Yesterday evening, students, alumni and concerned allies shared our stories about mental illness and mental health care. Students Unite Now delivered 585 signatures to the President’s House on Hillhouse Avenue, as well as 585 letters to President Salovey, Dean Chun and the Yale Board this morning. These letters call on Yale to improve mental health on campus by eliminating the student income contribution, reducing wait times for therapy to two weeks and hiring more therapists of color and LGBTQ-affirming therapists. Inequality at Yale will only worsen without these changes.
Yale’s lack of proper mental health support was clear to me before the pandemic began. Like many others on financial aid, I don’t have the financial means to access mental health care elsewhere, making Yale’s services my only option while I complete my education. When I sought out mental health services at the start of my first year, however, I was left waiting until the last week of the semester to see a therapist — just to never hear back when I returned for spring term. Like many others, I was forgotten by Yale Mental Health and Counseling. At an institution with billions of dollars, this experience should never be the case, yet it was echoed in the stories of my peers at last evening’s Speak Out. Students voiced how long wait times for counseling left them to cope alone despite the pandemic’s disparate impact on working class students and racial and ethnic minorities. The pandemic’s effects raise the stakes of Yale investing in equitable mental health care and expanded financial aid.
Beyond the issue of wait times, many students who do see a therapist at MHC don’t receive quality care because few therapists share important aspects of our backgrounds. It did not surprise me that there is little ethnic and racial diversity among therapists at MHC. When I tried to receive care, I didn’t even think to ask for a therapist who was also Middle Eastern, a refugee or an immigrant. I thought I had to settle for whoever I could get, even though having a therapist who shared a crucial part of my identity was exactly what I needed. Without that shared identity, I would not be able to meaningfully discuss cultural stressors such as the particular remorse that comes with being far from home. Over the past two years, I have had to try to heal from generational trauma and familial guilt on my own, at the cost of my energy and well-being. I need Yale to meaningfully diversify its therapists so that my peers and I can have a fair chance to cultivate trust with a mental health professional.
Yesterday, students shared how Yale’s culture is fixated on overachievement, no matter the price on our health. This, of course, was not put on pause this academic year, exacerbating the already strained mental health of our student body. Academic standards have remained mostly the same in my classes, and in many cases, professors have not understood the stress students are under. Since the start of remote classes, I have felt a deep and constant fatigue from online schooling — something I have never felt before. After completing the daily chores of classes and studying, I have little energy for joy, especially when I don’t have the social support I grew used to from my peers. Being at home has had a heavy weight to it, and I was the loneliest I have ever been. I would benefit from quality support more now than ever, but students are still waiting weeks, often months, to see a therapist at MHC.
In gathering testimonies regarding mental health at Yale, I spoke with my friends about the pandemic’s effect on their lives. People I love and care for told me about having to work multiple jobs just to barely be able to pay the Student Income Contribution on their own. Others spending time at home had to take on more responsibility so that they could help support their families — all while being full-time students dealing with stress and loneliness and wanting proper mental health services that they were not receiving. Given heightened need, the recent hires at MHC are a step in the right direction, but not enough, especially since students warned the University last August about the impending mental health crisis.
It’s clear to me that I am not the only student who, now more than ever, will need support from a timely and representative counseling center. We also need full financial aid without the SIC. Like my peers, when I am back on campus, I will need these resources to facilitate healing my mental health to participate fully in my education. Healing from the past year alone will be hard for many of us, as the pandemic has exacerbated the isolation, poverty and racial inequity that some students faced before. The Yale Board of Trustees has a meeting tomorrow, and I hope they choose to listen to hundreds of students speaking out: to prevent inequity and harm on campus, we need mental health care and financial aid that is equitable along lines of race and class. As long as Yale waits, the health of its most vulnerable students will be the price it pays. While taking action on SUN’s demands alone is not enough to bring equity on campus, Yale will move backward on racial and class equity if it does not.
DEREEN SHIRNEKHI is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her column, titled ‘Interlude,’ runs monthly on Fridays. She is a member of Students Unite Now (SUN). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.