In a column in today’s News (“Unfulfilled promise,” Feb. 13), a student recounts her battle — because it can only be justly called a battle — to get therapy at Yale Mental Health & Counseling.
Three years ago, she was told her problems weren’t severe enough for immediate treatment. When she returned for help this semester, she asked to be switched to a female therapist because she wanted to talk about a repeat incident of sexual assault. She waited a month for her request to be processed — only to be reassigned to another male, wasting weeks of her time and leaving her with a result that made her question her decision to seek institutional support in the first place.
Her case is not isolated.
“Every Yale student enrolled in a degree program is eligible for counseling at Mental Health & Counseling completely free of charge regardless of whether they have waived Yale Health Hospitalization/Specialty Care coverage.”
This is the official line — the language Yale puts on its website. And for the most part, it’s true. The University is committed to providing care to every student who needs it, without financial barriers.
But many students’ experiences tell another story.
Long waits for appointments, last-minute cancellations, unclear caps on numbers of visits. These stories are swirling on campus, leading students to say that if you truly need mental health services, you should go to a private provider, unaffiliated with the University.
It’s not hard to see why. One student, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, said her appointments simply weren’t long enough. Thirty-minute sessions, with delays and interruptions, in truth offered little more than 20 minutes of time with a psychiatrist. Her private sessions last 45 minutes.
Sometimes, even getting in the door proves difficult. After beginning treatment, one student said, her therapist canceled her second and third sessions. The week after, she walked into the office to find that she wasn’t even on the calendar.
According to the Yale College Council, 39 percent of undergraduates use MH&C’s services before graduating. Work remains in removing the stigma associated with seeking therapy at Yale, but this statistic indicates that many students do take the first step to find help.
These stories, and the University’s policy to limit some students to only 12 sessions a year, suggest that MH&C isn’t equipped to meet student demand. The result is that students are not getting the care they need.
“I technically still have one session left but I’ve been afraid to go,” said a student who was recently told her sessions were capped at 12. “What if I use it up on a good week, you know? Like what if I have a really terrible week, or I start having panic attacks again, and I call them and they’re like ‘sorry, you’re out.’”
Ultimately, we are at a loss to suggest specific funding increases. Neither Paul Genecin, director of Yale Health, nor Lorraine Siggins, chief of Mental Health & Counseling, responded to requests for information about the share of Yale Health’s budget devoted to mental health resources, and whether those numbers have changed in the past two decades.
Last April, Genecin told the News that the problem was not MH&C’s ability to provide crucial services, but rather unrealistic student expectations. He drew a comparison to Disney World, where customers expect to wait in line for several hours; when the wait turns out to be only an hour, they are elated.
But there’s a world of difference between waiting for roller coasters and waiting for mental health care.
Depression and anxiety can be intractable difficulties. But it’s not acceptable for people to go through Yale living with these burdens, without assistance, simply because Yale Health has failed them, or because the services our University offers have been so discredited that no one uses them at all.
Timely intake procedures and reliable, consistent treatment should be the norm, not the elusive hope.