A group of seven delegates from Yale attended the second annual Ivy League Mental Health Conference at Brown University this past weekend.
The three-day meeting, whose theme was “creating sustainable change in the Ivy League,” offered more than 70 students from the eight Ivy League schools a chance to discuss a wide range of issues related to mental health on campus, including medical leave, campuswide support systems and the effects of ableism and structural racism on the mental well-being of marginalized individuals. Mental health professionals put on professional workshops after which delegates examined current public health policies at their respective universities and attempted to craft policy goals for the future.
“Last year’s conference provoked a necessary conversation about mental health on our campuses in a collective sense, and this year, we wanted to build upon these conversations by taking concrete, actionable steps towards translating them into policy,” said conference co-chair Lacy Cano, a junior at Brown.
Each attending delegation was tasked with drafting a comprehensive plan that could be implemented on their return to campus. Attendee Sreeja Kodali ’18 — a member of Mind Matters, a student group aimed at raising awareness about mental health issues in the Yale community — said she appreciated the chance to learn from other campus representatives and hopes to bring some of the lessons learnt to Yale.
Brian Matusovsky ’19, another attendee and Mind Matters member, cited Brown’s Project LETS as a model for potential programs at Yale. LETS, which hosted the conference, runs educational workshops focusing on topics ranging from eating disorders to depression and anxiety, and pairs students with mentors who have lived with the same diagnosis.
Matusovsky said the Yale administration is making progress in providing mental health resources with programs such as Walden Peer Counseling and Mental Health & Counseling at Yale Health. However, he added that more must be done to deal with the stigma that continues to surround mental health.
“Many people are still scared of mental illnesses and scared of talking about them,” Matusovsky said, adding that mental health is a topic that cannot be ignored, as one out of every five people suffers from depression at one point in their lives, and that every one in five Yalies use mental health services on campus.
Kodali said one way to combat the taboo on discussions of mental health is to refrain from always treating mental illnesses as a problem to be fixed, but as a circumstance to be accommodated instead. She advocated for incorporating the term “neurodiversity” into conversations on mental health.
The conference also focused on building the institutional memory necessary to sustain advocacy on the topic and to create lasting changes, Cano said.
“We are only here for a fleeting four years, so how can we advocate for changes that will succeed in lasting beyond that?” Kodali asked. She added that the issues raised at the conference were not limited to Ivy League campuses, but to all institutions that lack the necessary accommodations for those who suffer from mental illness.
Organizers also sought to create various platforms beyond the conference for the delegations to continue their collaboration even after the closing ceremony, citing the importance of exchanging information and sharing resources.
“We hope for the scope of this conference to extend beyond the Ivy League into something of a mental health advocacy blueprint that can be applied and adapted to college campuses across the country,” Cano said.