Content warning: This article contains references to self-harm.
Everyone complains about how bad mental health resources are at Yale. Although I have no firsthand experience with Yale Mental Health & Counseling, this issue is deeply personal to me. I might look like I’m doing fine now, but during my first semester at Yale, I hit the lowest point in my life. I was so anxious and depressed that I didn’t want to be alive most of the time. What’s more is that my mental health struggles go beyond just the past semester. I have anger issues and am so obsessed with perfection that it impairs my ability to enjoy life. Thankfully though, through medication and intensive talk therapy from a private provider over the past year and a half, I’ve become more stable and even happy at times.
I know I’m not alone in my struggles. Mental health is an epidemic at American colleges, with 40 percent of undergraduates nationwide stating that “they had felt so depressed it was difficult to function” in the past year, 12.9 percent stating they had contemplated suicide and 86.9 percent stating they had less serious but prevalent mental health concerns. In 2015, it was estimated that two-thirds of struggling students do not seek treatment. As such, these students are less likely to graduate than their peers. It’s worth noting that rates of mental illness for non-college attending people (of the same age) are significantly lower.
It’s no secret that Yale has inadequate resources to handle this epidemic. A report in the News from April 2018 found that a third of students were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the care received at Yale Health. Currently, around 20 percent of Yale students use services at Mental Health & Counseling, a number that has grown over 10 percent annually for the past few years. Most people express discontent that they have to wait upwards of two weeks just to secure an appointment and that there is a sincere lack of clinicians of color to help address students from various backgrounds.
The question now becomes what should be done about it and how it can be fixed. While I believe that investing more money in Yale’s mental health resources (more counselors, etc.) is crucial, I also want to shine a light on other factors, like Yale’s withdrawal policy. A rewriting of problematic policies like this one would be simple and make important strides towards meaningful change to mental health on campus.
In January 2015, the high-profile suicide of Luchang Wang ’17 shocked the Yale community. It was a tragedy that Wang blamed, in part, on Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies. Wang and other students were afraid that they would be forced to leave if they brought their mental health issues to light and would not be able to return once they left. As it currently stands, Yale can force students to leave if they “pose a danger to themselves or others,” all the while providing no clear policy or procedure for them to return. Students are also forced to take leave for an entire semester, during which they cannot visit campus and must demonstrate an ability to keep up with the academic demands of a Yale education.
Because of that same withdrawal policy, I wouldn’t be here if I had sought treatment at Yale Mental Health & Counseling last semester. I’m frightened to even consider my mental state if that had been the case, if I hadn’t had access to a private provider. Last semester, I was a danger to myself. I still have marks on my wrists from late nights sobbing in the bathroom stall while cutting myself, feeling hopeless and lonely. I’ve given myself three black eyes. I’ve punched so many walls in anger after feeling trapped in a cycle of depression and anxiety that some of the bones in my hand are bruised and probably broken. And although I’ve never had the intention to harm anyone else, it’s not unreasonable that it could have been determined that I wanted to.
A withdrawal would have left me completely cut off from campus, even though I live a mere 10 minutes down the road. There’s no doubt that I needed a lot of professional help, but I also needed to adapt to my new surroundings to improve my mood and acclimate to Yale. I needed to overcome my social anxiety in a daunting environment like this one, learning how to tackle the stress of Yale classes. I’m not going to lie and claim that I’m happy here, but I know that I’m doing much better than I would be if I were isolated at home.
The statistics tell me that my experiences are not unique, that I am not alone and that there are students here who have nowhere else to turn besides Yale Health. Although the resources are not at the level they should be, it’s a better option than nothing. Students should not be afraid to seek the only source of the help available due to a faulty withdrawal policy that isn’t crafted in their best interest. No one should be forced to leave campus except in extreme circumstances, when risk to self is severe enough to warrant hospitalization. There should not be a minimum duration for leave, and there must be clear policy that allows for academic accommodations during brief withdrawals. If a student decides that it is best for their mental health to take time off (a perfectly viable option), then they should still be allowed to participate in Yale socially, even if they are not attending classes. It does Yale no good to isolate a suffering portion of its student body, rendering them terrified of seeking the help they need.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article misstated that Yale’s clinician to student ratio is five times lower than the national average at comparably sized universities. In fact, it is the number of students at Yale per clinician that is five times lower than the national average at comparably sized universities.
Alex Kane is a first year in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .