In the wake of a possible suicide, and another possible attempted suicide, from the same parking garage in one week, Ohio State students are criticizing access to mental health care on campus and questioning what more can be done.
Sophomore Daniel Birdsall died after he fell or jumped from the upper level of the Ohio Union South Garage last Thursday. Then, last Sunday, an unnamed former Ohio State student fell or jumped from the same garage and was brought to the hospital in critical condition.
Though Ohio State is offering support services in the wake of the incidents, students say the resources aren’t available when they’re needed.
Junior Zachary Hartless says he waited more than a month to get a counseling appointment through the university. When he got there, the session lasted only 15 minutes.
"He basically told me that I needed more attention than OSU counseling services was able to offer, and he didn't think I should be seeing a counselor at Ohio State," Hartless says.
The counselor told Hartless that he would be able to find a quicker appointment at the student health center on campus in order to get a prescription for anti-depressants and gave him resources for alternative counseling services in the area. None of the three provided suggestions were taking new patients, though.
"I don't blame counseling services. At the end of the day, it comes to a lack of proper staffing by the university," Hartless says. "When there are a handful of counselors for 60,000 students, you're obviously not going to be able to give attention to every single student."
Hartless says he's not alone. He's heard similar stories from friends and in classes.
"In total, I waited over a month to even be seen by a counselor, and that was an emergency case,” Hartless says. “I know many students who weren't seen as being emergencies who waited upwards of six weeks."
Dave Isaacs, a spokesman for Ohio State’s Office of Student Life, says that when a student reaches out, they have a phone appointment within the day to assess their case. Wait times vary depending on the severity of the student's case.
"If there is an urgent need, they’ll get them to an appointment," Isaacs says. "With this semester, no one waits longer than a week."
Counseling and Consultation Services employs more than 40 full time counselors and around 20 trainees.
But Darcy Granello of the Campus Suicide Prevention Program says that mental health services, while important, can't be the entire picture.
"One of the things that we are trying to do is help our students recognize when they're hurting, when they're at risk before they're in crisis," Granello says. "So that we can help our students use the other services that are available to them."
Those include things like workshops, group therapy, wellness coaching, and the university's SmartLab, which aims to help students with stress and anxiety.
On Monday, The Lantern reports, student organizations posted some 6,000 fliers across campus detailing what local and national mental health resources are available to those who need them.
"We have a lot of these kind of supports that are available on campus, things that they could use, that if we could help them recognize before they get to the crisis point, we might be able to save our counseling center for students who truly are in crisis and at risk," Granello adds.
In response to the recent incidents, President Michael Drake announced he will assemble a mental health task force that includes Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health interim chair Eileen Ryan and Student Life senior vice president Javaune Adams-Gaston. The group will be charged with evaluating national best practices and providing recommendations within 60 days.
Police are investigating both incidents. In the meantime, Ohio State is reviewing all campus parking garages and increasing police and security foot patrols.
Ohio State's Counseling and Consultation Service can be reached at 614-292-5766, and a crisis text line can be reached anytime at 741741. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.