If a student wants a mental health concern addressed quickly at Ohio State’s Counseling and Consultation Service, it might be better to show up with a parent or a professor.
Internal emails obtained by The Lantern describe a policy in which students who go to CCS with a parent, faculty member or staff member receive preferential treatment — by being placed on a high-priority list — out of a fear from CCS leadership of complaints to President Michael Drake’s office.
Associate Director of Clinical Services Shonali Raney described the practice and the reasons behind it in an email sent in August 2018 to CCS staff. The email followed a thread in which staff had raised questions about policies within CCS, including issues with the preferential treatment.
“The reason we do this is because this group for(sic) folks (faculty/staff/parents) are more likely to pick up the phone or email the President’s office and complain about us,” Raney wrote. “It has happened time and time again and then [CCS Director] Micky [Sharma] gets called and he has to then call the faculty/staff/parent and personally apologize.”
“Fair? No, absolutely not. I would like you think of it as which causes less headaches and disruption to our system versus in terms of fairness/unfairness.”
Dave Isaacs, spokesman for the Office of Student Life, said in an email that access to mental health services is available to all students “on an equal basis.”
“The words of a staff member, written in frustration, do not detract from this mission of supporting the mental health needs of the Ohio State student population,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said that no matter how a student accesses the services that the student is given a detailed screening by a clinician to determine the appropriate way forward.
“There are cases in which a member of the faculty or staff may walk a student into the offices of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service. Those students are screened in the same way as are those who schedule an online screening or telephone the office,” Isaacs said. “It should be noted that when a faculty or staff member brings a student to the counseling center, it is often because they believe the student to be in urgent need. All cases of urgent need receive a high priority from the department.”
Within her email, Raney recalled a situation in which she had to call parents of a student in spring 2018 as unfair to her and said the policy was to avoid situations like these.
“In spring, after receiving a barrage of complaints over the semester, a parent called ProtoCall after hours on a Friday evening and yelled at them. ProtoCall then called me and I asked Micky if I should call the parent,” Raney’s email said.
“Was it fair for me to take time away from my family to talk to a parent on a Friday evening, nope, but I did anyway, because had I not, it was VERY likely that the next phone call this parent made would be to the President and then Micky would have had to deal with it for the umpteenth time.”
CCS has faced a history of complaints about wait times dating back to spring semester of 2017 when the Undergraduate Student Government reported that students faced a six week wait list for individual counseling.
In an interview with The Lantern in August 2017, President Drake addressed those reports and said he had been told the average wait time was 18 days which he viewed as too long.
“I think we under-imagined how popular those services would be as we dramatically increased them,” Drake said at the time. “So we’ll look — as we find our demand increases — we’ll look at more efficient and effective ways of working together. But I think it’s very important.”
Since that time, Drake started a Mental Health Task Force which has transitioned into an implementation force. Changes that have been instituted at CCS have included the introduction of a “warm line” as well as the hiring of more counselors. One counselor was embedded in the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, and one works with the College of Engineering and Fisher College of Business.
Two Stress, Trauma and Resilience Program (STAR) staff members — a case manager and a counselor — were placed inside CCS this spring.
For students like Seneca Trott, a fourth-year in Korean, who went to CCS with suicidal thoughts and specifically asked for urgent help, it is disheartening that complaints of parents were prioritized.
“Should I have someone who can complain and maybe has more authority than me? Because I didn’t feel like I was taken seriously,” Trott said. “I was completely in a place where I should have been listened to.”
Trott, who is currently not enrolled but will reenroll in classes next semester, said she began feeling depressed and overwhelmed in January 2018. After not so much as leaving her apartment the entire semester, let alone attending class, Trott went to CCS for help.
Trott told staff that she was feeling suicidal and would like to talk to someone then and there, but was told to go home and wait for a phone call from CCS to assess her.
“Everyone was kind of nonchalant,” Trott said. “It was super disheartening to walk in and say ‘I really need help, urgently,’ and then hear ‘well, wait three to four business days.’”
Nearly a week later, Trott said she received a call to be assessed and was told suggestions for care would be emailed to her. On the call she again asked for the opportunity to sit down and speak with a counselor but instead was sent an email with options for workshops and counselors outside of Ohio State, which she now pays out of pocket to see.
Trott said she had thought about bringing her mom along, but as an adult attending college, she did not think it would be necessary to bring her to be taken seriously. Trott said she wasn’t ready to tell her family about her issues and wanted to speak with a mental health professional first.
Ultimately, Trott said she is “disappointed” in the policy.
“It’s a really sensitive game to play when you have students who have issues like suicidal thoughts,” she said. “In terms of priority, I think that’s a really inappropriate way to handle things.”