After years of advocacy from student leaders and activists, calls for change from alumni and professors and a bombshell lawsuit that brought the nation’s attention to the issue of mental health discrimination on its campus, Yale has finally taken steps to reform its medical leave policies. The “momentous” changes, announced by the University less than one month ago, not only reclassifying medical withdrawals as medical leaves of absence — destigmatizing the option and increasing its accessibility — but also relaxing reinstatement requirements and increased benefits for students who opt to take medical leaves. While we commend the University for this great leap forward and celebrate with all who worked tirelessly to achieve this victory for Yalies current and future, we must remember that the path to a truly healthy and accessible Yale is still long.
In the case of mental health advocacy, where we go from here is clear. We offer two specific, actionable paths forward, both of which would have a profound impact on student mental health at Yale. First, the University must continue its efforts to get on par with peer institutions by creating a centralized office dedicated to supporting students who choose to take time away from Yale. Second, Yale must recognize, promote and take advantage of changing licensing laws that will allow students to keep their out-of-state therapists while attending the University.
For the students who make the difficult decision to take time away from their course of study, the transitions away from Yale and back are the most stressful and wearing parts of their experience. In addition to the stress and anxiety students already feel about leaving, they also have to navigate the vast complexities and bureaucracy of their departure and return alone. This not only places an unfair burden on these students but adds to the crippling sense of abandonment and uncertainty many who take time away feel during their transitions. If Yale has any interest in alleviating these stressors and ensuring student success, a dedicated office would achieve both by centralizing resources and increasing support, transparency and advocacy for students. Following the models of schools like Duke and Cornell, Yale’s centralized office can be a comprehensive facilitator for all things time away related, helping streamline students’ exit, connecting with students during their time away and facilitating successful returns to campus.
Like college campuses across the country, Yale also struggles to meet the growing demand for student mental healthcare services. For years, students have complained about long wait-times, being “ghosted” by Yale therapists and the lack of diversity and specialization among clinicians at Yale Mental Health and Counseling. While the creation of YC3 and November’s news of YMHC’s expansion are necessary and positive steps, we fear that administrators miss the larger picture that Yale cannot do this alone. Yale must think outside itself and allow students to keep their clinicians from home.
State licensing laws have traditionally prevented students who arrived at Yale from states outside Connecticut from keeping their home therapists or seeking new out-of-state therapists. This forces them to join the over one thousand Yalies looking for treatment from YMHC every week. In just the past few years, however, multiple organizations have lobbied successfully for interstate recognition of licensing, allowing a mental health provider licensed in one participating state to practice via telehealth in any other participating state without obtaining a separate license. Connecticut is currently considering legislation allowing the state to enter The Counseling Compact for providers holding a Licensed Professional Counselor, or LPC, certification. Psychologists already have such a compact that includes Connecticut, and Licensed Clinical Social Workers are developing one as well.
It is inevitable that interstate and telehealth options for mental health will continue to expand, and Yale will best serve its student body by proactively adopting practices to take advantage of this evolution. Offloading the YMHC system in this way will reduce wait times and free up in-house resources for students who do not have the insurance coverage or desire to seek outside care, provide greater continuity of care over academic semesters and summers to those who choose to use outside providers and, most importantly, give students more agency in one of the most intimate decisions they will make during their time in college. As a national leader, Yale should use its influence to promote interstate compacts that make mental healthcare more accessible and prevent our university from falling behind in quality of care by clinging to models stuck in the past and unable to meet the needs of students.
Both these changes can be achieved in the near future and just as the Yale community came together to push successfully for changes to its medical leave policy, so we will continue to band together to improve mental health at Yale in honor of Yalies past, present and future.
MICHAEL NDUBISI is a first year in Saybrook College. His fortnightly column “A more perfect union” examines the American experiment, its flaws, and Yalies role in it. Contact him at email@example.com
JULIAN SUH-TOMA is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. He is a senator in the Yale College Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org