Amid rising student demand, Yale expands mental health services
Mental health providers at Yale and universities across the United States have seen increasing demand for their services in recent years: In 2015, Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling department saw about 2,500 students. Since July of this year alone, the department has seen more than 3,300.
This number reflects the steady rise in the number of students seeking mental health services, as well as greater demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yale Health leaders.
From the start of the pandemic, they’ve been busy addressing two challenges simultaneously: the needs of current students who suddenly found themselves enrolled but studying remotely, — away from campus-based health services — and anticipated demand for treatment from students in future classes.
“It’s been a busy and productive time for us,” said Paul Genecin, chief executive officer of Yale Health. “And the outcome for Yale students is improved access to mental health care and more options for treatment.”
To bolster mental health services for students, Yale has introduced several initiatives this year. They include a new mental health program that offers expedited access and embeds clinicians and wellness specialists in the residential college structure, additional staff, and a new satellite clinic set to open this semester.
“The resulting expansions in capacity reflect a university-wide dedication to ensuring Yale’s mental health services grow alongside need,” said Genecin.
As Yale entered remote learning in early 2020, Yale Health leaders realized they would have to figure out how best to treat students who had scattered across the country and around the world, said Paul Hoffman, who became director of Mental Health and Counseling at Yale Health in February 2020.
“We switched, almost overnight, to telehealth and virtual therapy,” he said.
Most students were able to continue seeing their regular providers. But some U.S. states wouldn’t allow Yale’s Connecticut-based clinicians to provide treatment due to licensing requirements. In those cases, Yale Health connected students with treatment providers in their home states and covered the costs.
“Then we started to think about how we were going to prepare for the coming year and the coming years, knowing that demand is not going to decrease,” said Hoffman.
Out of those conversations — and with support from President Peter Salovey and a Yale donor — came the formation of Yale College Community Care, or YC3, a new program that expands access to mental health and wellness care and brings it to the residential colleges. YC3’s staff consists of four college care clinicians — licensed clinical psychologists and licensed social workers — and four community wellness specialists. The latter can help students with non-clinical matters such as sleep troubles or problematic study habits; the care clinicians can provide drop-in visits and short-term mental health treatment.
“It’s designed to be a less formal avenue for pursuing treatment,” said Hoffman. “And the hope is that this meets a lot of the students’ needs, especially those who need quickly accessible treatment.”
Each of the YC3 clinicians and wellness specialists are affiliated with specific residential colleges and are located closer to them rather than at the Yale Health Center. This new arrangement, along with new walk-in hours at the health center, has helped reduce wait times for appointments.
YC3 augments Yale Health’s existing programs, among them programs for campus outreach, individual treatment, and group therapy. Mental Health and Counseling clinicians specialize in many different conditions, and together offer a comprehensive array of individual therapies. Yale Health also hosts therapy groups for a variety of concerns, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and chronic medical conditions.
“We currently have 22 groups,” said Genecin. “And the number of students who are touched by group therapies is in the hundreds. Students do well in groups and it’s an extremely effective modality for those struggling with certain types of issues.”
This scope of treatment options sets Yale apart from many other universities, according to Hoffman. “A lot of college mental health service centers offer fairly limited treatment. We provide short-term and long-term treatment, lots of group therapy, and an extensive psychiatry service.”
To maintain this broad set of offerings and keep up with student need, Yale Health is growing its core staff, adding six new positions to Mental Health and Counseling this year. This is in addition to the eight new YC3 staff members.
Adding services and providers required new space, ultimately leading to a search for a satellite clinic. While a permanent home for Mental Health and Counseling’s second location has yet to be determined, a temporary space will open this semester at 205 Whitney Avenue.
The university will monitor how many students are using various resources and assess whether the added resources are allowing Yale Health to reach more students.
“So far, it looks like different subsets of students are using YC3 and Mental Health and Counseling,” he said. Yale Health will also assess, through student feedback, how well the new offerings are being received.
Genecin said a persistent misunderstanding around mental health, particularly when it comes to young people, is that having a mental health disorder is inconsistent with students functioning at very high levels.
“The reality is that students can be exceptional, extraordinary students and also deal with the same mental health burdens as everyone else,” he said.
Having a mental health disorder doesn’t mean students won’t graduate or go on to have successful lives, he said. “But it does mean providing comprehensive mental health support on campus is important.”
This growing nationwide need for mental health services often elicits questions about why it’s happening, and there’s not one answer, Hoffman said. But at least one of them reflects a positive development in society.
“The greater awareness of mental health and the destigmatizing of mental health — that’s allowed a lot of people to have conversations they’ve not had before,” he said. “And that’s a good thing.”