Amay Tewari, Photo Editor
In an April 5 email sent to the Yale undergraduate student body, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and Director of Mental Health & Counseling at Yale Health Paul Hoffman announced long-planned expansions to Yale’s mental health services and plans to increase hiring at Yale Mental Health & Counseling. The changes came in the wake of widespread discussion about the University’s mental health policies, and an outpouring of frustration from students who feel underserved by Yale’s mental health services.
Some members of student mental health organizations on campus received this development positively, noting the importance of a larger clinical staff. But advocacy groups are continuing to push for increased accessibility to mental health services. The News spoke with students involved in Disability Empowerment for Yale, the Yale Student Mental Health Association, Yale College Council and the Mental Health Justice at Yale Coalition, who shared their opinions on the new updates.
“Yale has been aware of the problems at Mental Health and Counseling since at least 2013 as per a report on mental health by Yale College [Council] which highlighted the lack of University support in situations of forced leave, long wait times for appointments, and mental health stigma,” President of DEFY Mafalda von Alvensleben ’22, wrote in an email to the News. “So while these initiatives and expansions are wonderful, they are and have been almost a decade overdue, a pace that I hope is substantially expedited in the coming years.”
The new hires constitute a 30 percent increase in clinicians available to students. Mental Health Justice at Yale, a newly formed coalition, has demanded clinician numbers increase by 50 percent by the end of 2021, 75 percent by the end of 2022 and 100 percent by the end of 2023.
Beyond increasing the number of full time staff hired at YMHC, von Alvensleben suggested that the University’s policies surrounding disability issues, which include mental health issues, could be improved by increasing the staff of Student Accessibility Services — a group dedicated to ensuring accessibility for all students — and updating policies surrounding Dean’s excuses, attendance policies and leaves of absence.
According to von Alvensleben, DEFY is currently in the process of meeting with administrators about these issues. Additionally, DEFY runs a Disability Peer Mentor Program and is broadly focused on empowering disabled students through their meetings, events and advocacy campaigns, she said.
“In the end, I feel that Yale enjoys the benefits of the liberal halo emanating from campaigns for diversity, awareness raising, all wrapped up in the euphemistic language of ‘wellness’ without making the structural changes necessary for substantive change,” von Alvensleben said.
Katherine Du ’22, who is an Ezra Stiles Senator on the Yale College Council and the outreach and communications co-director for the Yale Student Mental Health Association, said that the administration understands the importance of mental health to student wellbeing and that the recently announced changes is a testament to the University’s dedication to improving mental health care at Yale. Despite that, Du noted that there is “still further work and investment which Yale needs to partake in.”
Du emphasized that increased transparency with regards to available mental health services would be beneficial for students to understand the services available and allow them voice concerns about services that are lacking.
“Many policies at Yale, such as for academics, are clearly delineated and even accessible through a simple Google search, but I don’t think this is true of Yale’s mental health policies,” Du said.
The YCC, according to president Aliesa Bahri ’22, has been continuing to advocate for expansions to Yale’s mental health services, specifically focusing on the hiring of more clinicians, in particular LGBTQ and BIPOC clinicians. In addition to this, the YCC has been advocating for more lenient reinstatement policies and shorter wait times for appointments, according to Bahri.
Currently, the YCC covers the cost of mental health first aid certification for students, a program that trains participants how to recognize and respond to signs of mental illness, and is collaborating with the Yale Student Mental Health Association to create an updated State of Mental Health at Yale report.
“Yale’s hiring of 6 more clinicians and the creation of the Yale College Community Care … is in line with the recommendations YCC has pushed for these past two years, but still, more must be done to ensure that every student has access to quality mental health care,” Bahri wrote in an email to the News.
Mental Health Justice at Yale is a student-run coalition that formed in response to the loss of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24, according to organizer Willow Sylvester ’22. Alicia Abramson ’24, another organizer of the coalition, said that the group aims to “overhaul Yale’s mental health care and related policies.”
Sylvester said that the coalition arose out of a group of frustrated Yale Young Democratic Socialists of America Members, Students Unite Now members, first-year counselors and other students.
The coalition has put forth a list of demands to the University administration, as well as circulated a petition among students, faculty and alumni focused on meeting these demands. This list of demands includes a more diverse selection of therapists, including specialized therapists trained to treat chronic mental illness, enabling clinicians to grant academic excuses, eliminating reinstatement requirements in the withdrawal process and introducing a Preferred Provider Organization insurance plan so that Yale students across the country can access out-of-network providers.
“Very few people actually need convincing — Yale alumni know firsthand how atrocious mental health care is here, and little has changed in the decades or years since they’ve attended. Faculty and staff see the detrimental effect that Yale’s policies have on student mental health,” Abramson said. “Students themselves are experiencing it right now. It’s up to [the] Yale administration to listen to what the Yale community has been demanding for years.”
The Yale administration did not respond to a request for comment on student responses to the University’s policies regarding mental health.
Lucy Hodgman | email@example.com