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 988. 

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.  Appointments with Yale College Community Care can be scheduled here.

Students who are interested in taking a medical leave of absence should reach out to their residential college dean.

Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.

For years, the University has faced student criticism for its mental health policies, including Yale Mental Health and Counseling and its withdrawal and readmission process, which has been criticized for allegedly discriminating against individuals with mental illnesses. A lawsuit settled in 2023 led to significant policy changes in an ongoing effort toward mental health equity at the University.

The policy changes came after 2021, when the Yale College community experienced a loss due to suicide — Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24, a first-year student in Branford College. In honor of Shaw-Rosenbaum, Yale students and alumni founded Elis for Rachael, an organization advocating for better mental health policy reform at Yale.

On Nov. 30, 2022, Elis for Rachael sued the University for their withdrawal policies for systematically discriminating against students with mental health problems. The lawsuit claimed that the withdrawal policies violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 

In the filing, current and former students said that the University threatened to force leave upon students experiencing mental health problems or who had attempted suicide if they did not leave voluntarily. 

One week later, Yale and Elis for Rachel and other plaintiffs paused the court proceeding and entered settlement discussions. 

In January 2023, Yale announced changes to the leave of absence policies. Yale renamed “medical withdrawal” to “medical leave of absence” and relaxed reinstatement requirements for students who take absence for their physical or mental health. 

Contrary to prior medical withdrawal policies, students on a medical leave of absence can access healthcare coverage through Yale Undergraduate Affiliate Coverage and work campus jobs. Before the lawsuit, students on leave could not enter the campus. The new policies granted students access to the campus and its resources, including the libraries and the Office of Career Strategy.

The reinstatement process was also simplified. Students on leave no longer have to take additional coursework or go through an interview to be reinstated. Instead, the university requests students be “constructively occupied” and provide letters of reference. 

Later that year, on Aug. 25, 2023, Elis for Rachael reached a settlement with the University. The settlement agreement detailed a reinstatement process with individualized lengths of absence, emphasis on campus inclusion during time away and other supporting scheduled systems for students ready for reinstatement. 

While medical withdrawal was removed as an option, there remain four types of withdrawal: academic, disciplinary, financial and personal. Students have expressed that although the changes through the years have been a step in the right direction, more progress can and should be made. 

Before the mental health policy reform in 2023, students could take time off from Yale through a leave of absence or withdrawal. Before the 15th day of each semester, students deemed in “good academic standing” by the college could petition to take a leave of absence for any reason. Students on a leave of absence, not withdrawal, could return the next semester and remain on the Yale Health Plan. 

However, students who decided to take time off after the 15th day of each semester had to withdraw. Students who withdrew had to remain away from campus for at least one full semester, not including the semester that they withdrew. Students with withdrawal approval had 72 hours to move out and could not reenter the campus during their time on leave without the permission of their residential college dean. 

Prior to policy changes in 2023, the reinstatement process faced criticism for being allegedly discriminatory against students with mental illnesses. Students seeking reinstatement had to take two courses at another college and receive at least a “B.” Students also had to submit an application including a personal statement and letters of support, and in the case of medical withdrawal, a letter from a clinician. 

The process essentially forced students to choose between leaving Yale for their mental health or risk not being able to return. 

“I felt like I had to choose between my Yale education and my safety — my Yale education and my life,” Griffin Wilson ’24 said. 

Although Wilson told the News in 2022 that he was severely depressed, he ultimately decided against withdrawing because of the reinstatement process because it would risk his place at the University. 

Following the policy changes, mental health still ranked as Yale’s top student concern in 2024, according to a survey from the Presidential Search Student Advisory Council, with concerns on wait times and “short-term” branding for some programs. Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Paul Hoffman said that YMHC has expanded over the past four years, and he said that YMHC has the largest staff of any school of equivalent size and one of the largest staffs of any college mental health center in the country. 

“This extensive growth has led to significantly reduced wait times both for initial appointments as well as the time to get matched to a therapist,” Hoffman wrote to the News in February.

Elis for Rachael is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization consisting of Yale alumni, family members and friends, from class years ranging from the 1960s to the 2020s. 

Asuka Koda covers the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health. From New York City, she is a first-year in Davenport majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy.