Content warning: This article contains references to suicide and self-harm.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.
To talk with a counselor from Yale Mental Health and Counseling, schedule a session here. On-call counselors are available at any time: call (203) 432-0290.
Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.
On March 23, Yale students received an email no one wants to receive. A student had died by suicide. I didn’t know Rachael. I graduated long before she even stepped foot on campus, but her story is so familiar. In the days following her death, my social media feed was flooded with students, past and present, grieving and sharing their experiences of mental illness at Yale. I was hardly surprised. In 2015, I wrote a story for the News about another student who died by suicide, and the News was subsequently filled with stories about students having poor experiences with the administration regarding their mental health. But I continue to be saddened and shocked by the massive number of Yalies who are now disclosing their stories.
I was diagnosed with depression in high school, but thought it would go away once my dream of attending Yale came true. Little did I know that my journey with mental illness was just beginning. The almost-casual cruelty of Yale’s competitive atmosphere almost destroyed me. The financial pressures of being a low-income student drove me to despair. I had panic attacks during finals, hiding in bathrooms until the moment passed. The YDN building sometimes felt like home but was also the place I contemplated suicide after hard nights of editing. My dorm room was the first place I had delusions and experienced severe paranoia. The symptoms of mania — lack of sleep and reckless behavior — were so normalized, even encouraged, that I didn’t even realize I was sick.
I didn’t tell anyone.
Negative experiences with peers and professors made me believe that I needed to “suck it up,” “get over it” or simply push it all to one side. So that’s what I tried to do. But it never worked. On paper, I had everything, but I felt as if I had nothing. I felt all alone. Unfortunately, the stories I now read on social media reveal that people were experiencing versions of the same thing all across campus.
So when I heard of the various responses from the university last week, I was shocked and disgusted. According to current students, Dean Marvin Chun wrote an email that ended with the line, “If you ask for support, you’ll get it.” Not only is that incredibly offensive to the students who asked for help and did not receive it, but it also shows a lack of understanding of why students don’t ask for help in the first place.
The notion that help is there if you ask for it is so situational and depends greatly on your unique combination of support systems. I didn’t ask for help for a reason. Sure, it is true that Yale Mental Health and Counseling is free for all students. But free isn’t useful when long wait times seem to be the norm. Recently, a friend waited over a month to receive an initial intake appointment. And, sure, it is technically true that — as Yale’s most recent press release says — no one is prohibited from taking time off. But Yale College students on medical withdrawal have to apply for reinstatement and go through a laborious set of requirements, including taking additional college credits at their own expense, with no guarantee of being able to return. I was too afraid to ask for help because I remembered hearing stories of people who had asked for help and been forcibly withdrawn. The possibility of being asked to leave — and of potentially never returning — was simply not a risk I was willing to take.
I had kind and supportive deans — something not everyone feels they can say. But I didn’t give them the details because I knew the consequences of doing so. I liked my therapist, but, even then, I didn’t tell them everything either. I certainly didn’t tell my professors. Asking for accommodations for a certified learning disability felt hard enough. Asking for a mental health reason seemed impossible.
While my initial reaction to the statements Yale put out this past week was shock and disgust, ultimately, I was hardly surprised. It seemed so typically Yale to respond to emotional trauma with a legalistic statement. In this way, the University has failed over and over again.
The fact that so many students push through Yale despite all this is no reason for the administration to turn its face away from the crisis of mental illness on campus. There are brave and bold students pushing for cultural change, but their efforts will be fruitless if the administration is not willing to reevaluate policy.
As an alum, I can say that my mental health got a lot better when I graduated from Yale College. But that hopeful message shouldn’t be a refrain Yalies utter to themselves in order to push through the so-called “bright college years.” I would say that it’s time for change, but that time passed a long time ago. Reform is overdue. Why aren’t suffering students more of an urgent concern? What must they prove in order for the administration to pay attention? I see the press releases and the statements but continue to be dissatisfied with my alma mater. Some compassion would be nice.
STEPHANIE ADDENBROOKE (’17 DIV ’20) is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Divinity School. She was the Editor in Chief of the Yale Daily News from 2015-16. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.