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Ohio State releases mental health task force recommendations

Recommendations from a mental health task force created by President Michael Drake were released in a report on Tuesday. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

University President Michael Drake’s mental health task force released their final recommendations for improvements to Ohio State’s mental health resources Tuesday.

The recommendations were broken down into six main points: advancing a culture of care, enhancing and standardizing screening procedures, enhancing resources, communication of support and mental health promotion, expansion of delivery mechanisms — focused on creating a digital platform that helps student cope with mental health— and exploring campus environments to advance additional safety measures.

Drake originally announced the creation of the task force in a statement on April 9, following two deaths related to falls from campus parking garages, giving the group a 60-day deadline. A report providing an overview of the task force’s progress was released in June, stating the final report instead would come at the beginning of autumn semester. Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey said the report was completed and delivered to university administrators before the start of the semester.

The report was released hours after a student fell from the Lane Avenue Parking Garage on Tuesday morning.

“The Task Force was presented with no data that would lead to the conclusion that death by suicide at our institution is related to problems accessing mental health services at Ohio State,” the report stated. “This statement is not meant to imply that there is not more that can and should be done to support mental health services for the students at Ohio State, but rather that it is important to not conflate the issues of mental health access and death by suicide at Ohio State.”

“As you may be aware, the university convened a task force in the spring to review suicide prevention efforts and mental health support services,” Drake said in a statement Tuesday regarding the death of the student falling from the garage. “We continue to work toward implementing many of these actions, which include further diversifying support resources, enhancing screening procedures and continuing to evaluate campus safety measures.”

Each of the six main points were broken down into recommendations for actions to be taken in the short term and recommendations for further consideration in the long term.

Creating a culture of care

The first recommendation contained within the report relates to efforts to create a culture of care within the university community. The report said that building such a culture requires more than just a commitment to ideals.

“It requires institutional infrastructure and concrete practices that minimize the potential for psychological harm to our students; that empower faculty, staff, and students to look out for one another; and that increase the visibility and integration of resources for physical and mental health on and off campus,” the report said.

Recommendations for action from the task force to be taken in the short term toward creating the culture of care included continuing their work with the JED Campus initiative, expanding the discussion of mental health on campus, making sure information on mental health is disseminated to faculty and implement options for greater mental health consideration in academic pursuits.

The task force specifically recommended implementation of a resolution passed by the University Senate and Undergraduate Student Government that called for a mental health/suicide prevention statement on all course syllabi.

The recommendations also aim to expand REACH training at the university, the report said. REACH is a suicide prevention training program at Ohio State that is designed to “Recognize warning signs, Engage with empathy, Ask directly about suicide, Communicate hope and Help suicidal individuals to access care and treatment.” The expansion would encourage all departments to participate in the training, increase training for first- and second-year students, as well as graduate students, and establish trainers in the Office of Human Resources to encourage new staff to have REACH training within six months of being hired.

Long-term considerations from the task force toward creating a culture of care included finding ways to help link courses to existing campus stress reduction and wellness resources as well as increasing “university-wide commitment to mental health through increased collaboration, communication and development of new partnerships.”

Enhancing and standardizing screening procedures

The task force recommended the university “utilize nationally recognized, evidence-based and standardized suicide screening options,” in order to enhance its own screening procedures.

The report listed a number of different resources it consulted regarding screening procedures, but noted the difficulty of assessing suicide risk at a single moment in time.

“Suicide risk assessment is a complex process that must be conducted by a qualified mental health practitioner to determine an individual’s risk for suicide. Ultimately, suicide risk assessment cannot be conducted in a vacuum, as suicide is a process, not an event,” the report said. “Suicide is the culmination of a variety of factors, including diagnostic, genetic, familial, environmental, social, cultural and occupational factors. The risk of suicide in an individual can change rapidly.”

Enhance resources

The task force also provided recommendations for how Ohio State could improve current counseling and support services to address the needs of students in varying forms of distress.

Among the recommendations presented to the university on how to enhance the resources available to students were an analysis designed to examine what is needed for Counseling and Consultation Services to properly evaluate the level of service, and create a “warm line” for students.

The “warm line” is described as being different from a crisis hotline, in that it is available late at night and early in the mornings for students to call and receive support from “highly trained student volunteers,” the report said. The purpose is to “advance the benefits of a peer-to-peer support model that academic literature suggests can make a positive impact on student development.” It has been implemented at State University of New York, Albany since 1970, and was said to be available at other universities.

The section also said it hopes to see collaboration between the Wexner Medical Center units and the health sciences colleges. The report also asks the university to consider developing a shared electronic medical records system to improve communication, as well as a “central mental health case management process” to help students find and use resources easier.

Communication of support and mental health promotion

The task force recommended clearer and more concise explanation for services available with a comprehensive portfolio of resources, addressing various levels and types of needs and early intervention programming.

The recommendation for action included “stigma-reduction promotional efforts” at the university. Starting at orientation, the university will introduce mental health discussions and continue them throughout a student’s time at Ohio State, including the promotion of services, programs and courses available.

The recommendations also included the development of a online and mobile tool to help students understand what resources are available to them and best suit their needs. Collaboration with Digital Flagship, OSU Mobile, Carmen and the Online Education Teams for delivery of digital messages regarding mental healths services also was included.

Evaluating the current community mental health resources available in the Columbus for linkage to Ohio State is included in the recommendations for further consideration.

Expansion of delivery mechanisms

The task force recommended that the university explore the possibility of a digital platform, but said the body itself had not done enough research to make a recommendation but that the university should form an “internal committee to review and advise on the introduction of digital platforms before purchase and/or use by the university.”

“During the course of its work, the Task Force received information from students, faculty and staff regarding digital platforms that provide support to students,” the report said. “The Task Force understands that its exploration of available digital delivery and support platforms was not exhaustive, and before the university implements a platform, additional review and data collection should be conducted.”

The report did however list a number of apps for the university to examine as it further considers a digital platform. Among the referenced apps were commercial meditation apps as well as CCS’ own app.

Explore campus environments to advance additional safety measures

The task force recommended to continue to evaluate and consider environmental designs to advance safety on campus.

The recommendations stated President Drake asked Senior Vice President for Administration and Planning Jay Kasey will review the structure of garages and find ways to enhance their safety.

As of the submission of the report, the university has added after-hours urgent call lines to all of the 16 campus parking garages and are in progress of adding security enhancements in the Ohio Union South Garage, according to the recommendations. The report also stated that SLCC will work with student organizations to “vision design for murals” to install on the top floors of the garages.

The task force recommended for action to conduct an annual review of environmental vulnerabilities in respect to methods of suicide, continuing work with the JED foundation, and continuing a design review of campus parking garages and implementing more design features, signage and murals.

“Importantly, the Task Force recognizes that the recommendations that are included in this report are more than the work that can be done by a single office or solely through the work of the mental health services on campus,” the reported stated in its conclusion.

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