University President Michael Drake, in an interview Tuesday with The Lantern, offered clarification on how he views Ohio State’s mental health services, calling it a “pathway to assistance and support,” while affirming the school’s commitment to its students’ well-being.
“What we want to do is to manage the mental health support of our students the best that we can,” Drake said. “CCS is not comprehensive mental health services. That’s done in the health care segment. It’s a pathway to assistance and support that we want to be.”
The CCS website’s “About Us and Our Services” section states “[CCS] provides comprehensive individual and group mental health services, psychoeducational prevention and outreach programming to currently enrolled undergraduate, graduate and professional students.”
However, Drake said these services are not necessarily designed to provide intensive, long-term mental health care that some students seek. Instead, CCS serves as a source of support during tough semesters. He said the service is a resource to connect students with long-term counseling options outside of the university.
In moments of crisis, in particular, Drake said Ohio State strives to offer immediate support.
“We would hope there’s a place that one can call and get help when that’s necessary [in crisis intervention],” Drake said.
Drake’s remarks about the role of CCS provide the university community with clarity. While CCS has undoubtedly been helpful to large numbers of people, there seemed to be confusion among the student body about what purpose, exactly, it is supposed to serve.
“It’s not a substitute for long-term mental health care,” Drake said. “We’re not ramped up to do that. We have our health system to do that. So our job is to try to do what we can to make the services available.”
Concerns over the quality of campus mental health services, both at Ohio State and nationally, have been at the forefront of many students’ minds in recent years as the percentage of young people across the country seeking help for mental illness rapidly increases.
At Ohio State, appointments at CCS more than doubled across a 10-year period. In the 2016-17 academic year alone, there were more than 35,000 appointments scheduled, compared to a little more than 15,000 in 2006-07.
To address the increasing demand, the university added 15 additional staff members in the past two years — 13 clinicians and two support positions — and brought CCS locations to Lincoln Tower and the North Residential District.
In the first year after those additions, Drake said CCS increased the number of students it saw by 40 percent, which he said was a good thing because it indicated they were able to better meet students’ needs.
Drake said the university evaluates CCS wait times at different points of the year, such as in the fall, spring and around finals.
“If I were to hear, and this would really come to me from Student Life, that the CCS was really overwhelmed, then we’d think about [increasing staff immediately], but we try to keep a reasonable sample.”
At Ohio State, mental health services through its health system are not completely fused with on-campus services, which is the case at some schools, such as West Virginia. John Campo, the Wexner Medical Center’s director of psychiatry and behavioral health, said the division between mental health services at Ohio State was one factor he considered in his decision to leave the university for WVU.
“That’s one unfortunate thing here at Ohio State is that you have the medical center over here and then you have student health and student mental health over on the university sides,” Campo told The Lantern Feb. 6. “And it’s not like we don’t collaborate. There are some wonderful people there, and we like working with them, but we’re separate services.”
Drake said the university always looks for opportunities to make the coordination better, but stressed the complicated nature of alignment, as well as the complicated nature of providing mental health services and health care, generally.
The entire country, not only Ohio State, could improve in that area, Drake said.
“We could always do more. More and better and faster health care is always better,” Drake said. “We wanted to be among the best in having access for our students to [mental health] services. I don’t know a place that has better access to these services than we have. I could try others, but it is certainly better than where I was before in being able to get a rapid response.
“I don’t know that it’s ever going to be perfect, but we want to try to be as responsive as we can.”
Drake has said the university’s expectation, or goal, is for students who seek treatment to have a phone consultation within a day and have a scheduled appointment within a week, during which the student’s symptoms are assessed.
From there, they are directed to a number of services that CCS offers, which include individual counseling, group therapy sessions, or a referral to counseling from a third-party source not affiliated with the university.
For some, this is where the waiting starts.
In February 2017, Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government conducted an informal survey and found students face an average of a six-week wait for an appointment after their initial contact with CCS.
Drake, who added he has personally seen the stigma around mental health decline through talking with students, said the university will continue to review CCS’ ability to serve students, and “if we find that that’s a place where we would do better with an increase in employees, that’s what we would do.”
However, the sheer volume of the Ohio State student population coupled with the increasing demand for mental health services among college students presents a barrier in providing long-term resolutions for mental health problems. While the 10 free appointments allotted to each student is helpful for some, it does not suffice to cover the length of treatment that others might need.
“We’re not setting [CCS] up to be a comprehensive mental health system,” Drake said. “That’s way beyond the scope of what we would do in a campus counseling service. What we want to try to do is deal with the issues that affect the students to help them be successful in school. My hope would be that it is overwhelmingly successful most of the time.”