The University’s decision to address problems with Yale Mental Health and Counseling is sensible and heartening. It represents a swift and fairly thorough response to the public outcry over the failure to provide students adequate mental health care. What’s more, it does justice to the memory of Luchang Wang ’17, who took her life last month, indicting mental health policies in a note she posted to Facebook just before.
Coupled with the work of Yale College’s committee on withdrawal and readmission, the changes outlined in a Thursday email from Paul Genecin, director of Yale Health, could yield important progress. We say “could” because this marks the beginning, not the end, of the process — and because there are early signs that many of the changes are shallow.
Most substantively, Yale Health is hiring more psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers. Currently, the center employs 28 clinicians, in addition to Lorraine Siggins, who heads the department. It has become clear that this is woefully inadequate.
Nearly 40 percent of undergraduates use mental health resources before graduating, according to data collected by the Yale College Council. Yet many report significant barriers to access: long waits for appointments, last-minute cancellations, poorly explained caps on visits. Especially troubling are cases of students being told their problems are not sufficiently dire to warrant regular treatment. This puts them in a bind, according to students who’ve shared their stories with us: If you admit you’re desperate, perhaps even suicidal, you risk being forced to leave, yet if you say you need help, but can get through the day, you’re an afterthought.
We’re optimistic that many of these problems can be allayed by a staffing increase. Yet we wish Genecin had been more specific, perhaps shedding light on the scale of the increase we might expect. Surely specific details are subject to change, but “more” is ultimately an empty promise. A reporter who sought clarity on this question from Genecin and Siggins heard nothing by way of response.
Of the other improvements Genecin touts, many of which are new ways of describing existing resources, the confidential telephone line is an encouraging move. Students who are dissatisfied with MH&C now have a clear avenue to report complaints about their care. Daniel Champagne has taken on the role of student advocate and can be reached at 203-436-9503. Students can also send him confidential messages at MHCStudentAssistance@yale.edu.
And yet, two calls placed to this number Thursday went to voicemail. An email to Champagne returned an “out of the office” automated message. This is not an auspicious start.
Even so, we are glad that University administrators have seen fit to hold a forum allowing students to voice complaints and give input on these changes.
Next Wednesday, Feb. 25, Genecin and Siggins will join Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews for an open forum on mental health. John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, an English professor chairing the committee on withdrawal and readmission, will also attend the hour-long forum, from 6 to 7 p.m. The value of this public event cannot be overstated, not least because it acknowledges that issues with day-to-day resources and care cannot be divorced from the policies governing withdrawal and readmission.
Holloway should be lauded for forming the committee that is currently examining these policies, reforms to which are long overdue. He has also made efforts to be responsive to students who’ve written to him directly to request changes. We welcome Holloway’s leadership on this issue.
The most important implication of Genecin’s note is the possibility that more members of the Yale community may get the help they need. But it’s also a ringing endorsement of the power of students to demand more from their University.
Remember that you are owed respect and attention as a constituent of Yale, a presence on campus for at least four years.
“We value your contributions as we strive to expand and improve student mental health services,” Genecin wrote in Thursday’s email. “We are fortunate to work with a team of mental health professionals in [Mental Health and Counseling] who are committed to the mental health of all Yale College students.”
So, too, is the University fortunate to have students who refuse to be silent, bent on making Yale a better place.
“We want to hear from you; please come talk to us,” Genecin concluded.
We’ll see you on Wednesday evening.