Paula Pineda

As a part of a larger effort to improve resources for the Mental Health & Counseling department on campus, the Yale College Council announced several changes to the system in an email Friday: Walk-in hours, reduced wait times, photos of clinicians on the Mental Health & Counseling website and a spotlight on non-medical counseling resources across campus.

The YCC has advocated for these changes for the past year, beginning with the 2019 release of a mental health report based on survey results and focus groups with students. The report pointed to long wait times and lack of access to professionals as two of Yale Mental Health & Counseling’s shortcomings. In response, YCC members met with leadership at Yale Health and helped plan these four action steps. Mental Health & Counseling is located on the third floor of Yale Health.

“For many, many years students have been asking for substantial improvements to Mental Health & Counseling at Yale,” YCC president Kahlil Greene ’21 said. “I hope that these changes will make Mental Health & Counseling more accessible and effective for the students that seek to utilize their services. This is the beginning of a larger process of bettering Yale’s ability to cater to students.”

Director of Mental Health & Counseling Paul Hoffman attributed the need for these improvements to a national uptick in students seeking mental health treatment. According to Hoffman, Yale has experienced double-digit increases in student demand for mental health services in four out of the last five years. Mental Health & Counseling had been looking for ways to match this new demand, and Hoffman said that the YCC’s report and advocacy helped them to bring about these specific changes.

In its email announcement, the YCC wrote that wait times at Mental Health & Counseling have been reduced by more than half. According to the 2019 report, students reported wait times at the center stretching from a “few weeks to months.” Hoffman said that they were able to cut down the times by adding more options for therapy, connecting patients with therapists who they had previously seen and creating a more efficient triage system.

“Our clinic offers excellent treatment, from a diverse and talented group of providers, but it’s hard for students to know that if the first thing they learn is that they have to wait,” Hoffman said. “By shortening that wait time, I hope that students will be able to take full advantage of the services that are here for them.”

Hoffman also mentioned the implementation of walk-in intake hours as an important improvement to the system. Mental Health & Counseling piloted a small-scale walk-in program in the fall, and it was highly successful. Plans are now in the works to scale up that program for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Gabi Wallk ’22, a Branford YCC Senator, served on the YCC Mental Health Services Committee this year and said she has had “lots of conversations” with Hoffman to secure these changes. She said that she has seen friends on campus who struggle with mental illness have difficulty accessing Mental Health & Counseling resources, which pushed her to try to improve the system.

“Though institutional change is slow, there is a fundamental urgency to day-to-day mental health struggles, and this required (and continues to require) grit and commitment on behalf of YCC and administrators to bring about change,” Wallk wrote in an email to the News.

Wallk also focused on identifying sources of counselling outside the Mental Health & Counseling office for students who are looking for counseling but not necessarily clinical support. She helped ensure that the contact information for over 30 members of Yale’s religious ministries were available on Yale’s informational sites to conduct another form of mental health counseling.

Still, the YCC’s work on improving Mental Health & Counseling is not finished, according to Wallk. Later in the semester, members are hoping to have a clinician meet-and-greet on Cross Campus and to pilot mental health programming and eventually drop-in hours in the Residential Colleges.

“I hope that students continue to trust us, and come forward to voice their concerns or potential improvements that could be made at Yale” said Katherine Du ’22, an Ezra Stiles YCC Senator who was also involved in collaborating with Mental Health & Counseling. “Our job is, and always has been, to make student voices heard and listened to by the administration.”

Free counseling appointments through the Mental Health & Counseling office are available to all students enrolled at least half time in a Yale degree program.

Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu