The lack of financial resources makes stress and mental illness harder to cope with. I would know. For me, applying to college looked like juggling college applications and homework for school and extracurriculars, all while working full-time just so I could eat my next meal. When I found myself faced once again with financial instability at Yale while experiencing a panic disorder and manic depression, I had to ask myself: Why does Yale, with its vast financial resources, keep policies that force low-income students to work or take out loans for educational expenses?
Typically, students criticize the Student Income Contribution in that it restricts their time and makes academic and social life harder as a result. It does. However, we often fail to look at the consequences that the SIC has on students’ mental health.
At Yale, the knowledge that everything could fall apart with one economic emergency induces incredible anxiety for me — anxiety that is amplified by the SIC. Rather than dedicate time to get acclimated to this intense place, I have worked excessively to both pay the SIC and make sure my family would be okay in the event of an emergency.
Emergencies hurt my family during high school, and the danger follows me at Yale. My mother has had the same job for a while with no significant pay raise, and my dad has gone in and out of unemployment. The historic South Carolina floods that happened during high school forced us to pack our bags and leave my house unsure how significant the damage would be.
On top of the anxiety that I already feel because of my mental illness, I live under the fear that our house will flood again, and that this time we will lose it. In my late years of high school, my dad contracted congestive heart failure, which resulted in needing expensive surgery. The nature of his condition means that a terrifying medical emergency could arise at any minute.
Now that I’m in college, I have had to work to help my dad with the leftover medical bills from his surgery. Because of Yale’s policies, I also work hundreds more hours each year to cover my SIC, and working excessively means that I haven’t had time to heal.
Last summer, I began having panic attacks again. I felt more and more detached from my body. I felt like I was floating through space. Without dedicated time for care, I would not have gotten to a healthier mental state. But I was only able to put in that time and care because that episode fell in a period of my life when I had financial security. I know how much of a difference it makes to have enough time and resources to heal.
When I returned to school in the fall, I was faced with a heavy academic workload on top of many more stressors. I began having panic attacks and dissociating almost daily. I was in so much pain and in constant fear of the next panic attack being worse than the last. I fell behind so quickly in my classes. I cried myself to sleep most nights because none of my school work was getting done, which made me feel worse. I knew I needed a change, so I carved out time to see a psychiatrist, even when my campus jobs — to fulfill the SIC — and school work made it incredibly difficult.
The first drug I was prescribed gave me terrible insomnia. I could not sleep before 4:00 a.m., and the drug would keep me asleep until 5:00 p.m. the next day. I could not move most times when I woke up. I had no motivation and could do nothing about it. I stopped being able to go to my classes. But I had to pay the SIC whether I could manage to go to work or not.
While I was already worried about my dad’s medical bills, Yale continued to pit the SIC against my own health. My mental illness meant feeling like I was living a nightmare every day for the majority of last semester — a frozen and meaningless existence — and yet Yale didn’t seem to care enough to remove the financial burden that made things worse.
I know Yale has the resources to allow all low-income students more time to ensure they feel more mentally healthy. Yale knows it, too. In fact, Yale promises its students many things: full financial aid if necessary, support and medical care for mental health and a robust academic life. I am a student here, so I should be allowed full access to these promises, however I find myself struggling to cover educational costs, to manage my mental health and to succeed in my academics each semester.
I was promised full financial aid, but not once has that truly occurred in my time here. During last semester, I still had to work to pay the direct and indirect expenses that fall under the SIC. I fight against the SIC to ensure a better tomorrow for myself and all first-generation low-income (FGLI) or working-class students who have to hold student jobs at the expense of time better utilized strengthening their mental health.
I’m fighting so students can focus on being happy, healthy and successful as scholars. Working at the expense of my health is not a cost I can afford, but $3,700 is a cost that Yale can.
JORDAN YOUNG is a junior in Grace Hopper College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .