Students have spoken loudly and clearly to voice their concerns about Yale’s student Mental Health and Counseling services. My colleagues and I hear their concerns, and we are addressing them. But even as we do, I want to reassure all students that our psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers care deeply about the students they work with, and about helping them thrive — not just academically, but in every way. MH&C strives to be a safe and supportive place.
The concerns that have been raised are varied. Some are logistical: Setting up appointments over the phone, rather than electronically, causes delays; the wait between an initial evaluation and the start of treatment may be long; and getting prescriptions filled quickly is sometimes challenging. Some of the difficulties are in communications: We need to find better ways to follow up on missed appointments, clarify issues about the length of treatment and provide more information about our services. We have work to do in these areas, and we have already begun doing it. As that work continues, I will continue to communicate about our progress and welcome the community’s continued engagement.
But I have a concern of my own, and it troubles me deeply: a distorted picture of MH&C seems to have emerged based on inaccurate comments that have recently been shared publicly and in the press. I worry that misinformation will cause students to be wary, or even untruthful, about what they say during therapy out of fear of triggering an involuntary medical withdrawal, a rare outcome that has dominated the public conversation about mental health. I worry also about the students who altogether avoid seeking treatment for the same reason.
Anxiety and depression, just to name two of the most common mental health issues students bring to us, are common and treatable. We see several thousand students every year who struggle with their mental health, and the vast majority of them remain in school. In fact, in most cases, students do well and stop treatment when they feel ready — often after a few sessions. In a small minority of cases, when they feel overwhelmed even with the support available to them, students do ask for medical withdrawals, voluntarily. And, yes, a tiny number must withdraw involuntarily when the risks to their health reach the level where staying in school is not possible. But this number is very small; the number of involuntary withdrawals in a year is in the low single digits, or zero. These students in almost every case return to graduate from Yale.
Each year, several thousand students are actively and constructively receiving support from MH&C, even as some students have struggled intensely with mental health issues and have been unhappy with their experiences. We see nearly 20 percent of undergraduates and approximately 25 percent of students in the graduate and professional schools, both in individual sessions and group therapy. We give them tools to help them handle anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sexual identity and grief — deeply pressing and personal struggles. I stress these numbers and name some of these difficulties in order to reassure students who are now in therapy who may question whether they can confide in their therapists, to reassure students who have avoided meeting with a therapist and to reassure anyone who is wrestling with mental health concerns. MH&C is a safe, caring and confidential place.
To the students who have voiced their concerns, I say: I hear you, and I am working with my dedicated team of mental health professionals to address these issues. But I also want to reassure all students on a point that may have been lost in recent public discussions about Mental Health and Counseling: We are here to help you succeed. This is the very nature of our work.
Paul Genecin is the director of Yale Health. Contact him at email@example.com.