Concerns about the lack of adequate mental health resources for graduate students surfaced again during a rally held Thursday by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization when protestors spoke through a loudspeaker about their personal struggles obtaining mental health services from the University. GESO’s demands are not unfounded — across Yale’s graduate and professional schools, 25 percent of students have reported using mental health services at Yale each year, but access to mental health resources continues to be an issue beyond Yale College where students claim the University does not provide enough support to meet student needs.
Following the open forums Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews held last spring to discuss the University’s new mental health website, the Wellness Project — an umbrella organization for new and existing mental health programs for all Yale students — has been unveiled this fall as mental health issues draw increased attention from students and administrators alike. The Project’s new website lists an array of mental health resources available to students, and other initiatives such as the student wellness grant — which provides up to $1,000 to support student well-being — have been added to encourage student participation in reforming Yale’s mental health system. But despite the range of new mental health offerings this semester, graduate and professional students interviewed expressed the need for more substantive improvements in their respective schools.
“We want to negotiate a contract with the Yale administration because too many graduate teachers and researchers who seek mental health services are experiencing long wait times and inadequate options for care,” Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, GESO chair, told the News, citing GESO’s focus on improving access to mental health resources.
Jifeng Shen GRD ’17, who said he had to wait six weeks to see a therapist at Yale Health in order to treat depression, also said a union with a contract would be able to guarantee adequate mental health care and secure the necessary administrative changes.
According to Yale Health’s 2015–16 Student Handbook, all eligible degree-candidate students enrolled half-time or more are covered by Yale Health Basic, which provides primary care services including mental health and counseling. The MH&C system, however, remains flawed.
“The main concern for those who need long-term care is that they are unable able to get it at Yale Health,” Alicia Steinmetz GRD ’19 said, emphasizing that Yale Health is mainly set up to accommodate short-term mental health care.
A member of the Graduate Student Assembly as well as a representative on the newly formed Wellness Committee, Steinmetz added that she is concerned that the lack of access to non-Yale physicians, which Yale Health Basic does not cover, is clogging the current mental health system because students can only seek in-house care covered by the insurance. In addition, Steinmetz said, students seeking mental health care for the first time are unable to enter an already-crowded system. The only real outlet students can turn to is the department of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, she said, which can provide mental health care to around 60 students a year on a first-come, first-served basis. Yet even this option is limited, Steinmetz said.
Danielle Bolling GRD ’16, a Ph.D. candidate in the child psychiatry department who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, said she has not been back to Yale Health’s MH&C since last winter, opting instead to see an outside therapist because she found the care at Yale Health inadequate.
Bolling added that because Yale does not offer Magellan — a health insurance option that provides for alternative mental health coverage outside of Yale Health — to students, she is required to pay for the outside care herself. Magellan is, however, included in the health plan for University employees.
“I think it can be especially problematic for graduate students who do research in the psychology or psychiatry departments, who might be deterred from MH&C because they have either direct or indirect academic connections to the providers on staff,” Bolling said, adding that she does not understand why Magellan is not offered to students so that outside care is a viable alternative, especially for those who seek more specialized treatment than what Yale Health currently offers.
But with the launch of the Wellness Project this past September, hopes of improving the current status quo have risen among students and administrators interviewed.
Bryan Yoon FES ’18, facilities and healthcare committee chair for the Graduate Student Assembly, said he believes the administration is moving in the right direction by engaging students in the process and offering the students wellness grants.
According to Goff-Crews, the Wellness Project Committee received more than 50 student wellness grant applications, roughly half of which came from graduate and professional school students and student groups. A subcommittee will review the proposals and notify applicants of the final decisions by Nov. 13.