Yale Daily News

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide

Tyler Brown ’23 sought counseling in his first year, after noticing that he was talking to his friends more about his own mental health. 

“It got to the point where my friends were acting as my therapist,” Brown said. “I was coming to them with all of these problems, and I realized this was not a sustainable way to be friends with people or take care of mental health problems. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go deal with this in whatever way I can. I didn’t want it to be a big thing.’”

Although Brown contacted Yale Mental Health and Counseling to schedule an appointment in October 2019, he did not have his first meeting with a clinician until after Thanksgiving break of that year. He had three 30-minute meetings with a counselor in which he outlined his feelings of anxiety and depression, but decided to stop going after the counselor offered him a brochure, which listed general mental health challenges faced by students. 

“He was like, ‘Here’s some problems people have — read this and tell me what you think about it next time,’” Brown recalled. “And then I just stopped going, because I was like, ‘This is useless.’ He reached out after I missed two appointments to say, ‘Are you going to come back? Do you want to follow up?’ At this point it was the middle of the early pandemic. I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to try this anymore.’”

In filmed interviews with the News, five students detailed the ongoing challenges of pursuing adequate mental health support on campus. 

The options for mental health care available to Yale students have come under renewed scrutiny after first-year student Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum died by suicide in March 2021. The weeks immediately after Shaw-Rosenbaum’s death saw an outpouring of student grievances about Yale Mental Health and Counseling, as well as the University’s medical withdrawal policies and overall culture surrounding mental health. 

Last spring, the University announced an expansion to its mental health services called Yale College Community Care, which is distinct from MHC. At the same time, Yale hired 14 new mental health staffers — 10 clinicians and four community wellness specialists — to augment student support.

“The university is dedicated to ensuring Yale’s mental health services grow alongside need,” University spokesperson Karen Peart said. “Yale has introduced new mental health programs that offer quick access and embed clinicians and wellness specialists in the residential college structure, increased the number of staff and added a new satellite clinic to meet this growing need.”

MHC Director Paul Hoffman told the News that YMHC is currently “planning several expansions” with student interests in mind.

An “Expectation of Perfection” 

Brown described a cultural pressure at the University to achieve, even when that comes at the expense of mental well-being. 

“The bar is so high,” Brown said. “You have to perform and you have to be healthy in order to meet this vision of a Yale student. People will keep moving on and say, ‘Okay, you know, everyone around me seems to be doing fine. They’re not struggling. I should be fine, too. I shouldn’t need these resources, even though they’re there for me.’ I think the stigma on mental health is very much amplified here.”

Jonah Chang ’23 said that the privilege of being at an institution like Yale sometimes had the effect of making him feel ashamed of his struggles with mental health.

“Many of us are just so fortunate to be here,” Chang said. “It makes you feel guilty for not being happy or not having a great time because you know that there are thousands and thousands of people who would love to have the opportunity to be where you are now.”

Although students should try to make the most of their Yale education, Brown said, there is a limit to how much an individual person can perform.

“I think a systemic problem in my academic life is this expectation of perfection,” Brown said. “Classes don’t really have restrictions on what they can ask of you.”

During her sophomore year, Holly Basile ’23 considered withdrawing from Yale because she was in such a bad place mentally.

“It’s a very big misconception that you have to do Yale in four years, and you have to get an internship, all that sort of stuff,” she said. “It’s really brave to take time for yourself and to take a year off. During COVID, we sort of saw more people taking time off and it being more acceptable, and I hope that continues as time goes on.”

Basile eventually did take a year off, delaying the start of her junior year to focus on her mental health in a partial hospitalization program, and later, residential treatment, both of which she found meaningfully helpful. 

“When I told people, I said it was because of COVID,” Basile said. “In reality, I was just too scared to tell people that I had mental health issues and I really needed help.” 

Shruti Parthasarathy ’24 emphasized that a supportive culture surrounding mental health care at Yale is dependent on a campus environment in which the decision to seek mental health care is free from stigma. 

For Parthasarathy, the development of a campus that fosters open discussion of mental health is an ongoing process. 

“No matter what, we can always have more dialogue on campus about mental health, and no matter what, we can always encourage more of our peers and create a stronger social network,” Parthasarathy said. “I really don’t think it’s something that starts and ends, it’s just an evergreen process.” 

Avenues for care

Several Yale organizations provide options for mental health care, ranging from peer counseling to clinical treatment. 

Mental Health and Counseling, Yale’s primary mental health care department, offers individual, group and couples therapy with licensed clinicians. After an initial intake session, students can meet with clinicians to determine the regularity of their therapy and the length of time for which it will continue. 

Yale College Community Care, or YC3, offers undergraduate students drop-in support with four college care clinicians and four community wellness specialists. Clinicians are licensed psychologists and social workers, while community wellness specialists are nonlicensed wellness professionals.

“YC3 serves as a resource to help support students with pressing issues; usually, the YC3 team can see students within a few days,” community wellness specialist Corinne Coia wrote in an email to the News. “We are able to keep our appointments open for everyone by offering short-term care of roughly 1-4 sessions. If a student ends up needing to see us again later, that is okay too.”

Coia said that YC3 is intended to complement the services offered by MHC, explaining that students can use the program while waiting to be assigned to a MHC clinician or on top of ongoing therapy. 

Also available is Walden Peer Counseling, an organization which pairs students with anonymous undergraduate counselors who have been trained on mental health issues at Yale. 

“While therapy is a great option for many students, it can often be difficult to access quickly and can feel sort of daunting,” a representative from Walden said. 

The representative, who asked not to be named since the organization operates on the premise of anonymity, explained that Walden’s counseling is “nonjudgmental and nondirective,” meaning that counselors do not offer their own opinions on callers’ circumstances. 

Additionally, Walden provides an “instant” service, connecting students to counselors as soon as they call. 

“Walden is a really accessible resource, and it’s vitally important that students have options that they feel they can turn to at any time without having to make an appointment or do an intake,” the representative wrote in an email to the News. “Additionally, talking to a peer can be very helpful for some students who may feel more comfortable confiding in someone who’s shared some of their experiences, and who is completely anonymous to them.”

According to the representative, Walden “does not track [caller] data very precisely.”

The representative encouraged students to explore a range of services beyond MHC in order to determine what they find most helpful. 

Student stories

Several of the students interviewed by the News, however, had challenging experiences seeking mental health care through MHC. 

According to Brown, the MHC counselor he saw seemed better equipped to help students with concrete, resolvable issues, like stress over a course or a conflict with a friend. During his appointment, the counselor asked what specific problems he could fix.

“I told him several times, ‘There’s nothing specific. It’s just this general problem. I’m sad for no reason and anxious for no reason,’” Brown said. “I think the problem I felt was that my mental health problems were not what this system was designed to handle. In some ways, my criticism of Yale Mental Health isn’t that they don’t do a good job, but that they’re not focusing on the right thing.”

Like Brown, Basile said that the counseling from MHC felt “surface-level.” Basile took issue in particular with the 45-minute length of her sessions. 

Toward the end of Basile’s first year, her friends encouraged her to seek help through MHC. Basile initially had an easy time finding a therapist, which she speculated was because she requested one at the end of the academic year. 

However, Basile’s experience with her therapist was “frustrating,” she said.

Basile recalled an incident which she thought was inappropriate, when she told her therapist that she had called the crisis line. 

“She asked me why I called the crisis line, but it wasn’t in a nice way, to be understanding,” Basile said. “It was like, ‘Why’d you call the crisis line? Other people are more in crisis than you.’ It was very judgemental, and that really affected me. Then I started becoming scared to call the crisis line, which was not healthy because I needed it.” 

At the beginning of her sophomore year, Basile requested to change therapists. However, since she was told that there would be a three-week wait for another clinician, Basile elected to stay with her original therapist instead of going almost a month without care.

In the middle of a “rough sophomore year,” Basile was sent home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Going home was pretty isolating,” Basile said. “My home life isn’t too great, so it was definitely a struggle, and my mental health just declined. I kept isolating myself, and COVID made it very easy to do that. I ended up in the hospital, and after that experience, I decided to take the year off and take care of myself.” 

Now, after focusing on her mental health in a partial hospitalization program and residential treatment, during her year away from Yale, Basile is back in MHC counseling. 

“I did not want to go back to Yale Mental Health for treatment,” Basile said. “I was actually hoping to get a psychiatrist with Yale Mental Health but then get a therapist outside Yale Mental Health because I need a lot of therapy and the 45-minute session once a week is not enough for me, especially as someone coming out of treatment, where I was taken care of 24/7. It’s been pretty difficult.” 

Hoffman declined to comment on the record about the issues raised by these students.

“The university is dedicated to ensuring Yale’s mental health services grow alongside need,” University spokesperson Karen Peart said. “Yale has introduced new mental health programs that offer quick access and embed clinicians and wellness specialists in the residential college structure, increased the number of staff and added a new satellite clinic to meet this growing need.”

Basile said that she had had a more positive experience utilizing YC3 services than those offered by MHC, and suggested that YC3 could be helpful for someone in a situation in which they need immediate attention. 

Chang also voiced his support for the YC3 program, adding that the short wait times of the program made it helpful for those in need of short-term care. 

“I think it’s really good for people who may just have gone through a tough week,” Chang said. “You don’t really need to see someone every single week, but it’s nice to have someone to talk to without placing a big emotional burden on your friends.”

Administrator priorities

Hoffman pointed to the addition of the YC3 program, as well as the addition of a second MHC clinic location at 205 Whitney Ave., as examples of recent expansions of mental healthcare at Yale. He added that the department was planning additional efforts.

Announced in an email to the student body on Nov. 2, the new clinic will accommodate the MHC staff, which increased last spring with the hiring of eight clinicians. 

Hoffman said that the new MHC location will allow students to attend both individual and group therapy, when they previously were required to attend either one or the other. 

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun also commended YC3, saying that the expansion was a “very big launch.”

“I think we’re doing really well in that regard,” Chun said. “The feedback I’m getting from residential college deans is that students are finding YC3 clinicians and wellness specialists to be very helpful.”

Chun added that the last he had heard, YC3 wait time was still typically less than two days, and clinicians and wellness specialists were often able to accommodate same-day meetings and appointments.

“I know how challenging it can be as a student seeking treatment to have to be told that you cannot get treatment right away,” Hoffman wrote in an email to the News. “This is why we have been working to create different pathways like YC3, where students will not have to wait to talk with someone.” 

Hoffman emphasized that there is no standard wait time for student therapy, explaining that all students first attend an initial appointment where they discuss their reasons for seeking treatment. After the first appointment, students are either immediately matched with a clinician or asked to wait, based on the intake conversation and their mental health symptoms. 

Hoffman added that while MHC believes that the additional staff will likely reduce wait times “significantly,” this semester has posed an additional challenge because an increase in student enrollment has led to a spike in students seeking treatment from the department. 

According to Hoffman, MHC is “very happy” to collaborate with student advocates for mental health. 

“I often find that we have the same goals, I think the challenge is that it does take some time to develop and implement changes,” Hoffman told the News. “I am very hopeful about collaborating with students around the changes and welcome students reaching out to me.”

Hoffman explained that MHC had met with “several groups advocating for mental health issues on campus,” as well as with the Yale College Council. 

Managing mental health

Outside of formal counseling, students have cultivated other strategies to protect their mental health. 

For Parthasarathy, dance has been hugely important to her understanding of mental health. After Parthasarathy immigrated to the United States when she was four years old, her parents enrolled her in dance classes. 

“It wasn’t until I was older that I started realizing that I was using dance as my own form of stress relief, as my own form of happiness,” Parthasarathy said.  

Now, Parthasarathy has founded Mindful Kala, an organization that encourages mental well-being through the Indian dance and art form of Bharatnatyam. 

“I’ve seen a shift in terms of trying to enhance our mental well-being by emphasizing our mind-body connection and exploring different types of interdisciplinary movements,” Parthasarathy said. 

Parthasarathy emphasized the importance of harnessing different art forms and movements as a means of enhancing mental well-being. 

Basile has also turned to art, taking up painting during her partial hospitalization program this year. For Basile, painting is a form of expression and a way for her to visually convey how she feels. 

Painting also led Basile to the Yale Layer, an undergraduate publication that focuses on mental health awareness. After her friend encouraged her to submit artwork to the magazine, Basile published a personal narrative about her own experience with PTSD. 

At Yale, Basile has a service dog named Journey, who is trained to help her during panic attacks or when she gets anxious in crowds. 

In her interview with the News, Basile demonstrated some of Journey’s abilities. When she begins to hyperventilate, he paws at her, then jumps up on her chest. He circles her when she’s feeling anxious in crowd settings and, when directed to, sits on her lap in what is known as deep pressure therapy. 

“It’s just a way of letting me know that I’m here, in the present moment, and that there’s someone else with me in a way,” Basile said. “It definitely calms me down.”

For Basile, as for many students, the process of pursuing mental healthcare is ongoing, as is the process of seeking and maintaining her recovery.

“I would want to let them know that I’ve been there,” Basile said, when asked what she would say to Yale students who are struggling. “I’ve been in really dark places, and so maybe I don’t have the same story, but I can understand the underlying feelings.” 

Basile emphasized the importance of treating everyone with kindness, explaining that many people who seem stable on the surface are confronting emotional and mental turmoil that goes unseen. 

“Remember that you haven’t met all the people who are going to love you yet,” Basile said. “Just keep that in mind.”

Maya Weldon-Lagrimas contributed reporting.

Lucy Hodgman covers Student Life. She previously covered the Yale College Council for the News. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in English.