Trigger Warning: This article and video contain language associated with violence, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. 

Let’s have an honest conversation about the awful parts of mental health. Let’s talk about how suicidal ideation is completely passive; let’s talk about symptoms of PTSD and how it affects students… Let’s have those conversations so that people know they are not alone.

On August 5, Yale students and faculty came together to participate in The Politic’s first ever mental health roundtable, moderated by Sophia Hahn ’24, to discuss the mental health crisis among young adults. The panel included faculty Dr. Paul Hoffman, Head of Yale Mental and Counseling (MHC), Dr. Kristi Lockhart, a Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Psychology; students Izzi Henig ’23, Griffin Wilson ’24, Olivia Schnur ’25, Chelsea Kung ’24; and alumni Juliette Wallace ’20 and Josh Keeler ’20. 

By hosting the roundtable, The Politic hopes to contribute to ongoing campus dialogue on mental health and wellness. The following piece summarizes key takeaways from the virtual roundtable, which you can watch in full here

The panel opened with a discussion of the origins and causes of the young adult mental health crisis. It’s a crisis that goes back years, said Hoffman, with mental health care services expanding at accelerating rates in the past five years. 

According to Hoffman, Yale Mental Health & Counseling saw under 2,500 students five years ago and 4,200 in the past year, reduced enrollment notwithstanding. He said the influx can be attributed to various factors: There are more students suffering from mental health disorders than in the past, mental health treatment has become less stigmatized, and the range of conditions treated has also expanded. 

Altogether, the uptick demonstrates how deeply environmental factors — like financial precarity, family and home life, politics, and concerns about the future — can influence the mental well-being of Yale community members. Lockhart added that social media poses a particular threat for young people today, exacerbating existing mental health issues while disrupting sleep patterns. And at Yale especially, a “perfectionist” mindset may present added mental health challenges. 

“To be happy, healthy, and do everything well, you always think you have to be doing everything always right and that can be really hard,” Hoffman said. 

“Despite coming from a very low-income inner-city school with no expectation to attend a great big school like Yale, I found that my mental health was the worst it has ever been when I was at Yale,” Juliette Wallace — a recent Yale graduate — said. She attributed these challenges to Yale’s atmosphere of expecting constant success and hard work.

This all makes Yale Mental Health & Counseling’s role that much more critical. But in recent years, the department has been met with a flood of criticism regarding, among other reasons, the long wait times to see a therapist. Such complaints endured even as treatment went online. The Politic spoke with one student — who wishes to remain anonymous — who frequents Yale Mental Health & Counseling. In the initial intake appointment period that occurs at the start of the semester, the student was promised that he would first be seen by a professional in a matter of two weeks; in reality, he was not seen until over a month later. 

Some students have avoided long wait times by signing up for an intake appointment early on in the year. But this is part of what creates a backlog in the system, according to Hoffman. 

Meanwhile, the pandemic has presented a suite of its own challenges to students’ mental health and treatment opportunities. 

“Yale students recognized that the Yale experience was not equal and that the Yale experience is hard, and to be a college student anywhere is hard…. We need to be more gentle with ourselves and with our peers,” Wallace said. 

According to Hoffman, state licensing laws initially prevented Yale Mental Health & Counseling from treating students across state lines before the federal government implemented emergency orders. When the emergency orders expired during lockdown, treatment for students outside the state of Connecticut was again halted. Hoffman said that Yale Mental Health & Counseling worked to extend out-of-state coverage by referring students to therapists in their home states and by reimbursing them. 

And the new online schooling environment presented new mental health concerns that may not have surfaced in a normal school year. 

For Chelsea Kung, being a student-athlete meant that her typically packed schedule meant that she had little time to dwell on her mental health challenges. When the pandemic hit, she felt like she was “no longer a student-athlete, really just a student, even more so a student online.” Spending so much time alone gave her more time to be with her “unaddressed thoughts and traumas, which became detrimental to her personally.” 

Kung did seek Yale-athletic specific mental health resources on a few occasions, but she ultimately turned to a therapist unaffiliated with the university, and her mental health has improved since then. 

“The first step in getting better is to think, ‘I don’t have to feel this way,'” Kung said. “The first step is hard but definitely worth it.”

Losing social connections presented students with both academic and personal hurdles.

“As a student, you seem to connect with people when things get really hard in class, and when you take that away, students are forced to do it online with minimal connection from other people, making it really hard to thrive and be successful in classes,” Griffin Wilson said. 

Yet some panelists found that the pandemic also offered opportunities for recovery and rest. 

Olivia  Schnur, a rising first-year, had been feeling the weight of her high school junior year when the pandemic began. So when school paused, Schnur said, “Things began moving at a much slower pace, which I felt benefited me in a way because I developed a sense of sympathy for myself. It also allowed me time to adapt to a pace that I felt I could better manage and gave my time to seek therapy. “

Wilson had a similar experience to Schur when he was sent home from college. He was back in a supportive environment which allowed him to go to a treatment center with greater flexibility, while he also had more opportunities to explore interests outside his athletic identity.

Discussing whether or not the school should implement a University Pass/Fail grading policy also brought attention to the diverse set of challenges students face. 

As Yale enters a more normal post-pandemic year, with four full classes of undergraduates on campus, the university’s decisions about mental health resources will take on new importance. One such change is the recently introduced Yale College Community Care (YC3) program, which, according to Hoffman, aims to address the “student’s desire for quick access to mental health care by combining mental health resources preventative in nature and resources that are easily accessible.”

After a soft launch this past spring, the program is set to officially launch in the fall semester. It will add eight new full-time staff positions, along with six other new full-time members of the Mental Health and Counseling department. Among the eight new positions, four will be “college care clinicians” who will meet with students for drop-in clinical care near their residential college, and the other four will be “community wellness specialists” who are meant to focus more on general wellness across campus, as opposed to mental illness directly. 

“The idea in some ways is to build up both resources and improve the ability for students to get quick access to ongoing mental health treatment and create a resource that is meeting more of the moral counseling and immediate needs,” Hoffman said.

Still, many students have expressed reservations about Yale’s mental health program, even with these new changes. One concern, according to Lockhart, is that students experiencing suicidal ideation or who are suicidal may hesitate to seek treatment if they fear being sent home to a community less supportive than the one they are presently in. 

Wilson agreed that Yale should change its policies around medical leave, as barriers to return to school, or limited resources at home, can act as a deterrent for those seeking help. 

Drawing upon his own experience, Wilson said, “The process was confusing for me, and there was not a lot of clarity around how I was going to be supported. I did not understand the re-admissions process, and the hoops that I would have to jump through had to do more with my academics than how I was doing. I was fearful of the fact that at home, I would not be able to jump through those hoops and lose my spot at Yale because of my mental illness. I did not feel supported in my decision and I think it dissuaded me from prioritizing my mental health.” 

According to Hoffman, 14-15 percent of students experience suicidal ideation, and not all require hospital treatment. 

“Occasionally, they do, which is an important way of protecting students and ensuring that they get to a place where they are doing better,” Hoffman said. “Sometimes students need to be treated by the hospital and take time off from Yale, and most of the time, they do this voluntarily. A student is rarely placed on medical leave without them making that decision. They need to be in a level of treatment that is incompatible with them being full-time students at Yale.” 

Mental health conversations have to be more transparent, Izzi Henig said. That means that the conversation can’t just focus on study breaks, wellness, and positive self-talk — but also the “awful parts of mental health.”

“Let’s talk about how suicidal ideation is completely passive; let’s talk about symptoms of PTSD and how it affects students… Let’s have those conversations so that people know they are not alone so that people who are afraid of seeking help can still feel that there are people who are the same as them. People can develop an idea of what doing well and what doing poorly looks like and all of the other experiences,” Henig said. 

As some people remain in remote work environments, other panelists said that we should maintain more sympathy for ourselves and stay connected to our support networks.

“We need to continue to recognize that we are human and not an academic professional machine,” Josh Keeler said. 

In the coming years of his Yale career, Henig hopes to see more advocacy and education, like YUMatter, a campaign advocating for student-athlete mental health.  

“There are many places where the conversation is not being heard,” Henig said. “Hopefully this decade, as more conversations happen and as more people connect, we will eliminate some of that loneliness as one of the causes and address end solutions.”

In the coming years of his Yale career, Henig hopes to see more advocacy and education, like YUMatter, a campaign advocating for student-athlete mental health.  

“There are many places where the conversation is not being heard,” Henig said. “Hopefully this decade, as more conversations happen and as more people connect, we will eliminate some of that loneliness as one of the causes and address end solutions.”

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