Courtesy of Paul Mange Johnson

The mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael co-hosted a panel with the Yale Student Mental Health Association on Wednesday night, drawing over 50 students and alumni either in the New Haven Hotel or over Zoom. 

At the panel, the group announced its new status as an incorporated non-profit organization. The announcement comes over a year after the group was founded by Yale alumni and friends of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24. 

“The discussion was powerful and productive,” Rishi Mirchandani ’19, a leader of Elis for Rachael, wrote to the News. “Even as an alum, I learned a great deal from the stories and insights that were shared.”

Mirchandani added that the group being incorporated as a non profit is a “huge step.”

While the group has raised and distributed over $10,000 in the past year, Mirchandani wrote that sustaining that level of relief is “a challenge,” so being incorporated as a non profit will help the group to continue directing funds to students dealing with mental health crises because it enables them to solicit tax-deductible donations. 

Paul Mange Johansen ’88 — one of the leaders of Elis for Rachael who attended the event in person — said he hopes making the organization a non-profit makes it easier for people to donate to the funds that go to students, but he also said it implies they are in it for the “long haul.”

Peyton Meyer ’24, co-director of YSMHA wrote to the News that he found the event “helpful.” Meyer said it was “meaningful” to hear alumni talk about how much they support current students, adding that it was also impactful to listen to the students themselves. 

“Hearing from students with similar current experiences, and alumni who have gone through mental health struggles at Yale themselves, is extremely validating,” Meyer wrote to the News. 

“It is important for students who are struggling with their mental health to know that they aren’t alone.”

Miriam Kopyto ’23, former director of YSMHA, said she attended a similar event in the past that was a turning point in her undergraduate career.

Kopyto told the News that hearing from alumni is an “affirming way” to know people have been through similar experiences regarding mental health at Yale. 

“Alumni are in a unique position to speak more honestly and openly about mental health than students because students have the pressure of professors and what the admin thinks of us,” Kopyto said. 

He told the News he hoped one of the main takeaways from the event is helping people understand they are not alone. 

“One of the problems, having been in a dark place myself, is that the walls get very small, and you feel like you’re the only one who has had these experiences or suffered in this way before,” Johansen said. “The more you can let people know that they are not alone, which is not to say that their experience is not important, but there are people who understand what they are going through.”

Meyer added that he found it particularly helpful to hear from students and alumni about strategies they have used to improve their own mental health.

A “key takeaway” for him was that there is not going to be “one main, final solution” to improving mental health, but there are likely “smaller things that you can compound over time and layer on top of each other” to achieve long-term mental health goals. 

“It’s important to talk with alumni because they’re in the unique position where they understand, to some extent, what we go through and experience specifically as Yale students, while also being able to contextualize that with more real world experiences outside of the Yale bubble,” Meyer wrote. 

The event featured a wide variety of topics regarding mental health and provided opportunities  for students and alumni to discuss their own personal experiences with mental health at Yale. 

Mirchandani wrote that he thought some of the most important topics were how to resist the “succeed or leave” culture at Yale, self-care measures to take outside of clinical care, how to construct a healthy perspective about Yale as “just one aspect of our lives” and how to facilitate productive conversations with peers and instructors about mental health needs. 

Mirchandani told the News that Elis for Rachael aims to maintain their contact with current students to keep themselves up to date on “their current needs and interests.” The members of Elis for Rachael also hoped to share their retrospective insights on their past struggles at Yale to share ways they have “ultimately found ways to manage” at the event. 

In addition to advocacy, Elis for Rachael provides support for current students by providing financial assistance for those dealing with mental health crises and alumni mentorship. 

Elis for Rachael was founded in the spring of 2021.

Sarah Cook is one of the University editors. She previously covered student policy and affairs, along with President Salovey's cabinet. From Nashville, Tennessee, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in Neuroscience.