WVU officials, students wrestle with mental health issues

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In October of 2020, West Virginia University president Gordon Gee noted the pandemic magnified mental health challenges during the State of the University Address and made it a priority. Now following the apparent suicide of Benjamin Pravecek, 20, students are asking the school for more access to mental health services.

Officials began to ramp their ability to deal with mental health capacity with that direction. While adding staff, officials began to work on a plan to broaden the scope of services available at the Carruth Center.

The efforts drew little attention until around noon Friday, April 16 Pravecek died of a fall from a University Avenue parking garage. Witnesses called 911 and after an investigation the medical examiner identified the victim as Pravecek.

“We’ve added six or seven members counselors to our staff,” Farris said,” We’ve also been working on, and will launch it this summer, Healthy Minds University where we’re going to add an additional layer of support for our students.”

Days later hundreds attended a remembrance ceremony on campus.

Student Nicolette Rich was part of a group of students who rallied at the Mountainlair recently calling for changes in the system and services offered at the Carruth Center.

“They all really wanted to see a change at WVU especially with their mental services,” Rich said,” Especially in light of the passing of Benjamin Pravecek.”

According to Rich, the Carruth Center was not responsive or inadequate.

“My friend witnessed the suicide and wanted to go the Carruth Center and talk about it,” Rich said,” They turned him away and told his issue wasn’t as important as other people’s issue.”

There have been reports on social media that students have been “turned away” from the Carruth Center. Farris contends the Carruth Center is a short-term care facility and that counselors are available 24-hours-a-day and students are encouraged to use them if they have a problem.

However, referrals can sometimes be difficult for someone suffering a mental health issue to understand.

” Sometimes students perceive us getting them help from a different person as turning them away,” Farris said,” When in reality we’ve seen them and we’ll continue to see them until they get engaged with that counselor that can help them or that psychiatrist, but the goal is to get them the best help possible.”

Going back to that speech in October of 2020, Gee cited studies by the American Psychological Association and the Pew Research Center. Both studies warned of significantly higher rates of mental illness due to pandemic-related isolation.

“That’s the point of having our counselors available and the Carruth Center 24-7 and allowing students to have that emergency walk-in care,” Farris said,” So again, we treat each student individually and understand what’s going on at that moment.”