Yale changes mental health policies for students in crisis

REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo
Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 28, 2012.

Yale University unveiled sweeping changes Wednesday that will allow students suffering from mental health problems to take time off without losing health insurance or facing a daunting application process for reinstatement – policies that have been under increasing fire from students and alumni.

Under the new policy, students in mental crisis will be able to take leaves of absences instead of being forced to withdraw, and they can return to classes “when they feel ready,” Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis told students in an email.

The policy changes come two months after a Washington Post story in which students described being pressured by Yale administrators to withdraw once the university learned about their mental health problems and being forced to reapply to get back in.

The story drew on the accounts of more than 25 current and former students, who described a university flush with a $41.4 billion endowment yet beset by inadequate services and punitive policies for those in mental crisis.

After the story was published, alumni and faculty expressed alarm to Yale administrators and demanded changes. In November, current and former students filed a lawsuit accusing the school of systematically discriminating against students with mental illness and pressuring them to withdraw.

In his email to students, Lewis wrote that the changes were made after “listening to current and former students, and collaborating with colleagues across the university” and he thanked “the many students, past and present, who have shared their experiences.”

In his letter, he addressed all students facing crises, saying, “I hope these revised policies ease any concerns about your student status, allowing you (and the people supporting you) to focus on what is important.”

In the past, many students who were suicidal or suffered from mental health problemssaid they were pushed by Yale officials to withdraw, sometimes while still in the hospital. Those who did so had to leave campus in 72 hours or less and were effectively forbidden from setting foot on campus again without the express permission of a dean.

In interviews with The Post, several students – who relied on Yale’s health insurance- described losing access to therapy and healthcare at the moment they needed it most.

The policy changes announced Wednesday reversed almost all those practices.

By allowing students in mental crisis to take leave of absence rather than withdraw, they will continue to have access to health insurance through Yale, university officials said. They can continue to work as a student employee, meet with career advisers, have access to campus and use library resources.

In recent weeks, students and mental advocates questioned why Yale would not allow students in mental crisis to take fewer classes. The new policies will now allow students to drop their course load to as low two classes.

In the past withdrawn students had to submit an application for reinstatement, which included letters of recommendation, and proof they had remained “constructively occupied” during their time away. Under new policies, students returning from a medical leave of absence will submit a “simplified reinstatement request” that includes a letter from their clinician and a personal statement explaining why they left, the treatment they received and why they feel ready to return.

In their online policies, the university made clear it still retained the right to impose an involuntary medical leave on students in cases of “a significant risk to the student’s health or safety, or to the health or safety of others.”