Aiming for a Student Mental Health “Gold Standard” at Cornell

The Sophie Fund’s co-founders, saying that they are encouraged by Cornell University’s launch of a comprehensive review of student mental health policies and practices, called on the review teams to set the ambitious goal of creating a gold standard for collegiate mental health.

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100-year-old statue of Cornell founder Ezra Cornell in the Arts Quad

Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, who created The Sophie Fund in 2016 as a mental health advocacy group after the suicide death of their daughter Sophie during a health leave of absence from Cornell, made the statement in a 25-page presentation on August 23 to the two review teams containing their personal perspectives and main concerns. The review is taking place during the 2019-2020 academic year.

“At times, we have expressed frustration over delays in launching Cornell’s comprehensive review,” they wrote. “But it is important now to look forward and help ensure that it brings about the greatest possible support for student mental health.” The Sophie Fund founders said they “are encouraged by Cornell Health Executive Director Kent Bullis’s commitment to creating a ‘healthier and more supportive campus environment with improved support resources and clinical services for our students.’” MacLeod and Hack wrote to President Martha E. Pollack in April 2017 asking for an independent, external-led task force of experts to assess the university’s approach to student mental health and make recommendations for improvements.

Click here to download The Sophie Fund’s “Perspectives on Student Mental Health at Cornell University: A Presentation to the Mental Health Review Committee and the External Review Team.”

Highlights:

Scope of the Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

We encourage the review teams to set the ambitious goal of producing a model package of findings and recommendations enabling Cornell to establish a gold standard for collegiate mental health.

Cornell University’s Institutional Mindset

We encourage the review teams to review prevailing attitudes toward student mental health in the university’s leadership echelons; and consider recommendations for changes in institutional mindset and leadership culture as a necessary prerequisite for effectively addressing student mental health challenges.

Campus Climate and Institutional Accountability

We encourage the review teams to review the broad cross-campus framework for supporting student mental health and wellness, and consider recommendations for strengthening accountability; streamlining policies, programs, and practices; and enlisting schools, faculty, staff, and students in a comprehensive, coordinated, results-oriented effort that prioritizes student mental health, healthy living, and unqualified support for every student’s academic success.

Cornell University Student Mental Health Policies

We encourage the review teams to inform their findings and recommendations with a review of all current Cornell policies related to or affecting student mental health.

Cornell University Budgetary Resources

We encourage the review teams to review how university resources are allocated for student mental health; to explore potential new sources of funding; and consider budgetary recommendations based on what is needed to fully implement best practices.

Student Mental Health Data

We encourage the review teams to inform their findings and recommendations with a review of key data providing insights into the prevalence of mental health challenges and the means utilized to address them.

Cornell University Student Input

We encourage the review teams to actively seek and receive maximum input from students in order to fully understand the mental health challenges students face, which include seeking and receiving psychological counseling, navigating academic pressures that exacerbate mental disorders, and taking leaves of absence due to mental health crises; and consider recommendations strongly informed by student input.

Clinical Best Practices

We encourage the review teams to review the mental health policies, programs, and practices at Cornell Health and the Counseling and Psychological Services unit, and consider recommendations that ensure alignment with current best practices.

Mental Health Leaves of Absence

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s policies, programs, and practices for mental health leaves of absence; and consider recommendations for better supporting students in the process as they consider, take, and return from leaves.

Ithaca Community Resources

We encourage the review teams to undertake a review, including substantive discussions with Ithaca community stakeholders, of the practice of referring students to community service providers; and consider recommendations that better safeguard the mental health interests of students as well as community members.

Trauma at Cornell University

We encourage the review teams to review the prevalence of student sexual assault and hazing, the mental health consequences for victims, and the practices in place to address the problems and support the victims; and consider recommendations seeking an end to the cycle of student-inflicted trauma and ensuring maximum support for victims.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s Alcohol and Other Drug policies, programs, and practices; and consider recommendations for enhancing prevention and intervention strategies, treatment, and recovery support.

Prevention and Early Intervention, and Crisis Intervention

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s policies, programs, and practices for creating a safe community; preventing student suicides; supporting at-risk populations; and aiding students in crisis; and consider recommendations for improvements.

Mental Health Education

We encourage the review teams to review policies, programs, and practices for communicating knowledge and tools on mental health and fighting stigma; and consider recommendations for improvement.

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Are you a Cornell student or a member of the Ithaca community? You may provide your comments and ideas to the review teams by emailing the Mental Health Review Committee (MHRC) at this address: mhrc@cornell.edu.

The heads of the Mental Health Review teams are:

External Review Team:

Michael Hogan, consultant at Hogan Health Associates

Mental Health Review Committee:

Marla Love, senior associate dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students, Student and Campus Life

Miranda Swanson, associate dean for Student Services in Cornell Engineering

Cornell will soon be publishing an online survey about student mental health available here.

 See also:

Launching Cornell’s Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health