Editor’s note: It is the policy of the News not to publish anonymous stories. In this case, we have made an exception. The name of the writer has been withheld to give her the chance to speak freely and to ensure that the people she writes about also remain anonymous. The editors know the identity of the writer and have confirmed her story to the greatest extent possible.
It is notoriously difficult to get regular therapy at Yale Mental Health & Counseling if you haven’t been reported for contemplating suicide or an alcohol or drug incident.
Barely a month into my freshman year, I was raped by an upperclassman. I told few people, didn’t press charges and never confronted the person. I mostly felt stupid for allowing myself not to see the warning signs that he was going to pursue me regardless of my response.
I didn’t want to ruin his life or try to send him to jail. I just wanted back my peace of mind and a sense of faith in the world. I realized holding a grudge against him and constantly being angry would just be unproductive.
So I sought therapy. Mental health help, I was told, is incredibly accessible at Yale. I got an initial appointment after a few weeks of waiting and cried to my therapist for half an hour.
At the end, she told me the office sees two types of people. The first group is people they’re really, really happy to see because these people need help immediately, she said. The second group is people they don’t think need them as much, she added. Although she expressed gratitude that even people in this second group come to MH&C, what I heard was that they view people in two categories: those who want to kill themselves and those who don’t.
But you’re in the middle somewhere, she told me. You’re not in the first group, but I’ll bump you up from the second group so you’re not left waiting too long to get a therapist.
After pouring my heart out, I was told I wasn’t fully deserving of immediate therapy. Hearing a therapist talk about me like that was the last thing I needed. I understand that, given limited resources, it is essential to consider the relative urgency of each case. If there aren’t enough therapists, the office is forced to create hierarchies that prioritize the most pressing patients.
But I wonder why this problem even exists in the first place. To ensure they receive care, some of my friends have exaggerated the magnitude of their problems during their initial assessment.
When I heard this as a freshman, I felt like someone was telling me that my problems weren’t real enough. And even if it was a problem, I really didn’t want to have to hear about why I didn’t meet this arbitrary threshold.
So I left, more shaken than I’d ever been, and didn’t go back.
But a few months ago, I was assaulted again by the very same person. I’m a senior now. Though he had graduated, we were at the same conference for a shared extracurricular. Over the years, I had convinced myself that I could get over the first assault — maybe it was an honest mistake on his part — and that it was better to try to gain back whatever sense of normalcy I could.
And so, three years later, at the very beginning of this semester, I found myself once again bracing for an intake session at MH&C. After talking about the assault and an assortment of other issues, I was told I could only get biweekly therapy, not weekly therapy. I asked if I could see the therapist weekly — based on the calendar, biweekly therapy meant only a few sessions, and I strongly felt I needed a weekly appointment.
But the therapist disagreed. He said that, based on our discussion, he didn’t see a need for me to receive weekly therapy. When I pushed back, he ultimately said he did not have space in his calendar and could not refer me directly to one of his colleagues. If I wanted to find another therapist who had the time to meet weekly, I would have to be placed back in the general pool — a process that he warned could take months.
That stung. It took a lot for me to find the courage to seek mental health help again, and I was told once again I was mistaken: I didn’t need it as much as others did.
My therapist also told me I would have the option to switch to a female therapist. I initially declined but, after thinking about it for a day, I called the office and asked to switch to a female therapist given the nature of my experiences.
To my surprise, I was told I would be put back in the general pool of people waiting to be matched with a therapist, and that it might take weeks or even longer to get someone. It didn’t matter that I had already waited for a therapist. But I acquiesced. Fine, I said. I’ll wait for a female therapist.
A full month later, just this past week, I finally got a call back. I had been reassigned — to another male therapist.
When I first heard, I assumed it must have been an innocent bureaucratic mistake. Maybe the receptionist had forgotten to record my request. I called MH&C to explain my situation: I have unique issues that I talked about with my first therapist (hint: assault) and requested a female therapist. I was originally told my request would be granted if I waited a few weeks, I reminded them.
But they had recorded the request, and because it’s a “common request,” they couldn’t fulfill it. They considered all the factors, the receptionist said, and decided that they wouldn’t be able to give me one — after four weeks of silence and me waiting without therapy. Unbelievably, she offered me the opportunity to restart the process and take my chances once again.
Some friends told me to go to SHARE instead. But the things I wanted to talk about were much more than just issues of sexual assault. I was fighting a lot more with my boyfriend and taking out my frustration on him. I couldn’t enjoy my main extracurricular activity anymore because I associated the activity with my assailant. I resented our mutual friends for still talking to him. And ultimately, I felt this deep sense of injustice. He had assaulted me twice, and explicitly admitted to the second instance. But it seemed like no one was truly holding him accountable. Even I failed to hold him accountable the first time when I let myself become friends with him again. I just felt depressed. The crushing disappointment permeated every aspect of my life.
Perhaps SHARE could help me. But even if SHARE were capable of addressing issues beyond sexual assault, that does not excuse MH&C from its self-professed responsibilities. MH&C’s website explicitly advertises a list of 19 issues with which students often come to them — sexual assault being one of them. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable for expecting that they meet their own standards.
It’s not Yale’s job to ensure everyone’s always happy. That’s impossible. But they have a minimum obligation to provide some help to those who actively seek it out. When we leave our parents’ homes, we are trading a trust in them for a trust in our University to provide a minimum level of care.
This University pledges to pursue excellence in all it does. In many ways, it achieves that, from world-class faculty to a vibrant extracurricular scene. In some cases, when we fall short, it’s tolerable: When Yale loses to Harvard in football, it’s disappointing. But when our mental health facilities are subpar, it’s tragic. The stakes make it a totally different ball game.
In many areas of student life, satisfying most people is sufficient. If most people are satisfied with the dining hall food, the University succeeds. If most people are happy with their living arrangements, that seems pretty good. But “most” doesn’t cut it for mental health. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d hazard a guess that not even “most” people get the help they want.
To be fair, I’ve had friends who have had amazing experiences with MH&C — once they’re finally in the system. The therapists are well-meaning and hardworking. There just need to be more of them so that when someone actively seeks mental health care — something the University should be encouraging, not discouraging — it’s easily accessible.
According to the Yale College Council, roughly 40 percent of undergraduates will go to MH&C at some point during their undergraduate career. As shockingly simple as it sounds, we really need more therapists to meet this need.
The existing shortage has created a perverse catch-22: If you say you’re desperately upset and potentially suicidal, you may get kicked out, but if you say you need help but can still get by, you may not get any. Let’s fix that and serve all students who seek therapy, not just those who alarm the therapists at MH&C.
In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to play phone tag to schedule my next appointment.
The writer is a senior in Yale College.