On Valentine’s Day, the News published an article detailing the Yale College Council’s recent mental health report. According to the article, nearly half of Yalies said “that they believe Yale does not do enough to tend to students’ mental health.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Yale’s Mental Health & Counseling services are the subject of constant student criticism. Columns have been published describing the department’s depressingly long wait times while working groups have been convened to address Yale College’s mandatory withdrawal policy. It’s no secret that our Mental Health & Counseling services need to be reexamined and reformed.
But conversations surrounding Mental Health & Counseling at Yale often leave out the department’s higher-ups — its decision-makers, that is — from the debate. Sure, we’re angry in theory, but we also know that Mental Health & Counseling is resource-stricken and cash-strapped. As frustrating as it may be, it makes sense that the department’s higher-ups can’t enact the reforms we call for. After all, they simply don’t have the money for it.
The problem is … that that’s not exactly true. I’ve spoken to the higher-ups, and they didn’t seem committed to changing things either.
Before I continue, I want to be clear. I am not claiming that the top brass at Yale’s Mental Health & Counseling department doesn’t care about students. I completely reject the idea that anyone at Yale Health has ever actively made a decision that wasn’t in students’ best interests. But in spite of budgetary restraints, these decision-makers could be doing much more for at-risk students. We ought to demand that they do.
For example, after a patient is hospitalized, one of the most important aspects for their successful reintegration into any community is avoiding the triggers and stressors that might exacerbate their anxiety. In order to be conducted successfully, this avoidance requires careful planning and extensive communication among the relevant people in the patient’s life.
At a place like Yale, where over half the undergraduate student body uses Yale’s Mental Health & Counseling services, reintegration requires a dogged network of institutional communication between clinicians, professors and college administrators. To successfully bring patients with mental illness back to Yale, everyone needs to be on the same page. When they aren’t, the consequences can be dire.
Tragically, Yale is no stranger to these consequences. In 2016, Hale Ross ’18, a Yale undergraduate who had just been reinstated after taking a leave of absence for mental health-related issues, committed suicide. Hale is more than a statistic, more than an afterthought. Rather, his story calls us to press Yale further, to fight for support structures that truly uplift reinstated students and their families.
I spoke to two non-Yale affiliated psychologists who described the difficulty of successfully reintegrating students with a history of mental illness into college environments. Having been point people in cases of college reinstatement, they told me that more often than not, college administrators are simply not adequately aware of the specifics of the students’ conditions.
Cornell, Princeton and Penn were all hit particularly hard between 2000 and the mid-2010s with on-campus suicide cases. As a result, those schools decided to partner with JED Campus, a nonprofit organization that works with colleges to assess their mental health resources, formulate a feedback report and develop a strategic, deliverable plan for the schools. JED also creates a centralized database of all the mental health and counseling resources available to students at their specific school, helping make information on those resources more readily available.
Yale is one of the only universities of its peers that has not followed suit.
In fact, when I proposed that Yale partner with JED last semester to two senior Yale Health administrators after the suicide of Thomas Lawrence ’21, they said they weren’t interested. I asked if they had an alternative proposal to reform Yale’s mental health services. They didn’t.
Instead, one of the administrators smiled at me and said encouragingly, “You know, there’s never a wait time if your condition is urgent.”
Maybe JED isn’t the right partnership after all. But working with them is certainly a step in the right direction. JED’s evaluative services are indispensable to Yale, and after all, if JED is good enough for Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Cornell and over 200 other schools, surely it’s good enough for us.
But even if we don’t partner with JED, it is concerning that the top brass of Yale’s Mental Health & Counseling department have no alternative to their current services. For a student body that is set to increase to over 6,000 students in the span of two years, having only 28 already oversubscribed mental health clinicians is not acceptable — not having a plan is intolerable.
It’s fine if Yale cannot afford to hire more clinicians or doesn’t want to partner with JED, but administrators need to provide and pursue concrete alternatives to revamping their services. It’s terrifying that our mental health department is comfortable with the low bar of eliminating wait times for those with “urgent” conditions. We should demand better from our administrators, for the sake of all students.
Sammy Landino is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .