Ithaca College Partners with JED for Improved Student Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit college students hard. Even before the disease forced campus closures, studies showed alarming and rising rates of depression and anxiety among undergraduates. Subsequent research found that pandemic conditions caused a further spike in stressors. For example, Active Minds conducted a nationwide survey of 2,086 college students at the beginning of the pandemic. It showed that 80 percent felt Covid-19 had “negatively impacted” their mental health, and 20 percent said their mental health had “significantly worsened.”

Ithaca College, prior to the pandemic, began exploring new ways to support student mental health with the appointment in 2019 of Brian Petersen as the new head of the Center for Counseling and Psychiatric Services. The effort gained traction in 2020 when the school inked a four-year partnership with The Jed Foundation, a national nonprofit devoted to supporting mental health in young adults.

According to the foundation, the JED Campus program is a strategic partnership that guides colleges through a collaborative process of program and policy development to enhance existing work and foster systemic improvement.

Ithaca College’s participation in the JED Campus program began with a self-assessment of student mental health support based on a JED questionnaire to identify areas in need of attention.

Twelve hundred of Ithaca College’s 5,000 students then participated in the Health Minds Study, a survey examining mental health status, campus climate, utilization of support services, and related issues to inform institutional policies and practices. The survey, which has been conducted at 400 colleges and universities since 2007, is operated by the Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health based at the University of Michigan and Boston University.

“In addition to helping you identify specific improvements to make, the JED program forces you to create a structure around the whole process,” Petersen said. As head of the college’s JED Campus task force, Petersen will submit annual reports to JED about the progress being made. Another measurement will take place toward the end of the JED partnership when a follow-up Health Minds survey is conducted.

The initial Healthy Minds survey highlighted symptoms of depression and anxiety among Ithaca College students at a higher rate than the national average, Petersen said. At the same time, he added, the survey indicated that the school’s students are less affected by stigma and more open to receiving mental health services than many peers across the country.

For example, among the Ithaca College students participating in the survey, 47 percent identified with overall depression and 25 with major depression, compared to 39 percent and 21 percent nationally. Forty-one percent of Ithaca College respondents identified with anxiety disorder compared to 34 percent nationally. Only 2 percent of Ithaca College students said they “would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment,” compared to 6 percent nationally.

Petersen said that the results of the self-assessment and the Healthy Minds Study have already prompted new initiatives to improve services.

He said that the school is exploring new models for responding to after-hours mental health crises, which are currently handled by the campus Office of Public Safety and a third-party psychological counseling service.

Another goal is tightening up support relationships and lines of communication with community providers like the Cayuga Medical Center, and launching new ones such as potentially with MindWell Center LLC, an Ithaca mental health counseling service, Petersen said. Part of this, he added, entails establishing close referral relationships with community providers who are better equipped to deal with specialized conditions such as eating disorders, sexual assault trauma, and substance use addiction.

Petersen said that another possible initiative aims for a more systemic approach to campus mental health education, through regular programming that highlights issues like depression and suicide, centralized hubs for communicating mental health information, operationalizing broad campus support for student mental health, and mental health gatekeeper training for faculty, staff, and students.

“We have to have a systemic and a community wide approach,” Petersen said.

The partnership with JED came together quickly soon after Petersen’s arrival from Pace University, where the Pace Counseling Center had worked with JED to identify and implement a gatekeeper program to train faculty, staff, and students in bystander intervention and suicide prevention protocols. Senior Ithaca College administrators including then-President Shirley M. Collado favored the initiative after meeting JED representatives at a student mental health conference. A financial hurdle was overcome when the parents of a current student stepped forward to pay a JED onboarding fee.

Student Mental Health Awareness Week

Cornell Health International (CHI) is a student organization at Cornell University that raises awareness about global health issues through service efforts on a local scale.

This has included volunteering at Bridges Cornell Heights, a local assisted living facility, where CHI members came up with activity ideas and arts and crafts that would brighten the days of residents. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our members volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes (NAMI-FL) to help facilitate monthly online Family Forums.

CHI has also facilitated Zoom discussions about mental health with local Ithaca community leaders, and moderated panel discussions with special guests. CHI members recently took part in the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes 2021 Walkathon, and are currently conducting weekly virtual visits with residents of the Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing.

We sponsored Student Mental Health Awareness Week in November to engage the Cornell community on a topic of great importance to students. The program included a panel discussion featuring Sharon McMullen, Cornell’s assistant vice president of Student & Campus Life for Health and Wellbeing. She reviewed efforts being made by the Executive Accountability Committee to push forward recommendations from the university’s Mental Health Review in 2020. McMullen was joined on the panel by Catherine Thrasher-Carroll,  Mental Health Promotion Program Director at the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives.

In conjunction with Student Mental Health Awareness Week, CHI joined forces with The Sophie Fund to raise money for The Learning Web, an Ithaca nonprofit organization offering experiential learning, youth employment, and independent living programs to youth and young adults. We spread the word about the fundraiser through social media accounts, and created online bingo boards for individuals to play as they donated.

To cap off our awareness week program, CHI members created cards with motivational messages and left them around campus to provide encouragement to students as fall semester finals began.

To learn more about CHI, follow us on Instagram and Facebook (@chealthinternational) or email us at chealthinternational@gmail.com.

—By Jackie Cho, Jenny Long, and Anna Szombathy

Jackie Cho, a Health Care Policy major at Cornell University, is co-president of Cornell Health International

Jenny Long, a Human Biology, Health, and Society major at Cornell University, is service leader of Cornell Health International

Anna Szombathy, a Biological Sciences major at Cornell University, is co-president of Cornell Health International

NAMI Finger Lakes: Supporting Mental Health in Our Community

Who do you turn to when you’re struggling to understand a loved one who may be experiencing a mental health condition? Do you feel connected to the resources you need to be a positive support to your family member or friend? Are you making your wellbeing a priority in your pursuit of care for others?

The Finger Lakes chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides free family support, education, and advocacy regarding matters of mental health. Click here to download, print, and share our guide to NAMI-FL’s programs and services.

When families and friends recognize signs that their loved one may be experiencing changes in their mental health, it can be confusing and overwhelming. For 35 years, NAMI-FL has been a trusted resource in our community. Families and friends come to us to learn about their loved one’s experience and to find support for themselves in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment.

One never has to worry that they can’t afford NAMI services, as they are always free.

Please consider supporting NAMI-FL? Click DONATE to make your financial contribution.

Our evidence-based signature classes and support groups are led by trained family peers and developed by NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of the millions of Americans living with mental illness.

The history of NAMI is a long tale of courageous families across the nation, from a nationwide signature drive to double mental health funding to building a national organization with over 600 affiliates.

Our local affiliate was founded by Jean Walters in 1986 when families found a warm and compassionate space to share their experiences and find support around the kitchen table. (Listen to the Talk Tompkins podcast with Jean in which she describes how she became a mental health advocate.)

We’re proud of the confidence and trust our community has placed in us to grow and connect more people to the mental health support and resources they need. NAMI-FL is governed by a volunteer board of directors; through the tireless efforts of many volunteers and the generous support of the Park Foundation, NAMI-FL created the position of executive director in 2020.

Together, the board and executive director work with volunteers to meet the needs of families in our community. We increase our impact through connections with other organizations with the shared goal of improving the lives of our loved ones and everyone experiencing changes in their mental health.

NAMI-FL has a rich history of advocacy in our community and in New York State. We keep our local policymakers informed about the mental health needs and challenges in our communities and encourage initiatives such as the implementation of our Ithaca Wellness and Recovery Court and Crisis Intervention Training for local law enforcement. We stay informed about changes in local services and keep families up to date.

We collaborate with NAMI New York State to meet and inform our state representatives about the issues that are important to us. We’re actively working to improve the lives of families impacted by mental illness and empowering our community to advocate for a stronger system of care. Click here to see NAMI NYS’s 2021 Legislative Agenda and learn simple ways you can use your story to make an impact.

We often hear that NAMI-FL is the area’s best kept secret. With your help, we can spread the word, amplify our collective voice, and work together to build a strong system of mental health care. Together, we can make sure families are knowledgeable about their loved one’s experience and never feel alone in their own.

Click here for a review of NAMI-FL’s 2021 activities and to learn how you can volunteer or support our work in the community and across the state.

At NAMI-FL, you are never alone. To save lives, to change lives, we must come together for mental health. We look forward to connecting with you in 2022!

—By Beth McGee

Beth McGee is the executive director of NAMI Finger Lakes

2022 “Make Kindness Go Viral!” Contest

Attention all students in Tompkins County! Do you take kindness for granted? What does kindness mean to you? What does kindness look like?

Help make the world a better place—and go for a prize—by entering the “Make Kindness Go Viral!” contest in January! You can create original artwork, or you can write a short essay, that expresses your own ideas or experiences regarding kindness.

According to the competition guidelines, participants in the artwork competition are invited to submit an original poster or social media graphic, created in any art medium, illustrating kindness.

For the essay competition, participants must submit an original essay of 500 words or less about their “next act of kindness.”

The contest is open to all students. Awards will be presented in separate elementary school, middle school, and high school categories.

The deadline for submissions is January 17, and the awards will be announced at the virtual 2022 United in Kindness Symposium on January 27.

Go to The Sophie Fund to download the Registration Form today!

The contest is sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

Tompkins Symposium on Cyberbullying Coming January 27

The Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force announced December 20 that it will sponsor “What to Do About Cyberbullying,” a day-long symposium via Zoom on January 27, 2022.

The task force’s 2022 United in Kindness event will feature presentations by Sameer Hinduja, author and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, and Amanda Verba, chief operations officer for the Ithaca City School District, and other local experts on child development.

The symposium will also include “Tompkins Youth Speak Out,” a breakout session from 7-8 p.m. with students from area schools discussing how they handle cyberbullying. The session will be moderated by Melanie Little, director of Education and Youth Services at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County.

All sessions are open to parents, students, school administrators, teachers, counselors, social workers, athletic coaches, and resource officers; and staff at after-school programs and independent youth organizations. Registration to attend any of the sessions is available at: https://bit.ly/3y2DjRu. More information about the symposium is available at: https://thesophiefund.org/bullying/.

“While cyberbullying has been a topic of concern for several years, the shift to online learning and further social isolation of our county’s young people as a result of the pandemic has only further highlighted the need for a robust response to issues of online bullying and harassment,” said Bridgette Nugent, deputy director of the Tompkins County Youth Services Department and co-coordinator of the Task Force.

Added Task Force member Celia Clement, a social worker for 32 years in the Ithaca City School District with a focus on developing student-led programs to create kind, inclusive, and safe school communities K-12:

“Youth only tell their parents that they are having social problems online around 10 percent of the time. We need to give students tools to address cyberbullying, how to handle it, how to be helpful bystanders when they witness other youth being bullied, and when to seek help from adults. There are many potential adverse mental health and social consequences, both short term and long term, for the victims, the perpetrators, and the onlookers.”

The task force also announced the launch of “Make Kindness Go Viral!,” a contest for Tompkins County K-12 students to express kindness in artwork or writing. Contest registration forms are available at https://thesophiefund.org/bullying/.  Deadline for submissions is January 17. Awards will be announced during the United in Kindness Symposium.

“The contest invites submissions from all Tompkins County youth to underscore the importance of building and nurturing a community of kindness where bullying is not tolerated,” Nugent said.

The Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force was formed in 2019 by stakeholders from government agencies, community organizations, and schools to explore the prevalence of youth bullying and strategies to combat it.