Student-founded nonprofit FORT pays for students’ mental health bills

FORT is currently serving 12 Dartmouth students, according to founder Eva Yao ’23.

by Angus Yip | 2/18/22 5:05am

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Eva Yao '23 founded FORT last fall after seeing friends struggle to pay their mental health care bills. 

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Since last fall, a student-founded nonprofit organization FORT — short for fortitude — has helped foot Dartmouth students’ medical bills for mental health care.

FORT founder Eva Yao ’23 said that after being approved, students can contact FORT whenever they require a mental health bill to be paid, and FORT will pay the full amount to the healthcare provider. She added that the fund first launched with support for four students and has since expanded to 12.

She also said that students applying can choose to remain anonymous, though FORT requires applicants to indicate whether they are on financial aid and to offer an explanation as to why they require financial support. According to FORT’s website, students enrolled in FORT receive $400 per month on average, although the level of financial support is evaluated on an individual basis. Students can apply to receive support for one term, and can choose to continue receiving support in future terms.

Yao noted that if the student provides information about their specific needs, FORT can also assist with locating a suitable healthcare provider.

A student in the Class of 2024 receiving financial support from FORT, who requested anonymity for medical privacy reasons, said that while Dick’s House provides counseling, it is only available for one term and it was inappropriate for her needs.

She said that she had hoped to pursue cognitive behavioral therapy at the College for anxiety, insomnia and depression as her previous medications had worsened her condition, but Dick’s House does not have any CBT specialists. She added that she turned elsewhere after attending College-provided counseling, but her parents were unwilling to pay indefinitely.

“My parents’ view of therapy is that the point of therapy is to get out of therapy, and they became frustrated with the exorbitant costs after a few months,” she said. “There was no way I could cover the costs of therapy after they refused … Without [FORT], I’m not sure I would’ve been able to get through this term.”

Yao explained that the initial idea for FORT emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“2020 was a really difficult year for everyone … A lot of my close friends were struggling themselves, and they were struggling to pay the bills for their mental health care,” Yao said.

Apart from some initial funding from the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, FORT has been “completely independent” from the College, she said.  

“Every single penny that we have now has come from fundraising and donations,” she said. 

Yao added that because FORT is not recognized as a College organization, it cannot utilize the College listserv and cannot book College venues for events. To overcome this, she said, FORT compiles its own lists of Dartmouth students’ emails for outreach and has conducted previous events virtually. She noted that FORT will be applying to the Council of Student Organizations in the spring to become a recognized club. 

Kelly Beaupre ’24, who is on FORT’s fundraising team, said that the group is organizing a fundraising event with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on Feb. 20, where varsity athletic teams can buy in to participate in a dodgeball tournament against other teams.

Beaupre added that this is FORT’s first fundraising event specifically targeting varsity athletic teams. FORT has previously conducted events with Greek organizations, such as therapy dog sessions, where students can pay to walk a dog.

Yao added that FORT also hosts a regular speaker series where students and professors can talk about their experiences with mental health, which she believes can help address the “huge stigma” around mental health.

Beaupre said that there has been “tremendous support” from students and faculty. 

“We’ve had professors come and speak during our speaker series, and that’s particularly tremendous,” Beaupre said. “They’ve brought a lot to our series in terms of knowledge and just being a resource for students on the call.”

Other student organizations have attempted to tackle mental health issues in various ways. Dartmouth’s Mental Health Student Union provides peer counseling, and last fall, Student Assembly provided 100 undergraduates free year-long subscriptions to Calm, an app providing guided meditations and music libraries to decrease anxiety.

According to a newsletter sent to campus on Feb. 6, the Student Assembly is currently advocating for a “telehealth option for all Dartmouth students, which would include counseling services and 24-hour crisis calling.”

The anonymous student said that the College’s mental health care is “notoriously bad,” referring to her experience at Dick’s House.

“I was at one point told by my [physician assistant] at Dick’s House … that conditions like mine — depression, anxiety, insomnia and anorexia — were not serious enough to warrant the involvement of a psychiatrist,” she said. “In other words … They believed they could treat me at the primary care office. Only those with more rare conditions were granted the help of a psychiatrist.”

She also noted that she was “frequently” unable to make appointments with her counselor because they became busy with the needs of other students.

Yao said that barriers to mental health care are not limited to Dartmouth, and she hopes to be able to expand FORT to other colleges.

According to FORT’s website, the fund hopes to eventually support as many students as possible, but “rather than accepting more students and providing less funding for each, [FORT] will keep [their] numbers smaller and subsidize all of the needs of the students on the fund.”

“We need to figure out what’s wrong with the entire healthcare system, which is obviously a really big issue to tackle, but I hope that FORT can at least be a small effort towards what I think is missing,” Yao said.

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