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Thirty-five thousand counseling appointments scheduled at Ohio State in 2016-17 year

Ohio State’s Younkin Student Success Center provides career and academic support as well as the university’s Counseling and Consultation Services office. Credit: Lantern Archives

Ten years ago, students seeking support through Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Services most commonly struggled with depression, and a total of over 15,000 appointments were made during the 2006-07 academic year, according to CCS.

That number had dramatically increased by last academic year, when the total number of CCS appointments in the 2016-17 academic year surpassed 35,000 — more than doubling that of 2006-07. CCS only serves students for treatment, Dave Isaacs, an Ohio State spokesman said in an email. 

Students are seeking help for a different reason: anxiety. Since 2010, anxiety has been reported as the leading mental-health issue among college students, inching further ahead of depression each year, according to a study done by the National College Health Assessment.

“Where this [anxiety] has come from with this generation of students is we have students who are living in a very fast-paced society and everything that happens moves much more quickly. Students aren’t used to that,” Director of CCS Micky Sharma said during a Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday.

Though members of the Board discussed other agenda items, such as increasing online classes and the university’s reaccreditation, a significant portion of the meeting was devoted to breaking down the mental-health needs of students.

Because some of those needs aren’t being met just yet.

“The coping mechanisms we see in students are not as strong as we’d like them to be,” Sharma said.

Students spend a great deal of time communicating through electronic devices instead of face-to-face, so they lose the ability to deal with conflict, which manifests as angst once students arrive on campus, Sharma said.

Not only are individual appointments on the rise, but out-of-center outreach has increased, too.

Dr. Micky Sharma, director of Counseling and Consultation Services, in his office at the Younkin Success Center. Credit: Ghezal Barghouty | Arts & Life Editor

After a phone triage, students are assessed and directed toward specific support initiatives. These include individual psychotherapy and group therapy — which ranges from trauma to support for students of color — in addition to wellness coaching offered through the Student Wellness Center.

Another in-the-moment option available to students is scheduling an urgent appointment, which allows students to receive support from CCS within 24 hours for help with immediate issues such as suicide, self-injury, trauma and more.

“While we had a large increase in our staff recently, this past academic year we saw an increase in urgent appointments by 50 percent,” Sharma said.

On the contrary, Sharma said he’s noticed a reduction in the stigma surrounding mental health, as more and more students are dealing with anxiety and depression and are noticing it in their peers.

“Sometimes I think students are more okay with that than the faculty [and] staff because they’ve grown up with it,” he said. “They don’t care if anyone sees them walk in or out of the [therapist’s] office.”

 

Drake sees small shift in students’ attitude toward mental health  

Mental health also received attention earlier Thursday, during the Talent and Compensation Committee’s meeting.

W.G. Jurgenson, the Board’s vice chair, called attention to the importance of mental health among university staff after Senior Director of Benefits and Wellness Pam Doseck spoke about the university’s staff health-care costs, which decreased by 1.4 percent in 2016.

Jurgenson, the former CEO of Nationwide Insurance, said mental health in the workplace is “a much bigger deal” now than it used to be, and he encouraged university employees to watch out for each other.

“People work alongside other people, and are hesitant to say when they see behavioral  changes or when they see something that says, ‘They’re just not hitting on all eight cylinders,’” Jurgenson said. “You don’t want to intrude on other people’s lives but you can’t help but observe it.

“So it’s just sort of a cultural thing,” he said. “We encourage each other to use [the university’s mental-health resources].”

Like Sharma, University President Michael Drake said he’s observed a small shift in the way students talk about mental health, citing an encounter he had Saturday on move-in day.

Drake said he had lunch with students, one of whom casually brought up a experience he had with CCS’ phone-screening system.

The student didn’t think twice about discussing his need to seek out mental-health help, almost “like he was talking about the new brand of skateboard he had or something,” Drake said.

“There was no stigma, no hesitation. So it was very nice to hear it,” Drake said. “At least in one anecdotal case the stigma was decreased for one person.”

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