Ohio State will continue to improve its mental health resources throughout the spring semester. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

In September, Ohio State President Michael Drake’s mental health task force released its final recommendations for improvements to the university’s mental health resources, with some changes already made during the fall semester.

Drake said in an interview with The Lantern that he met with the members of the mental health task force in October to begin a new phase of work with a group he called the “implementation force.”

“The implementation team is meeting weekly and continuing to make progress,” Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the university, said in a statement. “Many of the recommendations require additional research, planning and/or new systems or technology, so the team will work together for at least 18 months, and many of the recommendations will take some time to implement.”

Since then, improvements have consisted of hiring new counselors within campus mental health services, reviewing safety enhancements to campus parking garages, introducing apps that help students cope with stress and Undergraduate Student Government gauging student perception of mental health services available on campus.

With some improvements underway, there are more set to come for spring semester and others that have not yet been addressed.

What improvements have been made?

Drake said in an interview with The Lantern that three additional counselors were hired in the Counseling and Consultation Service over the summer. At a Board of Trustees meeting in November, USG President Shamina Merchant gave an update on the progress of the task force. She said the counselors are currently in the hiring process and should be added by the end of the fall semester.

Johnson said two of the new counselors started work at the beginning of January. One counselor is to work exclusively within the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the other will work with both the College of Engineering and Fisher College of Business. The hiring process for the third counselor, who will work in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, remains underway.

Also noted at the meeting was a USG feedback tool that found the biggest problem was students not knowing where they could access mental health services on campus. The tool was designed to gauge student perception of mental health services available on campus.

As a result, Ohio State is looking to create a comprehensive mobile app that will help identify what resources are available to help students.

One week after the release of the mental health task force recommendations, Ohio State closed the rooftops of the Ohio Union South and Lane Avenue garages to begin review for safety enhancements. The recommendations included action for review of the physical structures of the garages, after two students and one former student fell from the garages in 2018.

The implementation team is working on a “warm line,” described as being different from a crisis hotline, in that it is available late at night and early in the morning for students to call and receive support from “highly trained student volunteers,” the recommendations report stated.

Johnson said implementation will require new technology and equipment, along with recruiting and training volunteers.

The recommendations also included a push for apps that help students cope with stress. USG began working toward a partnership with Headspace — a guided meditation app that explores the bond between mental strength and wellness to help people deal with stress or crisis. Headspace has a student subscription rate of $10 per year, which could be more accessible to students with the partnership, USG Vice President Shawn Semmler told The Lantern in October.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine awarded the Wexner Medical Center funding for additional counseling support and case management in CCS for victims of crime. The Wexner Medical Center also opened a Young Adult Intensive Outpatient Program focusing on mood diagnosis for individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 to make it easier for Ohio State students to access resources.

What’s to come?

Addressed in the mental health recommendation update at the Board meeting was the placement of two Stress, Trauma and Resilience Program (STAR) staff members — a case manager and a counselor — inside CCS this spring.

“The Wexner Medical Center will also be creating an intensive outpatient program for people ages 18 to 25, and they’re already working to review our suicide screening protocols,”
Merchant said at the meeting.

Merchant said mental health task force members and a group of students from across campus will go to Cupertino, California, to develop an app that will help identify what resources are available to help students.

USG is working to collaborate with Headspace to provide easier access to subscriptions to the stress relief app. Merchant said USG is hoping to have the partnership finalized by the end of January.

Johnson said subgroups within the implementation team have several projects underway in the academic area, which include putting a mental health statement on syllabi and promoting available training programs for faculty members and others.

Other projects include revising and redistributing the Office of Academic Affairs’ Guide to Distressed/Disturbed Individuals and creating a companion card version that faculty members can use to identify immediate support for students showing signs of distress.

What hasn’t been addressed?

The mental health task force recommendations were broken down into six main points: advancing a culture of care; enhancing and standardizing screening procedures; improving 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.

While some of these points were addressed in the fall and are expected to continue with improvements in the spring, some topics have not been given any official update from the university or the task force.

With 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 task force has not said if it has enhanced these 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 recommendations report stated. “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.”

As part of the communication of support and mental health promotion section, the recommendations included evaluating the current community mental health resources available in Columbus for linkage to Ohio State for further consideration. An update has not been provided on this recommendation.