Three of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ representative bodies — the Graduate Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and the graduate student union Local 33 — are focused on improving access to mental health care for their constituents and have put this issue near the forefront of their agendas this year.

Yale Mental Health & Counseling offers free services to students enrolled at least halftime in a Yale degree program. MHC’s staff is composed of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers whose work includes consultations, counseling, psychotherapy and crisis intervention. Still, many graduate and professional student leaders remain worried that issues like long wait times to receive appointments are impeding MHC’s ability to fully treat all students who require care.

GSA Chair Wendy Xiao MED ’18 said that long wait times have been an ongoing concern for students seeking access to mental health care for many years and that students are sometimes forced to wait as long as several months.

“If you call in October saying you need help and then get matched with someone in January, it’s not very helpful to get you through what you were struggling with in October,” Xiao said.

According to MHC’s website, students who request an appointment are given an initial evaluation within two to four weekdays. Following that appointment, most students are connected with a therapist within a couple of weeks.

MHC allows for students to discuss their preferences for a clinician during the initial evaluation. It also allows for students to switch their therapist during the treatment process. Currently, MHC employs 27 clinicians plus one director.

For Local 33 Co-Chair Robin Canavan GRD ’19, the issue at hand is more than just mental health. Local 33 has pushed for wider access to mental health care in recent years, but the union remains at a legal standstill with the University and has yet to begin the collective bargaining process. Last month, a spokesman for the National Labor Relations Board said that the NLRB is still actively considering Yale’s appeals, which challenge Local 33’s right to unionize in eight academic departments.

“It’s very frustrating,” Canavan said. “This really is a crisis. … Waiting around while [Yale] stall[s] through all these legal delays is really disappointing. My friends, my colleagues — there’s a lot of people who struggle with this, and they need this to change now.”

A report written during the 2015–16 academic year by the Mental Health and Counseling Committee found an 11 percent increase in visits to MHC during that academic year. The report also found that in 2015–16, nearly half of all students — including those with acute situations — were connected with the department “without delay.” The committee is made up of directors of Yale Health and MHC, as well as representatives from the GSA and GPSS.

Canavan added that the report on graduate students being susceptible to mental health issues “totally jives” with her experience at the GSAS, and listed lowering wait times and fixing session caps — according to the MHC Committee report, most students who visit MHC have roughly six to eight appointments — as goals.

Xiao noted that being at a university can be a recipe for mental health issues, as students are usually no longer around their support systems from home and are often bogged down by work and research. A recent study of university students in Belgium found that one in every two graduate students experience psychological distress, and that the prevalence of mental health problems is higher within graduate student populations than any other in higher education.

GPSS Advocacy Chair Edward Courchaine GRD ’20 said that although he thinks that Yale does relatively well at providing mental health care to students, this does not necessarily mean that the standard for access to mental health care at universities is sufficient to meet the demand.

“Everyone now is starting to get the sense that this is something that we should pay attention to and need to put a lot of resources towards,” Courchaine said. “But until the broader infrastructure on the medical side expands, it’s going to be a very hard uphill fight because there aren’t that many clinicians out there to hire and bring to Yale.”

He added that his focus for mental health includes ensuring that professors and advisors are informed and supportive of all students, as well as bringing attention to the fact that many mental health issues are compounded by issues of diversity. The 2015–16 MHC Committee report addressed diversity training and recruitment within the department and noted that all staff would receive diversity training.

Courchaine noted that the GPSS is looking to fully scale up on the issue of mental health in the coming weeks, and that his talks with Yale Health personnel have been positive and constructive.

Local 33 voted to unionize in six departments in February, and the department tally rose to eight in April.

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