DISCLAIMER: The following article features mentions of suicide and self-harm. Reader discretion is advised.
When Nicollette Mantica was hospitalized after engaging in “non-suicidal self-harm” during her junior year at Yale University in 2017, she did not realize that when it came to her school officials’ attention, it would be the last she saw of her education at Yale.
Time and time again, Yale, Brown, and Stanford University among other top schools in the nation have seen an ever-increasing prevalence of students suffering from extreme mental-health crises which, in some cases, leads to suicide. And in such institutions where most would think to have state-of-the-art resources considering their hefty annual funding and donations, students have complained about the complete lack of regard for their mental health and state of well-being.
It was not until The Washington Post showcased Mantica’s experience in an article titled ‘What if Yale finds out?’ on Nov. 11, 2022, that these top universities began to change their policies surrounding mental health-related leave of absence.
The article brought exponentially more attention to student experiences at these schools— so much so that it encouraged many more struggling students and families to reach out.
In one particularly heartbreaking situation from the year prior, Yale freshman Rachel Shaw-Rosenbaum was contemplating the consequences of taking a leave of absence and was so overcome by the withdrawal consequences and mandatory reapplication process that she killed herself on campus before making a decision.
Just a few weeks after the interview was published, Rachel’s family filed a lawsuit against Yale in the case Elis for Rachel v. Yale University. The primary highlight of the lawsuit was that Yale received a $41.4 billion endowment yet continued to neglect students of services they needed and “impose[d] punitive consequences on students who have withdrawn, and place[d] unreasonable burdens on students who, after a withdrawal, [sought] reinstatement.”
The lengthy reapplication process for students that are forced to withdraw caused them to avoid seeking counseling from the school “for fear of being exiled,” even though their conditions qualify them for a medical leave of absence without any strings attached.
For those who were found to have suicidal thoughts or behaviors, a “voluntary withdrawal” form was their only option provided. And if their university experience was not demoralizing enough, Mantica and many others in her same position were told if they ever wanted to return, their time spent away from Yale must prove academic competency if their reapplication was going to appear strong and in their favor.
25 students including Mantica were featured in a lengthier Washington Post podcast episode and have all reported they were even more anxious because they have to prove themselves as capable despite their mental condition throughout the time they are off if they ever wish to see themselves back on campus.
The students say they were given 72 hours or less to leave campus because if anything were to happen to her, she would “be a liability to the university.” One student was even “met by campus police upon discharge from a psychiatric hospital and given two hours to pack her possessions and vacate her dorm.”
However, what the reapplication process did was it made students feel as if they have to deny their emotions or traumatic experiences in order to sustain their enrollment. The policies that were in place left students feeling like their school is not a place for them—essentially that they are not cut out to be there. Though they were academically competent to be admitted as a rising freshman, being forced to reapply leaves the impression they are not emotionally competent to continue their undergraduate studies and that attending and graduating from these universities is at the expense of attention given to their emotions.
While Yale was quick to review its leave of absence, postponement, reinstatement, and withdrawal policies, students still feel upset with the ways the previous withdrawal policy and reapplication process have permanently changed their education plans.
The revised policy still states that “Students who postpone matriculation are expected to be constructively occupied and to maintain a satisfactory standard of conduct during their postponement year.”
And while a leave of absence for up to two terms has now allowed many students to take the time off that they need, one student in the podcast episode revealed that after being sexually assaulted her freshman year on campus, reaching out to the minimal resources put in place meant having to wait for up to 6 months for a call back from their school psychologists and even then, only 30-minute therapy sessions were available to them.
It is understandable why students are sent home and why the universities do not want them to continue at the university in such a desperate state. But if the mental health of their students were truly in their best interests, universities would prioritize mental health centers and more psychologists that would not place any more insecurity or anxiety to their