Administrators defend mental health services amid ongoing criticism
Following the recent publishing of a Washington Post article concerning Yale’s withdrawal and reinstatement policies, University administrators are defending Yale’s mental health services.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
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 YC3, schedule a session here. On-call counselors are available at any time from Yale Mental Health and Counseling: 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.
University President Peter Salovey and other administrators are doubling down on their defense of Yale’s mental health services in the face of ongoing public criticism.
The Washington Post published a story on Nov. 11 that discussed Yale’s withdrawal and reinstatement policies in relation to student mental health, rooted in part in previous News reports that found such policies veiled in misconceptions and confusion.
The story, “What if Yale Finds Out?,” comes only six months after Yale announced major changes to their reinstatement policies in April, including removing the requirement for an interview before returning on campus after withdrawal.
Following the publication of the article, Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis and Director of Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman co-authored an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Nov. 15, four days after the original article was published. On Nov. 16, University President Peter Salovey released a similar statement detailing the University’s efforts to improve mental health services in recent years.
“[The Washington Post story] perpetuated a dangerous belief that college students should stay in school whatever the risk to their mental health and safety,” Lewis and Hoffman wrote in the letter, “We know firsthand the heartbreaking circumstances that surround mental health crises — including, sometimes, the need for students to take a break from their studies so they can focus on their health.”
Lewis told the News that the University is aware of the perception of withdrawals as a “risky” measure. The difficulty of being reinstated after withdrawal, he said, is an “unfortunate impression.”
Nevertheless, he said administrators are committed to making the process more straightforward for students to be able to withdraw and return by helping students understand their options more clearly.
“Some of the other stories out there lie that we’re just trying to get rid of a problem or something like that,” Lewis told the News. “That’s not the case. We’re trying to help the student succeed and survive and we want to prevent loss of life. And when a student is in that kind of situation, we therefore encourage them to take the time necessary to improve their to recover from whatever situation they’re in.”
Lewis and Hoffman’s letter defends the University’s mental health services, including its reinstatement policies, and argues that the article ignores that addressing mental health concerns is a “complex and nuanced endeavor.”
In his statement, Salovey described the article as perpetuating a “damaging narrative” that could encourage a student to prioritize remaining enrolled in college above their mental health.
“I found the Washington Post article deeply disturbing for the misinformation it contains about Yale and for the harm it can do to students,” Salovey wrote in the statement.
Salovey wrote that the article did not reflect Yale’s efforts to address student mental health and failed to acknowledge the administration’s work to promote well-being in the university community in his announcement.
“As a clinic psychologist and faculty member who has worked alongside mental health and student affairs colleagues at Yale for four decades,” Salovey wrote. “I am disappointed that the Post article misrepresents our efforts and unwavering commitment to supporting our students, whose well-being and success are our primary focus.”
Lewis and Hoffman wrote that reinstatement is “routine,” and most students who are hospitalized with mental health concerns return directly to campus. Some, however, they wrote, take withdrawals for intensive — potentially lifesaving — medical treatment, and over 90 percent of students who seek reinstatement are reinstated upon their first request, with over 99 percent gaining reinstatement after their second request.
In an interview with the News, Lewis reiterated the University’s commitment to supporting the mental health of students. Independently of the article’s publication, he said, the University is working to bring its written materials regarding mental health policies up to date.
However, Lewis said one “valid point” from the article is the inability for students who take withdrawal to remain on Yale’s insurance plan, which he said he is “taking a look at.”
Rishi Mirchandani ’19, a leader of the mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael, wrote to the News that the University’s response to the article has mostly consisted of “strawman arguments.” He wrote that at no point has Elis for Rachael advocated for continuous enrollment in all cases, nor was that the point of the Washington Post article.
“We all agree that time off can, in some cases, be essential for stabilizing one’s mental health,” Mirchandani wrote to the News. “The issue is this: An extended absence without University health insurance, housing, institutional support, or a manageable reinstatement process cannot be the only alternative offered to a full-time schedule.”
Mirchandani noted that the statistics given in Lewis and Hoffman‘s letter lead to questions regarding how the calculations lump together all types of medical withdrawal and do not specify what percentage are mental-health related withdrawals.
Mirchandani also expressed concern that the percentages “say nothing” about students who withdrew and never applied for reinstatement, especially as he said he knows multiple former students who ended up not willing to go through or were not able to go through reinstatement and then transferred or did not earn a college degree.
Alicia Floyd ’05 and Paul Mange Johansen ’88, also leaders for Eli’s for Rachael, wrote in a collective statement to the News that they agree with Hoffman and Lewis on two of their points: that students in crisis can benefit from withdrawal and “compassionate intensive treatment” can be lifesaving in some cases.
But they wrote that they are “disappointed” that Hoffman and Lewis did not respond directly to what they described as the “primary message” of the article — that Yale exerts pressure on students in crisis to leave campus immediately, whether or not doing so puts students in a more precarious position.
“Their response came across as tone deaf,” Floyd and Johansen wrote, “Elis for Rachael has deep insights gleaned from a year and a half of survey responses and in-depth conversations with students and alumni, perspectives we strongly suspect Hoffman and Lewis are entirely unaware of.”
Johansen and Floyd wrote that while they applaud the expansion of mental health services, Yale’s policies add considerable stress to an already-challenging academic environment and need to be “modernized immediately.”
Yale Mental Health and Counseling was founded in 1925.