. If Yale moves forward with the YCC’s proposal, we can start to move away from the hush-hush tone that dampens so many mental health discussions.
Let’s institutionalize low-stakes interactions with Yale’s mental health resources. Let’s create a new class of Mental Health Fellows.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College and a representative in the Yale College Council. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.