Yasmine Halmane, Staff Photographer

On Monday afternoon, University and Yale College administrators unveiled new additions and reforms to University mental health offerings as students continue to push for change.

In an April 5 email to undergraduates, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman announced two expansions to mental health resources that will together add 14 full-time staff positions, ten of which will be MHC clinicians, to Yale’s mental health resources. University Provost Scott Strobel and Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Pericles Lewis also told the News about Yale’s increasing prioritization of mental health resources. 

The changes, though in the works for many months, come at a time of heightened student criticism of Yale’s mental health and wellness resources. They were also announced just one day before a new coalition of students, Mental Health Justice at Yale, released a set of demands for reforms to Yale’s mental health services. Those demands include doubling the duration of the default counseling session from 30 minutes to one hour, allowing healthcare professionals to write Dean’s excuses and switching to a Preferred Partner Organization insurance option, which would give students more flexibility to work with outside providers.

The coalition has also demanded that MHC increase current clinician numbers by 50 percent by the end of 2021, 75 percent by the end of 2022 and 100 percent by the end of 2023. The ten new clinicians added to MHC staff constitute a 30 percent increase.

“We are doing everything we can to indicate to students, faculty and staff that their mental health and well-being is pivotal,” Strobel told the News. “Use support systems and resources provided by the University and reach out to friends, counselors, mentors, deans, heads of colleges and chaplains. It is important that we remain connected to people and help connect those who need extra support to necessary resources on campus. We stand ready to help.”

The first expansion of Yale’s mental health resources will be a new program in the residential colleges called Yale College Community Care, also known as “YC3” for short. YC3 will include eight new full-time staff members who will be affiliated with specific residential colleges and will support undergraduate students.

According to the email from Chun and Hoffman, the eight new residential college staff members include four college care clinicians and four community wellness specialists. College care clinicians are psychologists and licensed social workers available for drop-in support. Their offices will be near the residential colleges rather than in Yale Health. However, the clinicians are still a part of Yale Mental Health and Counseling staff, and meetings with them will be confidential. On the other hand, the community wellness specialists will be available to work with students on “practical strategies for your overall well-being.” These specialists will eventually have offices in the residential colleges, and they will work with heads of colleges, deans, first-year counselors and peer liaisons, forming a part of each residential college’s support system. 

“All eight YC3 clinicians and specialists expand the types and settings for mental health support and make it easier and faster for you to get counseling,” reads the email from Chun and Hoffman. “You can turn to any of them, even if you are unsure which option is best for you. Along with their own services, the YC3 staff will provide a pathway if you are thinking about pursuing more formal, ongoing therapy through Mental Health and Counseling.”

The other major announcement in the email was that MHC would add six new full-time positions at its Lock Street location, totaling ten new clinicians. There are currently 33 full-time clinicians employed at MHC. An additional four are either part-time or mainly do supervision, according to Hoffman.

While the formal launch for the YC3 initiative is scheduled for the next academic year, the program has already begun operations. According to the email, two college care clinicians and two community wellness specialists have been hired and are working this semester. While students have the option to meet with both the college care clinicians and the community wellness specialists virtually this semester, they may also meet with the community wellness specialists in person for socially distanced consultations outside.

According to Chun, both initiatives have been long in the works. According to the email, student groups and individual students have been providing feedback on the program in its early stages, and the program will continue to incorporate student feedback as its rollout continues.

“The University has been hearing from students for many years about the need to expand our mental health resources,” Chun told the News. “The expansion in MHC is something that they’ve been working on for a long time. They have continued to expand over the years, but this will be an even sharper expansion of their staff resources. The separate program of YC3 is something I have been working on for the past two years or so together with the college heads and deans, and also with students.”

The changes are a response to a significant increase in the number of students utilizing the services. Hoffman noted a nationwide increase in the number of students seeking mental health treatment over the past few years. At Yale, there has been a nearly 70 percent increase in the number of students seeking counseling since 2015.

About a third of Yale students seek treatment from MHC each year, compared to a national average of around 12 to 13 percent, Hoffman explained.

The Vice President’s Council — which consists of all the University vice presidents, University President Peter Salovey and Strobel — discussed student mental health at a late March meeting, particularly trying to ensure that Yale has the appropriate staffing levels and structures for responding to students’ mental health needs, Lewis said. He added that the University is “very concerned” about providing students with mental health services.

“The major aim of this plan is to decrease students’ wait time to begin treatment and to allow students seeking counseling to meet more often with their clinician,” Hoffman wrote in an email to the News.

But students who have been organizing for more comprehensive reform said that the changes — though a start — do not get to the root of the problem. Alicia Abramson ’24, of the group Mental Health Justice at Yale, said the University should hire many more counselors, including people who specialize in a broader array of mental illnesses. Yale should have enough counselors that every student can have an hourlong session with minimal intake time, she said.

Josie Steuer Ingall ’24, of the advocacy group Disability Empowerment for Yale, said that while it is good that Yale has increased its counseling capacity, there are larger structural issues to overcome. The University is structured for students to overwork, she said, and “investment in medical infrastructure that is designed to placate us” can only do so much, Steuer Ingall wrote in an email to the News.

In regard to the YC3 program, Abramson raised concerns that the limited number of residential college counselors would not have the capacity to provide long-term care for students. Additionally, she said the community wellness specialists are not an adequate substitute for therapy.

“We don’t need ‘wellness coordinators’ who give us tools and breathing exercises,” Abramson wrote in an email to the News. “We need actual, long-term mental health care. The wellness specialists are a band-aid solution to Yale’s completely inadequate mental health resources.”

Abramson added that the culture of productivity and resume-building endemic to Yale is “hugely detrimental” to students’ mental health. Students could change how extracurriculars are run to make them more accessible, Abramson wrote in an email to the News. But she said the onus lies on the administration and Yale’s faculty to change their policies to prioritize mental health. An example is allowing clinicians to write academic excuses, instead of having students go through their residential college dean, she said.

According to the April 5 email, both new mental health resource initiatives were funded by the support of anonymous donors and the offices of the president and the provost.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu 

Clarification, Apr. 7: This story has been updated to include the fact that MHC employs four additional clinicians on top of the 33 full-time clinicians that work either part-time or mainly in supervision.