Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.
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.
Careline (carelinealaska.com) is a statewide hotline available 24/7 at 1-877-266-4357 (HELP) and staffed by Alaskans for Alaskans.
To talk with a counselor from Yale Mental Health and Counseling, schedule a session here and also here. On-call counselors are available at any time: call (203) 432-0290.
The Chaplain’s Office staff are also available: schedule an appointment here, write directly to any of the staff or call (203) 432-1128 during business hours. Walden Peer Counseling is available from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night. To speak with a trained peer counselor, call (203) 432-8255. To speak with Dr. Eunice Yuen from the Asian American Cultural Center, schedule an appointment here. Good Life Center Woodbridge Fellow Alex Vaghenas offers 30-minute non-clinical wellness chats to support students in coping with stress and anxiety, and to hear about whatever else is on their mind. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a one-time session or a recurring time to chat.
Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.
I wish I had a chance to talk to them. To give them comfort. To give them one more good day. But when you want to die, that crime above all crimes, it’s too much of a risk. You’re afraid someone will find your note, your Google searches. You stop reaching out.
The option my therapist presented to me when I reached this stage of suicidality was medical withdrawal. It’s often called “medical leave,” but I want to be clear: It is not a leave of absence. You are withdrawing your enrollment from Yale.
If you are considering withdrawal, I want you to know these facts: As a withdrawn student, you still have your NetID, you can still apply to programs like Yale Summer Session, and you are not restricted in your ability to contact professors and other students. You do not have to re-apply to Yale, and your application for reinstatement is very likely to be accepted.
However, you cannot return to campus without explicit permission from your dean. You do not have access to Yale Mental Health and Counseling. Once your request to withdraw is approved, you have 72 hours to move out, including booking any flights and shipping your belongings. To re-enroll, you have to submit an application including taking two credits (in YSS or through another university), an essay, an interview and recommendation letters. Even as you apply for reinstatement, you are not eligible for housing lotteries or class pre-registration.
In short, I felt that the University wanted me to disappear at a time when I was already feeling suicidal.
When I spoke to deans and therapists about medical withdrawal, they seemed to believe it was the only solution to student suicidality. I was very lucky. I had a peaceful environment for recovery at home. I had friends and family to return to. I was academically in a good place. I was looking forward to getting a puppy. If I hadn’t been so lucky, especially if my home life caused or worsened my mental health deterioration, the one-size-fits-all-ness of medical withdrawal would have been an unacceptable solution. I was not offered any alternatives.
For the month of February 2020, all I could think about was that binary choice: withdraw and leave behind the life I’d worked so hard for, or stay and risk everything. Every decision in that process was guided by fear of control being taken away from me — I told my dean that I was struggling with suicide because I was afraid she would find out after I attempted something. I agreed to meet weekly with both her and my therapist because I felt like a liability to the University. I withdrew because I was afraid that if I didn’t, I would end up in the hospital and then be told to withdraw. It’s telling of my pathology that I was more afraid of being forced to leave Yale than I was of dying… but that’s just it. My pathology was the very thing we were trying to resolve, and it was worsened tenfold by the policies intended to alleviate it.
This, in the fog that was the worst time of my life, is what my brain heard: You are a danger to yourself and those around you. You are a liability to the University. Get out or we will force you out.
My first few months away from Yale truly felt like a “withdrawal” — I suddenly severed myself from my best friends, my freedom, everything I valued about growing into an adult at Yale. I was left to navigate the private health care system and fumble my way through reinstatement requirements… in the midst of COVID, no less, a situation in which everyone has been subject to the isolation and fear that used to claim my every day.
“Used to” is an important phrase here. In hindsight, going on medical withdrawal was the best decision I have ever made. I needed that year away from the Yale bubble to rediscover my priorities in life. It’s hard to imagine, now, that I had nearly killed myself over something as arbitrary as a choice of major, over worries as small as an exam grade. I’ve heard that most students who go on leave or withdrawal are ultimately happy with their decision; I believe them. But how much easier would it have been to come to that decision if I had known all the rules up front? If I hadn’t been treated like a delinquent because of something I couldn’t control?
I have no desire to condemn MHC or anyone else involved in the process. Every individual did their best in a situation where the best simply isn’t enough. But I cannot minimize the frustration and, without exaggeration, mental anguish I felt at the sterility, opacity and blame of the rules surrounding medical withdrawal.
Students who consider medical withdrawal are already in incredibly vulnerable psychological positions. We should show them the utmost compassion and support as they go through some of the most difficult times of their lives. Policies should be clearly written and easily accessible.
If you are considering withdrawal, please know that there are people at Yale who understand what you are going through and want you to keep going. The solution to suicidality is not binary, and there are good days just waiting for you to arrive. You are brave for making the choice, regardless of whether you choose to withdraw or to stay.
“It’s a major step. It’s okay to fret. … It’s a second chance. It won’t be your last.” – “Breakfast” by Half Alive.
NANCY XU is a rising junior in Silliman College. Contact her at email@example.com.