Elis for Rachael holds candlelight vigil for suicide prevention
In a candlelight vigil on Saturday evening, the mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael gathered to share their own experiences with mental health challenges and their commitment to the cause of suicide prevention.
Courtesy of Lily Colby
Content warning: This article contains references to suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.
To talk with a counselor from Yale Mental Health and Counseling, schedule a session here. On-call counselors are available at any time: call (203) 432-0290.
Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.
Members of the Yale community gathered on the New Haven Green on Saturday night at a candlelight vigil for suicide prevention, organized by the mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael.
Participants stood on the Green holding candles in memory of suicide victims, including Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24. When the wind caused some participants’ candles to flicker out, other attendees wordlessly relit them using their own flames.
It is this spirit of compassion that Elis for Rachael hopes to foster at Yale, both on the administrative level and among the student body. The organization, which formed in the weeks after Shaw-Rosenbaum’s passing last spring, is composed of alumni, current students and some people who knew Shaw-Rosenbaum.
“I want to do all we can to support suicide prevention,” Shaw-Rosenbaum’s mother Pamela Shaw told the News. “I hope the effort … will help prevent future suicides or self harm and encourage people to seek mental health amongst the Yale community and beyond.”
Organizers had been thinking about holding a suicide prevention vigil for months. Elis for Rachael member Paul Johansen ’88 told the News that the group initially discussed holding a vigil in September 2021, but that plans for Saturday’s event began to take shape after Elis for Rachael was invited to participate in the Mind Over Matter Mental Health Fair hosted by the Yale Student Mental Health Association earlier that day.
When the geographically far-flung members of the organization realized that many of them would be on the east coast around the time of the Yale Student Mental Health Association fair, Johansen said it seemed like “a sign” that the group should hold the vigil in tandem with the event.
Organizers originally planned to hold the vigil on Cross Campus, Johansen told the News, with projections onto Sterling Library. The group relocated to the Green after the University asked them not to use Cross Campus, in part because non-student groups are not permitted to hold events on Cross Campus.
Shaw and other members of Elis for Rachael spoke at the vigil. For the first hour and a half of the event, speakers told stories about their own experiences with mental health challenges and their commitment to the cause of suicide prevention. Johansen noted that this first portion of the vigil was meant to showcase alumni who have struggled with their mental health but “have managed to get through [it].”
Alicia Floyd ’05 spoke at the vigil, noting at the beginning of her speech that she had not originally planned to attend but found she “just couldn’t stay away” and flew in from Minnesota to go to the event.
“I know you don’t know me – I graduated from Yale like 20 years ago – but there is a group of alums out there who went through tough experiences and came out the other side,” Floyd said. “I really do care about you and I want you to be kinder to yourselves than I was to myself when I was 19 or 20 or 21 years old.”
This sense of solidarity and compassion with current Yale students, Floyd said, is widely-felt among University alumni.
Also consistent throughout the speeches was an emphasis on prioritizing mental health despite the competitive culture present at universities like Yale.
“I hope you all do the hard thing,” Zack Dugue, who was Shaw-Rosenbaum’s boyfriend, said at the vigil. “The hardest thing. It’s not the late nights. It’s not the coursework. It’s putting yourself first, in a place that tells you that your goals … your grades, that internship, are the only thing that matters. It’s tough. It takes patience and to give yourself time to heal when you’re hurting. It takes a willingness to accept failures and not see them as the end.”
Aside from the vigil held this week, Elis for Rachael has been actively working to effect change at Yale throughout the last year. The group released a petition in November 2021, listing a set of six specific demands. Most urgently, organizers have called on the University to relax requirements for reinstatement to Yale College following medical withdrawals and offer an affordable preferred provider organization option of University health insurance, allowing both enrolled and medically withdrawn students to seek mental healthcare through providers outside the University.
The group is not solely focused on advocacy for changes in University policy — Elis for Rachael has surveyed alumni and current students about their experiences with mental health care at Yale and directly supported students with the financial and logistical burdens associated with the withdrawal and reinstatement process. They are also currently preparing a report on the factors that contribute to student mental health struggles and potential best-practice solutions.
And throughout, the group has worked to honor Shaw-Rosenbaum’s memory. In Shaw’s speech, the last of the evening, she focused on the impact that Rachael’s passing has had on her over the past year, as well as her own journey with mental health.
Shaw said that even now, to be vulnerable and open about struggling is difficult. But, quoting work by Brené Brown, a New York Times bestselling author and research professor at the University of Houston, Shaw also has come to believe that “vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage.”
At the end of the evening, members of Elis for Rachael distributed and lit candles, and attendees of the vigil observed a moment of silence, listening to “After All” from Dar Williams’ 2000 album The Green World.