YMHC to add location, expand services as student access issues persist
Students continue to take issue with the program’s branding as “short-term” and long wait times for psychiatric appointments.
Lucas Holter, Senior Photographer
Yale’s mental health services department is adding several major updates to its operations after several years of renewed student criticism.
Director of Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman wrote to the News that his department has seen a “really significant decrease” in wait time for both initial appointments, or intake appointments, and for assignments to treatment after the intake appointments. Hoffman attributed the improvements to recent changes including adding more clinicians and also highlighted ongoing efforts to add more clinicians and a third location at 60 Temple St.
“It can be hard to make the decision to seek mental health treatment only to be told that you have to wait weeks for a follow-up appointment,” Hoffman wrote to the News.
Hoffman’s updates come after a school year marked by record-breaking demand for services. MHC served over a thousand students per week in the 2021 fall semester.
Hoffman wrote that while MHC has always been able to treat students with major mental health symptoms quickly, the last school year saw a surge in volume” last year that led to many students waiting “longer than [MHC] would like.”
He added that these shortened wait times can be attributed to numerous recent changes, but he also detailed numerous changes MHC is undergoing including continuing to add more clinicians and adding a third location.
Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis told the News that in addition to hiring more mental health professionals, Yale College and MHC aims to provide various ways for students to enter treatment. One of these efforts Lewis pointed to is Yale College Community Care, which was introduced in 2021, which some students have used while waiting for MHC appointments.
Lewis said that shorter wait times might be due to the addition of YC3, which provides short-term care with wellness specialists and mental health clinicians in locations outside of Yale Health. Lewis added that the addition of YC3 is also part of an effort to provide options to address a variety of mental health needs including long-term care, acute care and mental health emergencies.
However, in the midst of these changes, students have still faced trouble accessing appointments for psychiatry through MHC, and students continue to voice concern that both YC3 and MHC are often advertised as short-term solutions.
MHC to add new location, moves to electronic records
The wait times that MHC reports, Hoffman wrote, have been “helped significantly” by the increased number of clinicians. There are now eight more MHC clinicians than there were a year ago, which does not include the YC3 clinicians or other embedded counseling positions within the graduate or professional schools.
Hoffman wrote that the decreased wait times reported may also be due to the transition to a new electronic health record which allows MHC to “streamline” some of the assignment processes and automatically notify students once they are matched with a clinician.
Yet, as the demand still increases, Hoffman wrote that MHC plans to continue adding staff throughout this year. He said MHC also made a policy change last year where now students can participate in group and individual therapy simultaneously.
The new location will be located at 60 Temple St., and is now the third location for MHC in addition to their offices at Yale Health and 205 Whitney Ave. Hoffman wrote that the new location is being added to allow for the increase in staff as a “proactive decision,” as Hoffman expects more students to request in-person sessions this year. While Hoffman wrote it is still in the “planning phase,” it should include 10 to 12 offices and accommodate more in-person visits.
Peyton Meyer ’24, co-director of Yale Student Mental Health Association, said he has never been offered in-person sessions with his therapist at MHC. Meyer said that it’s beneficial to keep both in-person and virtual, as long as it does not interfere with the ability to maintain the same amount of sessions.
“I think if they’re offering in-person and if it’s not at the expense of less bandwidth, I think it is good to have that as an option if that is going to be more effective for certain people,” Meyer told the News.
MHC institutes new policy for staying with the same therapist amid student concerns
Meyer said he signed up for therapy through MHC in the fall of his first year, and his assignment process after his intake took about three weeks. Meyer said that, from his impression from other people who have recently signed up for therapy, the wait time for therapy appointments at MHC is “little better.”
Meyer also signed up for psychiatry, but said he needed to be assigned urgently, so he thought the process to get a psychiatrist was “accelerated.” He said he met with a psychiatrist throughout his first year, but over the summer, they stopped responding to his requests. He said he sent three follow-ups over multiple months, and they finally responded to a fourth follow up informing his psychiatrist he was no longer interested in continuing treatment with them and filed a formal complaint.
Meyer, from his experience in therapy and through hearing of other student’s experiences in the past, said students are reevaluated on their needs for therapy or psychiatry and can be reassigned to a new professional if they’re not “adamant” they stay with the same person. Yet, Meyer has worked with the same psychiatrist since the start of his sophomore year, so he said there may be “inconsistencies” among the staff since he has not been asked to complete a re-evaluation.
However, Hoffman wrote to the News that there is now a new policy this school year to “prioritize continuity” where any student who has previously seen a therapist at MHC and wants to see the same therapist “should be able” to meet with that same therapist again.
Hoffman wrote that if a student has been seen at MHC within the last six months, there is no need to do an initial intake appointment again, the student can just schedule an appointment through their previous therapist. However, if it has been longer than six months, a student will need to schedule an evaluation, but can schedule an appointment with their previous therapist if they wish to.
“A temporary patient”: MHC described as “short-term”
Meyer said his therapist has made multiple comments about MHC being a “short term” care program and suggesting meeting with him more infrequently as a “check in.” Meyer said he got to the point where his therapy sessions were 30 minutes every three weeks.
The MHC website currently states that MHC “primarily offers short-term therapy,” and that most students come for an average of six to eight visits which meets the needs of the “majority of students,” even as MHC offers no specific visit limits.
Meyer said he is mostly frustrated by the “vague” language which, according to Meyer, makes people “less comfortable” because they do not know what to expect, making him feel like a “temporary patient they do not want to fully support.”
But Meyer said his therapist has recently offered him more frequent sessions. Despite this, Meyer said he thought his therapist might “abandon” him at times and expressed concern over how MHC has told him and many of his peers that they are a short-term care provider.
“It’s still a weird feeling to feel like ‘Am I going to be abandoned?’ especially when you actively feel like you need and want to sustain therapy,” Meyer said.
Hoffman wrote to the News that time-limited therapy is the “general standard” in mental health treatment, and most mental health treatments are designed to be “time-limited, goal-oriented and solution focused” which is what most mental health clinics across the country offer and is considered to be best practice in the field.
“We want to be clear about setting expectations with students from the start about what we offer and what type of services students can expect,” Hoffman wrote to the News, “There are times when it is clinically indicated based on a student’s mental health health issues that they may need longer-term therapy. What sets MHC apart from most college mental health centers is that we are able to offer students longer-term therapy when necessary and we make this decision on a case-by-case basis.”
“Down to one pill”: Students voice concerns over wait times and policies for psychiatry
Sarah Shapiro ’25 got paired with a psychiatrist last fall who was “fantastic” and helped her finally find a medication that worked for her after trying multiple medications over the past five years.
However, similar to Meyer’s experience, last spring, her psychiatrist stopped responding to both her and CVS with their requests for refills, until finally her psychiatrist notified her she would be leaving Yale Health, but provided her with enough refills for the summer.
After attempting to get a new psychiatrist for months starting in August, she was matched in late October, after she spoke to the News. However, prior to being paired, she had to call the on-call psychiatrist during business hours to get refills of her medication.
When Shapiro spoke to the News, she said she was “down to one pill,” and had to get an emergency prescription refill from CVS since she could not get a refill from MHC.
While on the phone with MHC trying to get her prescription refilled, Shapiro said she was told to try “mindfulness activities” such as going on a walk or meditating while she waits for her medication which she said was invalidating.
“I feel very lucky that I feel well enough to keep advocating for myself, but I am getting to the point of being burnt out,” Shapiro said.
When asked about the wait times for psychiatry specifically, Hoffman wrote that MHC has worked hard to ensure that waiting times for all types of care are “reasonable,” and Yale students have “far better access” to psychiatry care than students at other universities where there are usually “fewer or no” psychiatrists.
In addition to the waiting time, Shapiro also voiced concern about not being able to call MHC during business hours, which overlapped with classes and her on-campus job. When she called outside of business hours, there was no psychiatrist on call to refill her prescription.
“Students’ mental health is not governed by traditional business hours. It’s not like I can say, ‘Oh no, I’m having a mental health crisis, and luckily it’s between the hours of nine and five on Monday through Friday,” Shapiro said.
Hoffman wrote that there are two clinicians from MHC who are on call during business hours available for calls and walk-in appointments. After business hours, Hoffman wrote, all calls are answered by a mental health hotline staffed by a service that specializes in college mental health that provides licensed mental health professionals who are trained for crisis response.
In addition to the long wait time Shapiro experienced, Meyer also expressed concerns with how psychiatry at MHC requires that your therapist and psychiatrist must both be within the Yale Health system.
Given some students may be seeking therapy for reasons unrelated to their needs for a psychiatrist, Meyer said this “does not make sense,” and also expressed frustration that this policy could not be found in writing and does not allow outside providers such as BetterHelp.
Hoffman wrote that MHC does require students to have all of their mental health care providers through MHC which is consistent with most mental health clinics across the country that provide psychiatry services because this ensures the best “communication and coordination of treatment” and assures both the therapist and psychiatrist are “highly qualified and credentialed” to provide treatment in Connecticut.
Students can contact Yale Mental Health and Counseling during business hours and for urgent concerns after hours at (203)-432-0290.