President Michael V. Drake discussed Ohio State mental health task force during an interview with members of The Lantern on Sept. 9. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

University President Michael V. Drake announced the launch of the Buckeye Peer Access Line, a nonemergency, peer-to-peer talk line that offers support and direction to campus mental health resources, recommended by the Suicide and Mental Health Task Force in September 2018.

In an interview with The Lantern, Drake discussed the state of mental health services on campus, including the creation of Buckeye PAL — which launched Monday at 8 p.m. — and the university’s response to internal Counseling and Consultation Services emails obtained by The Lantern that detailed a preferential treatment policy. 

The Suicide and Mental Health Task Force, which was commissioned by Drake after a review of the university’s suicide prevention efforts and mental health support, released a list of recommendations to improve Ohio State’s practices last September.  

Drake said that following recommendations, the task force began the implementation of the suggested changes, including the warm line and the increased promotion of mental health resources. 

“That’s something that we’ve initiated to try to also be very visible in outreach,” Drake said.

Maddy Perry, deputy chief of staff in Undergraduate Student Government and a member of the Suicide and Mental Health Task Force’s implementation team for the warm line, said the idea for the line was presented before the recommendations were made and has been carefully planned since meetings began in January. 

“We didn’t just want to put out something to check off a box saying that we completed it. We want it to actually be really well thought out and a really big asset to the mental health resources and just wellness resources in general on campus,” Perry said. 

Perry, a fourth-year in accounting, said the team studied other schools that have implemented similar systems, including Washington University of St. Louis and the University of Notre Dame.

According to the Student Wellness Center’s website, Buckeye PAL is different from a crisis hotline because it offers after-hours support to promote student well-being from 8 p.m. to midnight when classes are in session. A crisis hotline provides 24/7 support for high-risk students. 

Buckeye PAL does not operate during university breaks, exam weeks or when university offices are closed, according to the website. 

Buckeye PAL allows students to have conversations with student volunteers for support and learn about campus resources, according to the website. Volunteers expect conversations to include adjusting to college life, managing stress, managing relationships, dealing with pressure to succeed and navigating personal and social identities. 

Perry said that there are 17 volunteers working the warm line, each of whom underwent 40 hours of training over the summer. 

The volunteers are undergraduate, graduate and professional students who have participated in “comprehensive and specific” trainings, according to the website. Volunteers are active listeners, and conversations are typically kept private; however, they are obligated to report Title IX violations and must report instances of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, stalking and sex-, gender- or pregnancy-based discrimination. 

Drake also commented on the supposed preferential treatment policy detailed by employees of CCS in emails obtained by The Lantern in April. 

The August 2018 emails described a policy in which students who come to CCS with a parent or professor are placed on a high priority list out of fear of complaints to Drake’s office. 

Drake said in the interview that this alleged policy is not the way Ohio State services should be operating. 

“None of our health services are — our health services should be triaged based on the needs of the patients. Period. End of sentence. Period. No other thing is appropriate. So, end of sentence. Period,” Drake said. 

Shonali Raney, associate director of clinical services, described the reasoning behind the policy as being dependent on who accompanied a student that was seeking services. 

“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 [CCS Director] Micky [Sharma] gets called and he has to then call the faculty/staff/parent and personally apologize.”