If you don’t take care, graduate school can break your heart. The process of working for a doctoral degree is enormously difficult and stressful. You move to a new city where you don’t know anyone. You become dependent on the goodwill of a faculty advisor who’s both your mentor and your boss. You begin work on a long-term project that, by definition, will have unpredictable results. You become financially unstable and potentially career-insecure. And that’s the system at its best. What about the growing number of us — like me, a trans man — who somehow don’t fit the mold?
It’s no wonder, then, that there’s an extraordinary wave of demand for mental health and counseling in graduate schools across the country and at Yale. A recent study warned that “graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population.” This is as true here as anywhere. Eighty percent of graduate students seek mental health care while at Yale.
I’m an environmental engineer, and I work on projecting the future scenarios of society-wide environmental impacts. The pressures on scientists are ratcheting up year by year, as funding gets harder to obtain and academia becomes more competitive. We can all feel this ratchet. It makes me doubt myself, doubt my work, doubt whether I can make it here. I’ve worked to maintain my commitments —to myself, my work and to LGBTQ and racial justice activism. But it’s never easy.
I have a particular experience of mental health challenges as a trans man. Trans grad students are almost ten times likelier to experience anxiety and depression than the general population. Given the hostility in our society toward trans people, it never stops being a daily struggle — even here in New Haven. Just last year, a bus plastered with transphobic messages drove all around downtown and campus on Transgender Day of Visibility, trying to dehumanize us. We made our presence known at City Hall, highlighting our diverse community and ongoing struggles, on this year’s Day of Visibility at the end of March.
When I arrived in 2016, I knew I’d struggle. But when I went for my first intake appointment at Yale Health, the options for therapy were limited and confusing. I figured I should save up my quota for a time when I really needed it. A rationed system like the one available there in-house discourages people from seeking the care they need — that’s what it did to me.
Close friends arriving on campus with mental health diagnoses have waited months for appointments. I know many who haven’t sought care because the hurdles seem too high and the care is unreliable. I imagine that to meet so much demand is more expensive than Yale would like. But other institutions seem to manage it. Previously, I went to MIT, where it was straightforward to see the same therapist for several years running.
I was pleased this year that Yale began providing access to a broader pool of external therapists through the Magellan provider network — the system that other Yale staff use. Unlike with Yale Health, I was able to provide a list of criteria I wanted — someone who’d respect and understand where I was coming from.
I started seeing a therapist through Magellan in January, and we’ve built a trusting relationship. I’ve gotten a handle on some patterns in my relationships. I’ve made real progress and am taking better care of myself. But I was told that Magellan coverage, a stopgap, would end this summer.
So I participated in an organizing campaign. A group of us tabled, talked to peers, and collected over 100 comment cards for Yale Health on the importance of Magellan. We phone banked administrative offices seeking clarity, asking for Magellan to be made permanent and calling for a public announcement.
It was a welcome step forward when Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin wrote an email to the student body on Wednesday. He stated, “MHC will meet the growing need for services by continuing to refer some patients to community psychologists and clinical social workers through the Yale Magellan Mental Health network. Students may access this network of psychotherapists by referral from Yale Health.”
I applaud the administration for making the reasonable, humane choice to announce continued access to the Magellan network. But there are still some further steps to provide the necessary support system: It’s not yet clear if everyone will be eligible for Magellan going forward, or if the program will be genuinely permanent as opposed to year-to-year. Updating the website with clear, unambiguous language on these questions will allow me and the other 3,339 students who also sought care at MHC this year to breathe a sigh a relief.
Reed Miller is a PhD student in the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .