Yale’s response to student calls for improved mental health services
The University has made a handful of changes in response to widespread calls for improved mental health services.
Yale Daily News
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.
Students who are interested in taking a medical withdrawal should reach out to their residential college dean.
Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.
In spring 2021, the weeks following the passing of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24 saw an outpouring of student grievances about the University’s mental healthcare resources. The year of advocacy since then has given new fire to student movements to improve mental health resources at Yale.
In the weeks following Shaw-Rosenbaum’s death, a group of students formed the organization Mental Health Justice at Yale. The coalition released a list of demands for the University to improve its mental health resources available to students. This list included doubling the default duration of counseling sessions from 30 minutes to one hour, allowing healthcare professionals to write Dean’s Excuses, hiring a more diverse set of clinicians that are more representative of the student body, and changing the medical withdrawal process.
Just a day before the coalition published this list of demands, Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman, along with Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, announced two expansions to resources that together added 14 full-time staff positions to YMHC, and created the Yale College Community Care organization, known as YC3. YC3 introduced eight new full-time staff members who are affiliated with specific residential colleges and serve the undergraduate community. Additionally, YMHC added six new full-time clinicians, with an additional four part-time or supervisory positions.
“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. “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.”
However, students continued to call for expanded support for their mental health. The student organization Disability Empowerment for Yale argued that the University could better support students’ mental health through expanding the Student Accessibility Services, and therefore support for disabled students on campus.
Other students called for more transparency in regards to the available mental health resources and an overhaul of the medical withdrawal process to make it easier for students who need time off for their mental health to take that time stress-free.
“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,” Mafalda von Alvensleben ’22, President of DEFY, said.
In fall 2021, it became clear that the expansions to YMHC were necessary to support the Yale College student body and that students outside of mental health advocacy organizations still felt that the University was failing their mental health. To accommodate the increased staff and increased student demand, YMHC temporarily expanded some of the counselors to a new location at 205 Whitney Avenue. The space houses 12 clinician offices and a large group therapy room, in addition to two waiting rooms and a reception space.
YMHC saw nearly 500 more students by November of the 2021-22 school year than they had the last year. Hoffman explained that this is relatively proportional to the increase in the admitted student body, but that the COVID-19 pandemic is also likely exacerbating mental health issues for many students.
In interviews with the News, undergraduates described how the pandemic and the restrictions put in place by the University contributed to their worsening mental status. The fact that universities across the country were returning to some degree of normalcy while still keeping a level of restriction to keep COVID-19 at bay meant that it was harder for students to attribute their mental health challenges to the pandemic.
In addition, multiple other stressors at Yale and nationally have arisen in the past few years that contributed heavily to general stress, anxiety, and depression among the student body. Many students feel that Yale has not responded adequately to this increase in reported mental health issues.
“People had high expectations for what life would be like after COVID,” Tyler Brown ’23 said. “Now that there’s not really a pandemic to blame, there’s no explanation for suffering. You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to wait a little bit longer and things will be over, or once I’m vaccinated, things will be fine.’ Because we’re all vaccinated, and we’re all still not happy.”
The mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael, an organization composed of current students, alumni and those close to Shaw-Rosenbaum, has not stopped pushing for mental health reforms since April 2021.
“I never feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not a Yalie, so it shouldn’t matter to me,’” said Zack Dugue, who is a student at the California Institute of Technology and was Shaw-Rosenbaum’s boyfriend. “Because Rachael was, and it mattered to her. She’s the kind of person who would have wanted this fixed.”
Elis for Rachael held a candlelight vigil in memory of suicide victims, including Shaw-Rosenbaum, on April 2, 2022. This came just a day after the University quietly amended its reinstatement policies, an action they took without notifying the Yale community.
Previously, reinstatement policy required that students who withdraw from Yale take two term courses at an accredited four-year institution or Yale-sanctioned community college, an application form, two letters of support, a personal statement, and interviews with members of the reinstatement committee. After the revisions to the policy, reinstatement will only require the application form, letters of support and a personal statement.
“This is definitely a win,” Willow Sylvester ’22, who has advocated for mental health reform throughout her time at Yale, said. “It would be more of a win if they could give credit to the student groups and the alumni who worked towards this. But this is going to have a tangible impact on students — not having to pay money to take courses, just being able to focus on their own recovery.”
Yale Mental Health and Counseling is located at 55 Lock Street in New Haven, and appointments can be made by phone during normal business hours.