Ngan Vu

The Yale College Council announced a new project collecting student testimonials on their experiences with Yale Mental Health & Counseling and plans to continue to push for improved mental health services on campus next year.

In a Monday email to the student body, Yale College Council President Saloni Rao ’20 announced the “YCC Mental Health and Counseling Testimonial Project,” inviting students to submit signed or anonymous accounts of their own personal experiences with Mental Health & Counseling. The submission form encourages students to provide specific dates, accounts of the actions taken, feelings about the experience and feedback for improvement. According to Rao, the YCC plans to pass along the testimonials to the incoming Director of Mental Health and Counseling, as Mental Health & Counseling director Lorraine Siggins is retiring in June.

The project comes amid larger pushes from the YCC to improve mental health resources on campus. The Council released a Fall 2018 report on mental health outlining results from its fall survey, which found that 59 percent of students surveyed believed that the quality of care at Mental Health & Counseling was favorable, but 54 percent “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” that wait times for mental health appointments were reasonable. The report also noted that 48.7 percent of the 2,181 respondents said that they believe Yale does not do enough to tend to students’ mental health.

“I sense so many other students’ frustration with the quality and accessibility of Mental Health & Counseling services,” Rao said. “What [the YCC’s] capacity is, is communication with students and student engagement … we can pull together data and data is fantastic, it supports things. But what really changes people’s minds and hearts is the gut-wrenching student testimonials about what has happened to them and experiences they’ve had with Mental Health & Counseling.”

In the Fall 2018 Mental Health Report, the YCC recommended reinstating the residential college Mental Health Fellows program and clarifying how to use the resource. According to Yale Health’s website, the Mental Health Fellows are clinicians assigned to each of 14 residential colleges that serve as additional resources for students, deans and heads of college to “discuss clinical issues and facilitate treatment” and make presentations about mental health- and wellness-related topics.

Rao said that, due to limited information available on Yale Health’s website, the YCC has been trying to clarify the details of the program and hoped to work with Yale Health to publicize the resource and make it more accessible to students. But Rao said that the YCC has had problems communicating with Yale Health about the program, and was not able to obtain a current list of Mental Health Fellows assigned to the colleges.

“I promised to do things on Mental Health & Counseling during my campaign, and I found it frustratingly difficult to get anything done,” Rao said. “I understand … Yale Health is its own institution — they do a lot of things, they carry out a lot of business, but that’s not an excuse for not being proactive to student needs.”

Siggins did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the YCC’s work on mental health and the state of the Mental Health Fellows program.

Audrey Huang ’21, a member of the Mental Health & Counseling Advisory Committee for Yale College, said that the committee has met with Yale Health officials once this semester, and noted that the officials seemed “fairly receptive” to the students’ suggestions.

Still, Huang added that when members of the group brought up programs that involved affiliations between mental health officials and residential colleges or cultural centers, Yale Health leadership said that they would be willing to establish those partnerships if deans reached out to Mental Health & Counseling.

YCC President-elect Kahlil Greene ’21 said that next year, the YCC plans to continue pushing for mental health reform, with an emphasis on promoting “cultural competency” among mental health clinicians to make mental health resources more welcoming and helpful for students of color, queer students and those with intersecting identities. He highlighted that the YCC will also continue to lobby for the expansion of the Mental Health Fellows program and wants to make sure that undergraduate input is considered when selecting the new director of Mental Health & Counseling.

Greene added that the YCC is also exploring possibilities for external oversight and evaluation of Yale’s mental health resources. He said that they are considering working with The Jed Foundation — which previously worked with the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a four-year mental health improvement program — to monitor and gauge the effectiveness of Yale’s system.

According to the Yale Health website, the Mental Health & Counseling Center has “approximately 28 therapists.”

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu