Since April 2018, Ohio State has faced challenges with its mental health initiatives, as the deaths of students sparked further investigation into what services the university has to offer, how the university responds to mental health conversations and how the inner workings of one of the university’s key resources operates.
Counseling and Consultation Services, a free psychological service available to Ohio State students, is aimed at providing mental health support to those in need after a screening process. However, the service and the university’s response to mental health has been under scrutiny since April 2018 with students falling from parking garages, the creation of task forces to improve mental health resources by meeting recommendations and internal issues.
Beginning in April 2018, when two Ohio State students fell from the Ohio State Union parking garage within days of each other, University President Michael V. Drake created a Suicide and Mental Health Task Force aimed at developing suggestions of how to improve the mental health resources at Ohio State.
In addition to the task force, Drake commissioned public safety to enhance the safety at parking garages through various reconstructions in an attempt to prevent future incidents. The task force recommended annual reviews of environments that could be dangerous to students as well as the continued implementation of signs and murals at such locations, according to the report it released in September 2018
Though the task force didn’t have a clear agenda yet, the state of mental health resources began to garner more attention from both the university and students, as students organized group chats to hang flyers and write letters, while former Undergraduate Student Government president Shamina Merchant said at the time that the organization began a dialogue on mental health, starting with a meeting with Drake.
After the parking garage incidents, Dave Isaacs, spokesperson for the Office of Student Life, said that services at CCS would be available for all students as they needed them.
In September 2018, when another student fell from a parking garage on campus, Drake released a list of recommendations the mental health task force developed, which were aimed at reforming Ohio State’s mental health resources within a 60-day timeline.
The mental health task force had six objectives: create a culture of care, enhance and standardize screening procedures, enhance resources, communicate support and mental health promotion, expand delivery mechanisms and explore campus environments to advance additional safety measures.
“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,” Drake said at the time of the mental health task force’s recommendation list.
A month later in an interview with The Lantern, Drake announced an “implementation force” that acted as a check on the mental health task force operating on the 60-day deadline.
In the interview, Drake said many changes were underway and that one of the main focuses was to get the word out about the mental health resources Ohio State has to offer students, one of which being CCS.
“We have many things that other [universities] don’t have. When I say that we have a full service system, we have as much as a full mental inpatient hospital on campus. It’s extraordinarily rare that that’s the case,” Drake said.
In another interview with The Lantern in January 2019, Drake said the university had hired two new counselors at CCS and was in the process of creating a “warm line” as well as a mobile app aimed at presenting all help options at once.
Later that month, it was revealed that Micky Sharma, the director of CCS, was required to undergo sexual harassment training the year prior following an anonymous complaint accusing him of inappropriate touching and sexism. Public records show that Sharma completed his training in August 2018.
“Ohio State does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind, and these misconduct complaints were thoroughly investigated,” Ben Johnson, Ohio State spokesperson, said in a statement. “In accordance with Ohio State’s sexual misconduct policy and the findings of the investigation, the university issued formal corrective action.”
In February 2019, a group of campus representatives traveled to Cupertino, California, to visit Apple Inc.’s headquarters in partnership with Ohio State’s Digital Flagship initiative to design a university resource-specific mental wellness app.
The creation of the app meets the recommendations from Drake’s Suicide and Mental Health Task Force–which was created to make improvements to Ohio State’s mental health resources–and the team left the headquarters with a blueprint for Ohio State’s app team to build on.
In April 2019, internal CCS emails obtained by The Lantern described a policy in which a student will be prioritized if they come to CCS with a parent, faculty or staff member out of fear of complaints to the Office of the President.
Shonali Raney, associate director of of clinical services, described the policy in an August 2018 email thread with other staff members and raised questions about policies within CCS, including the preferential treatment policy.
“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 said in the email. “It has happened time and time again and then Micky [Sharma] gets called and he has to then call the faculty/staff/parent and personally apologize.”
Isaacs said in an email that access to mental health services for students is provided on an “equal basis.”
Later that month, the task force began recruiting students for the Buckeye Peer Access Line, the warm line program. Buckeye PAL is not a crisis hotline; rather it is a non-emergency phone line staffed by trained students during late night and early morning hours, according to the task force’s website.
The implementation force had an expected implementation phase of 18 months, beginning in October 2018.