Last spring, in Edition III, The Layer sent out an informal survey to assess the general climate surrounding mental health at Yale. To improve survey methods, compare results, and further extend the conversation about mental health, the Layer conducted a similar survey this fall. 429 responses from undergraduates were collected. 26% of respondents are first-years, 28% are sophomores, 31% are juniors, and 15% are seniors. For most statements, respondents were given three options: 1) yes, 2) no, or 3) a write-in answer. One question asked respondents to select or write in responses they feel best answers the prompt.
The write-in responses express sentiment that cannot be captured by a simple “yes” or “no” response. Mental health discourse is often polarized into a discussion of what is “healthy” or “unhealthy.” But conversations and experiences cannot be reduced to black and white. It is the breadth of experiences in and explorations of the gradient in between, the grey area, that begin to discuss the complexity and depth of the felt experience of Yale.
I am happy for the majority of my time at Yale.
69.7% say yes.
25.2% say no.
“Happy is so hard to define.”
“I am happy for a lot of my time at Yale.”
1.4%, or six respondents, describe their state of happiness as “about fifty-fifty” or “half and half.” One elaborates that “being at Yale is simultaneously very exciting and stressful.”
Two are “content” for the majority of their time at Yale.
Others echo general feelings of inconsistency, responding “more or less,” and “somewhat. There are periods of ups and downs.” One respondent notes, “some times I feel great, others I feel like shit.” Another respondent’s experience is “mixed, but leaning yes! There are some really hard times.” Two respondents express that it “varies hugely depending on the year” or “what time of the semester” it is.
Five respondents compare their happiness this semester to prior semesters. “This year, yes. Last year, no.” One reveals that “this year feels more likely than last year,” and another says “this current year is a lot more happy than last year.”
My friends are happy for the majority of their time at Yale.
69% say yes.
21.7% say no.
“I think it appears as though we all are on the surface but we don’t really talk deeply or sincerely about our truest feelings.”
“I don’t know how [my friends] define their measure of ‘happy.’”
4.4% say they are “unsure,” “don’t know,” or that they “can’t tell.” One notes, “It seems so, but then again I probably seem that way as well.” A lack of discourse may be a driving force of this unsure sentiment, as “everyone goes through that are down but often don’t talk about it.” One respondent echoes, “I don’t know. Everyone is running around and too busy to connect.”
Some say it depends on the friend. “I know people who are having a REALLY hard time and people who are thriving.” Another respondent notes, “my friends have had a variety of positive as well as rather negative experiences here at Yale.”
Five respondents express specifically that is it “half and half” or “50/50.”
I have spoken to my friends about topics regarding mental health at Yale.
82.3% say yes.
17% say no.
“Not seriously, just in passing. I wouldn't say I've had an intense conversation about it, but when the topics comes up, I'll definitely touch on the idea of taking care of yourself even when there is a lot going on and all of the mental health resources at Yale.”
“I want to, but I don’t know how to broach the topic.”
I have a great support system here at Yale.
67.1% say yes.
24.9% say no.
A few respondents express sentiment that their support system is “getting there,” that it is “in the works,” or that they are “building one.” Some respondents are optimistic: “I think it will be [great], but it’s still being formed,” “Not yet, but likely in the future.”
1.4% say “kind of.”
0.9% say they don’t know.
One respondent says “’great’ is probably a stretch. ‘Good’ will do.” Two others qualify their support system as “good,” and one says “it’s okay.”
A few respondents elaborate on support within friendships. “I have great friends but I don’t know how much I’d feel comfortable with talking about these things with them.” Another adds, “people are so busy with their own lives.”
Some are critical of Yale’s institutional support. It’s “impossible to get an appointment with mental health providers at Yale Health. When you go to book one, they say they can take you 2 months later.” A respondent says they have a great support system “to a certain extent, but I don’t think Yale as an institution has much to do with me having established it.”
I feel comfortable reaching out to the following people at Yale about my mental health (check all that apply):
Friends – 90.1%
A medical professional – 58.5%
My dean – 31.1%
Teammates – 20.5%
My Head of College – 13.3%
Write in responses:
My froco – 2.0%
No one – 1.1%
And one respondent noted they’d feel comfortable reaching out to a peer liaison.
I know where to go to seek mental health treatment at Yale.
82.3% say yes.
16.1% say no.
The rest say they do know where to go, but…
“It doesn't work.”
“I don't know how effective it is and I know people that cannot go to Mental Health Counseling for different reasons. They don't know where to seek help.”
“It’s not super sufficient.”
“I think they are inaccessible for the majority of Yale students”
“It is a long process to be seen.”
We noticed that there were fewer grievances towards Yale Health in contrast to last semester.
I have sought mental health treatment services at Yale.
35% say yes.
63.4% say no.
Two respondents imply future action, “not yet” “but I might.”
One respondent has “visited the peer counselors, but not Yale Health counseling services.”
Two recount their experience using Yale Health services:
“Yale Mental Health is so booked. It was difficult.”
“After my intake it took an entire semester for them to assign me a clinician and by that time it was the end of the school year.”
One respondent “didn’t bother trying because I heard the wait is too long [and] it’s not particularly helpful.”
Mental health is a taboo subject at Yale.
29.4% say yes.
64.6% say no.
1.5% say they are not sure or don’t know yet
3.6% of respondents note that it depends on which social circles you look at. One respondent feels it is more a taboo discussion within the varsity athlete community and another feels it is taboo amongst “admins.” Two respondents echo that “it depends on who you talk to,” with one elaborating that “among my friends who also care about mental health it is not.”
One respondent feels “there is definitely some stigma” around the topic of mental health. Another qualifies that the “conversation around it isn't always constructive,” and a third mentions that “if people want to talk about it, it is not taboo. Many people prefer to fake it, but you can be honest should you wish so.”
One senior notes that mental health has become “a lot less taboo” at Yale in the past three years.
“It is not taboo exactly, but not really discussed. I feel like there is concern about bringing up challenges for fear of being pushed to go home.”
It seems to matter how mental health is discussed. “Joking about mental health is not taboo but seriously speaking about it is.” In a similar sentiment, one Yalie highlights the struggle to have intimate conversations about mental health, explaining that “it is easy to talk about mental health in an abstract way, but definitely taboo to be vocal about struggles with [it].” A respondent specifies, “I’m more comfortable bringing it up in specific occasions designed to address [mental health] than in front of people who are supposedly my friends, which I think is ironic and kind of sad but… oh well.”
By Beatrix Thompson
Disclaimer: Formal statistical analysis of results was not performed, as I feel numbers alone cannot capture the essence of the conversations nor the grey area. However, lengths were taken to both improve sample size and increase diversity in respondent background and age. For elaboration on survey methods, please email email@example.com