Karen Lin

In April 2021, following years of student advocacy for improved mental health resources and a rising number of students seeking counseling, University officials announced two new expansions to Yale’s mental health offerings.

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman unveiled Yale College Community Care, or “YC3,” a new program in the residential colleges that will add eight full-time staff members to support undergraduate students. They also announced a separate staffing increase of six full-time positions in Yale Mental Health and Counseling.

Of the eight new staff members affiliated with YC3, four will be college care clinicians — psychologists and licensed social workers whose offices will be located near the residential colleges. The college care clinicians will be part of the MHC staff, and will be available for confidential drop-in meetings. The remaining four hires will be community wellness specialists, and will eventually have offices in the residential colleges. These specialists will be integrated into residential college support systems, working with heads of colleges, deans, first-year counselors and peer liaisons.

In total, the expansion adds 14 full-time staff positions to Yale’s mental health resources, 10 of which will be MHC clinicians. According to the announcement email, the additional staff members will expand the “types and settings” available for students to receive mental health care and will make it “easier and faster” for students to receive counseling.

Although the changes had been in the works for several months, Chun and Hoffman’s announcement came amid increased student criticism of the University’s mental health services following the loss of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24, who died by suicide in March. While the official launch of YC3 is scheduled for fall 2021, two college care clinicians and two community wellness specialists were hired to begin work during the spring 2020 term.

“We are doing everything we can to indicate to students, faculty and staff that their mental health and well-being is pivotal,” University Provost Scott Strobel told the News in April. “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.”

Hoffman wrote in an April email to the News that the new initiatives aim to decrease student wait times for mental health treatment and allow for more frequent meetings with clinicians. Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Pericles Lewis told the News that the University is “very concerned” with providing mental health services to students.

Still, some students argue that the changes, while a step in the right direction, are not comprehensive enough. Alicia Abramson ’24, a member of the newly-formed student group Mental Health Justice at Yale, told the News that the University should hire many more counselors — including those who specialize in addressing specific mental illnesses such as eating disorders. She added that Yale should have enough counselors for students to have hour-long sessions with minimal wait times.

“We don’t need ‘wellness coordinators’ who give us tools and breathing exercises,” Abramson wrote in an April 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.”

Mental Health Justice at Yale has demanded a 50 percent increase of MHC clinician numbers by the end of 2021, 75 percent by the end of 2022 and 100 percent by the end of 2023. The expansions announced by Chun and Hoffman constitute a 30 percent increase over the original 33 clinicians. MHC also employs four additional clinicians that work either part-time or largely in supervision roles.

Other students have also expressed disappointment and anger over understaffing at MHC, which they say has contributed to long wait times and short therapy sessions. Two students interviewed by the News in March said they waited up to five weeks before being assigned a therapist after an initial evaluation appointment. The length and frequency of therapy sessions are based on assessments of individual student needs.

Leila Iskandarani ’22 told the News in March that upon her return to campus for the spring 2021 term, MHC informed her that she could only make an appointment every other week for half an hour.

“I can’t imagine that a half hour every other week would be enough time to be helpful for anyone,” Iskandarani said. “It sometimes feels as if they’re seeing us to say they’ve seen us, but not really investing enough time in each of us to address the issue.”

Various student groups have also called on Yale to hire more therapists of color, to allow clinicians to grant academic excuses and to increase transparency around Yale’s mental health policies.

Some students particularly expressed frustration around the perceived opacity of the University’s medical withdrawal policies. According to the Yale College Programs of Study, the University reserves the right to withdraw students for medical reasons. In this situation — which, according to Hoffman, “very rarely” occurs — the student must normally remain away for at least one full term, not including the term of withdrawal. In order to return to Yale, the student must then undergo a reinstatement process. Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd wrote in a March email to the News that “nearly all” requests for reinstatement are granted.

Still, some students said that fears over incurring a forced medical withdrawal prevented them from seeking mental health treatment. Other students told the News that they were discouraged from requesting a voluntary medical withdrawal due to the fact that they would have to withdraw for an entire year, rather than only the remainder of the term. Still others explained that rebate policies and the requirement of completing two college-level courses for reinstatement posed financial barriers to withdrawing.

“To make a student that has zero control over what they’re experiencing, whether it’s mental health related or physical health related — to make them choose between their well being and their Yale education is completely ridiculous,” said Griffin Wilson ’24, a student who considered a medical withdrawal due to struggles with mental health. “And ultimately it can lead to some pretty severe consequences.”

According to Hoffman, approximately one-third of Yale students seek treatment from MHC each year. The national average, he said, is around 12 to 13 percent.

Zhemin Shao | zhemin.shao@yale.edu

ZHEMIN SHAO
Zhemin Shao covers the Office of Career Strategy and entrepreneurship at Yale. Originally from Seattle, WA, he is a first year in Silliman College.