CW: Depression, Death, Rape, & Suicide:
Two Yale University students and Elis for Rachel, a university advocacy and support group, filed a complaint against the school on Wednesday, saying that the school discriminates against students with mental health issues by failing to provide required accommodations and pressing them to withdraw.
The lawsuit, which asks the U.S. District Court of Connecticut for class-action status, includes testimonies from two current students, three past students, and a nonprofit organization, Elis for Rachael, representing several others.
The organization was founded last year. Its founding came after Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum died by suicide. Shaw-Rosenbaum was a freshman at Yale. She had discussed the consequences of leaving Yale in multiple online posts before her death.
College students in the U.S., both disabled and non-disabled, have long struggled with their mental health. According to an exclusive Fortune study of 1,000 college students by The Harris Poll in June, three in five reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition by a professional. Anxiety and depression were the most common disorders.
According to Daniel Eisenberg, a UCLA professor and the primary investigator of the Healthy Minds Study, an annual survey of thousands of students around the country, the rate of depression, anxiety, and severe suicidal ideation has doubled among college students over the last decade.
Unprecedented suicide rates have alarmed many parents and college authorities. Among them are three first-year students, all from Dartmouth, who have died since November 2020; two, possibly more, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute since July 2021. Two from St. Louis University in September 2021, three from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in September and October 2021, and deaths from Yale and Princeton.
Mental health issues affect disabled people of all ages. Tragically, Isabella Tichenor died by suicide in November of last year. She was only ten years old. Her mother said that she was bullied daily at school. Tichenor was autistic and was the target of racial epithets from her peers. Brittany Tichenor-Cox said that she informed her daughter’s teacher, school, and district officials about the bullying, but nothing was done to improve the situation. Isabella died by suicide on November 6, 2021, at the family’s home in Utah.
I am one of the millions of people with disabilities who have struggled with mental health over the past few years. My mental health began to deteriorate in 2019. At the time, I was attending Westfield State University, studying communications. I was bored at school. The classes covered disturbing subjects such as sexual assault and death. My least favorite class was about the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar.
In one film, a disabled woman is raped. The film was particularly upsetting to me as a woman with Cerebral Palsy. Undoubtedly, watching disturbing films on these topics every week worsened my mental health. I often had trouble sleeping at night because of that class.
Remote learning didn’t work well for me, and I left Westfield State University after numerous challenges. In the fall of this year, I attended Greenfield Community College. However, being on campus was uncomfortable for me and worsened my anxiety. I hadn’t been in a classroom in over a year. After a week, I decided to withdraw from GCC.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted my mental health as well. During the early months, it was hard to hear about the deaths of vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities and the elderly. I was worried about my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home. According to a report released in October 2021 by the National Council on Disability, one-third of COVID-19 deaths in the United States occurred in facilities for the elderly and disabled between the start of the pandemic and March 2021.
Another study found that people with developmental disabilities were 3.06 times more likely to die from Covid-19, people with intellectual disabilities were 2.75 times more likely to die, and people with spina bifida and other nervous system conditions were 2.48 times more likely to die.
Sarah McSweeney, who died in 2020, had Cerebral Palsy. A document that the employees from McSweeney’s group home brought with them baffled the doctors. It was a legal document explaining the medical care requested by McSweeney who couldn’t speak.
The staff couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a DNR. A do-not-resuscitate order is a legal document issued by a doctor saying that you do not want to be resuscitated in an emergency. The medical staff thought she was less valuable because of her disabilities. As a woman with CP, this appalls me. I worry about what could happen to me if I contract COVID-19.
I also was unable to see my friends and family. The holidays, in particular, were a difficult time. I didn’t get to celebrate the holidays with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Seeing family is my favorite part of the holiday season.
I also switched to a different antidepressant in September. The new medication has been working well for me. I completed a certificate program in digital marketing from Google and a course on sports marketing from Northwestern University. In January, I hope to begin a certificate program remotely at New York University’s School of Professional Studies.
The last few years have been challenging for almost all of us. For disabled people, the pandemic has been even more difficult. All people should have access to mental health services. Too many people are struggling, and Yale University needs to improve its mental health care. One student who dies by suicide, like Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, is one too many.
Garcia, Eric. “Biden Is Wrong. the Pandemic Isn’t over for Disabled Americans.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal News Group, 23 Sept. 2022, https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/biden-wrong-pandemic-isn-t-over-disabled-americans-n1299051.
Hartocollis, Anemona. “Another Surge in the Virus Has Colleges Fearing a Mental Health Crisis.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 22 Dec. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/22/us/covid-college-mental-health-suicide.html.
Keveney, Bill. “More Young Children Are Killing Themselves: The Covid-19 Pandemic Is Making the Problem Worse.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 8 Dec. 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/12/08/pre-teen-suicide-numbers-up-especially-younger-black-children/8832205002/?gnt-cfr=1.
Leonhardt, Megan. “Crisis on Campus: 60% of College Kids Have Mental Health Disorders, and Schools Are Unprepared.” Fortune, Fortune Media Group Holdings, 15 July 2022, https://fortune.com/well/2022/07/12/mental-health-crisis-college-schools-unprepared/.
Su, Amanda. “Yale University Sued for Alleged Discrimination against Students with Mental Health Disabilities.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 1 Dec. 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/US/yale-university-sued-alleged-discrimination-students-mental-health/story?id=94278495.
Shapiro, Joseph. “As Hospitals Fear Being Overwhelmed By COVID-19, Do The Disabled Get The Same Access? .” NPR, NPR, 14 Dec. 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/12/14/945056176/as-hospitals-fear-being-overwhelmed-by-covid-19-do-the-disabled-get-the-same-acc.