A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health

Sending kids off to college is an exciting experience for many parents. Naturally, our focus is on the wonderful opportunities they will have, as we look with pride upon their promising passage into adulthood. But these stressful times require parents to also fully grasp the serious mental health challenges their students may face, and be equipped to provide support.

DOWNLOAD: A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health (PDF)

What do parents need to know?

Though some may hide or downplay it, rates of depression and anxiety are high among college students. Many students carry suicidal thoughts. Sexual assault is prevalent among college students. Hazing violence as an initiation rite at fraternities and some student organizations is a serious problem. All of these conditions pose greater risks for students who arrive on campus already with a mental health disorder. College psychological counseling centers are typically overwhelmed by demands for appointments, and navigating community mental health services and insurance coverage can exacerbate the stress.

In short, student mental health can be a complicated matter, and failing to deal with it adequately can lead to serious consequences.

Another in an occasional series of articles about student mental health. For more information, go to The Sophie Fund’s Student Mental Health Page

“Mental health problems can affect many areas of students’ lives, reducing their quality of life, academic achievement, physical health, and satisfaction with the college experience, and negatively impacting relationships with friends and family members,” says the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). “These issues can also have long-term consequences for students, affecting their future employment, earning potential, and overall health.”

Making matters worse, research is finding that Covid-19 pandemic conditions have caused a spike in stressors among college students. A survey of 2,086 college students conducted at the beginning of the pandemic by Active Minds showed that 80 percent felt Covid-19 had “negatively impacted” their mental health, and 20 percent said their mental health had “significantly worsened.”

A study in Spring 2020 showed a moderate-to-severe level of depression in 48.14 percent of survey participants, a moderate-to-severe level of anxiety in 38.48 percent, and 18.04 percent with suicidal thoughts. More than 70 percent indicated that their stress/anxiety levels had increased during the pandemic.

Another study in mid-2020 found that the prevalence of moderate-severe anxiety increased from 18.1 percent of first-year students before the pandemic to 25.3 percent within four months after the pandemic began; and the prevalence of moderate-severe depression increased from 21.5 percent to 31.7 percent.

Additional specific data to know:

  • 52.7 percent of college students surveyed reported that academics have been “traumatic or very difficult to handle,” and 19.8 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function” in the past 12 months, according to the Spring 2019 National College Health Assessment; 9.3 percent seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and 1.6 percent had attempted suicide.
  • 36.9 percent of surveyed college students seeking counseling in the 2019-2020 academic year had experienced “serious suicidal ideation,” (up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year who “seriously considered attempting suicide”), according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2020 Annual Report; 10.9 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.
  • 15.6 percent of female seniors (or higher) participating in the Association of American Universities 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct reported being raped (“completed penetration using physical force or the victim was unable to consent or stop what was happening”) since enrolling in college.
  • In the past month, 23.9 percent of college students used illicit drugs, and 33 percent engaged in binge alcohol drinking, according to a 2019 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

When parents do fully grasp the scope of the challenges, then they need to understand the risk factors and warning signs for a mental health crisis, and how to support their students if they should exhibit cause for concern. Help can range from staying connected with moral support and positive encouragement to evaluating and navigating mental health treatment options at the college counseling center, in the community, or back home during a health leave of absence.

McLean Hospital, a psychiatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, provides these basic tips for parents:

  • Prepare Your Child for the Unexpected
  • The Importance of Staying in Touch and Validation
  • Encourage Healthy Habits
  • Make Room for Mistakes
  • Have a Plan Focused on Student Mental Health
  • Learn About College Mental Health Services
  • If a Student Is Struggling, Get Help Immediately

List of helpful resources curated by The Sophie Fund for supporting your Ithaca-based college student’s mental health:

Mental Health

Risk Factors, Protective Factors, and Warning Signs, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Mental Health Conditions, National Alliance on Mental Illness


Parent and Family Guide: Supporting Your College Student Through Mental Health Challenges, Forefront Suicide Prevention

Set to Go: For Families, The JED Foundation

Set to Go: The Transition, The JED Foundation

A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health, McLean Hospital

Mental Health in College, National Alliance on Mental Illness

Life on Campus, Mental Health America

What Parents Need to Know: #GoodforMEdia’s Guide to Social Media, Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing, Stanford University

College Depression: What Parents Need to Know, Mayo Clinic

Cornell University and Ithaca College

Cornell University: Families of New Students

Cornell University: How to Support Your Student

Cornell University: Family Guide 2021-2022

Ithaca College: Guiding a First-Year College Student

College Mental Health Reports

Mental Health Review Final Report April 2020, Cornell University

“Commending Cornell’s Mental Health Recommendations,” The Sophie Fund

“Recommendations for Improved Student Mental Health at Cornell University,” The Sophie Fund

“Aiming for a Student Mental Health Gold Standard at Cornell University,” The Sophie Fund

Report of the Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health July 2020, Harvard University

Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-being, Office of the Provost, February 2018, Johns Hopkins University

The Healthy Minds Study

Depression, Anxiety, Loneliness Are Peaking in College Students, The Brink, Boston University

Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2020 Annual Report

The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey 2018

National College Health Assessment Spring 2019, American College Health Association

Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Students on College Campuses, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Mental Health on College Campuses: Investments, Accommodations Needed to Address Student Needs, National Council on Disability

Behavioral Health Among College Students, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Suicide among College and University Students in the United States, Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Consequences of Student Mental Health Issues, Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Sexual Assault

2020 Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, Association of American Universities

Campus Sexual Violence, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)


Hazing in View: College Students at Risk, National Study of Student Hazing 2008

Substance Use

College Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Substance Abuse In College Students: Statistics & Addiction Treatment, American Addiction Centers

Recent Media Articles

“Did Covid Break Students’ Mental Health?,” October 14, 2021, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“College students struggle with mental health as pandemic drags on,” Washington Post, October 14, 2021

“A ‘Breaking Point’ in Campus Mental Health,”  July 15, The Chronicle of Higher Education

DOWNLOAD: A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health (PDF)

Ithaca Cupcakes 2021: Special Awards

Contestants in the 6th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest wowed the judges with their recipes, originality, craftsmanship, and creativity delivered in their photos, videos, and stories. Congratulations to winners of the Special Awards!

Yummiest Shark Fins Award

Lionel Bakum

Lights, Camera, Action! Award

Emily Rosato

It’s a Great Pumpkin Award

Henry Bowes

Sommelier Award

Heather Lee Williams

Necessity Is the Mother of Confection Award

Stacia Humby

Cupcakes Are Gorges Award

Eleanor Gabler

True to Yourself Award

Patti Meyers and Hudson

Cherry On Top Award

Shauna Defone

Apple of My Eye Award

Ann Phelan

It’s About Thyme Award

Takoda Warner

Chocolate Happiness Award

Holly Taylor

Lionel Bakum’s Pretty Darn Yummy Cupcakes

Emily Rosato’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes

Henry Bowes’s Pumpkin Spiced Latte Cupcakes

Heather Lee Williams’s Partners in Wine Cupcakes

Stacia Humby’s Chocolate Cherry Almond Cupcakes

Eleanor Gabler’s Waterfall Cupcakes

Patti Meyers and Hudson’s Pillsbury Lemon Cupcakes

Shauna Defone’s Chocolate Cherry Cordial Cupcakes

Ann Phelan’s Spiced Apple Pie Cheesecake Cupcakes

Takoda Warner’s Vegan Orange Lemon Cupcakes

Holly Taylor’s Super Moist Chocolatey Cupcakes

Ithaca Cupcakes 2021: Honorable Mention Awards

One of the judges in the 6th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest commented that the entries were too beautiful to eat. That certainly goes for the seven cupcake submissions that received Honorable Mention awards.

Kudos and thanks to all 24 contestants—you are the best in every way!

Honorable Mention awardees are presented with $25 gift certificates from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Honorable Mention

Aušra Milano

Effat Rahman

Kelly and Rosemary Rowland

Tamarynde Cacciotti

Debbie Barbash

Simon LeRoux

Annika Donlick

Aušra Milano’s Brown Butter Carrot Cupcakes: Brown butter carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and candied carrot roses

Effat Rahman’s Corpse Bride Cupcakes: Earl Grey-infused Victoria sponge cake filled with blueberry-lemon jam and topped with blue whipped cream, paper butterflies, paper flowers, and sugar pearls

Kelly and Rosemary Rowland’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Jelly Surprise Cupcakes: Rich dark chocolate cake coated with a thin layer of jam with peanut butter frosting and a miniature peanut butter cup buried inside

Tamarynde Cacciotti’s Crème Brûlée Cupcakes: Vanilla-flavored cake with sugar lace and handmade gum paste flowers

Debbie Barbash’s Tropical Paradise! Cupcakes: Vanilla-flavored cake topped with creamy mango frosting, sprinkled with coconut flakes and dry mango pieces

Simon LeRoux’s Vanilla Lavender Cupcakes: Vanilla and lavender-flavored, mushroom-shaped cake with a honey buttercream frosting and marzipan snails and spots

Annika Donlick’s Fall Harvest Double Chocolate Cupcakes: Chocolate cake with decadent chocolate frosting and homemade fondant hand-sculpted into pumpkins, apples, corn, and zucchini

Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2021

Rachel Allison won 1st Place with her Finger Lakes Picnic Cupcakes in the 6th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund. Her intricately designed cupcakes, in the shape of a picnic basket packed with wine, cheese, salami, fruit, and a baguette, were inspired by her love of sharing charcuterie boards and local vintages with friends.

Rachel Allison with her Grand Prize-winning Cupcakes

“One of my best memories from this year was when a friend and mentor came to town, and we spent the day visiting different wineries on Keuka and Seneca Lake,” said Allison, who won 2nd Place and Honorable Mention in the 2020 and 2019 contests, respectively. “I baked a fresh loaf of bread that morning, and we had a picnic lunch, pairing different cheeses and charcuterie with the wines we picked up along the way!”

Allison’s chocolate coffee cupcakes were filled with salted caramel ganache, brown butter almond cake, and mascarpone mousse. The food products in the basket were made with white chocolate truffles (bread and cheese), cake balls/truffles (salami), vanilla candy (wine bottle), and caramelized white chocolate (cheese). The chocolate almond shortbread lid and cupcake basket are covered with chocolate buttercream basket weaving. The napkin and grapes are piped vanilla buttercream.

Rachel Allison’s Finger Lakes Picnic Cupcakes

May Cayzer won 2nd Place with her maple cupcakes affectionately inspired by, and designed to represent, her dog, Kiwi. The cupcakes depict Kiwi’s adorable face, but one of them shows her paw prints. “Any time she sees me, she starts jumping over a foot in the air,” Cayzer explained. “Her excitement never fails to put a smile on her face. Her two little paws jumping around waiting for me to come in and play with her are symbolic of the emotional support she provides.”

Cayzer used real maple syrup to magnify the cupcake flavor, and stuffed them with homemade “moist and decadent” maple filling. She topped the cupcakes with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. She then used fondant to create Kiwi’s nose, eyes, ears, tongue, and paw prints.

May Cayzer’s Maple Cupcakes

The judges awarded Mary Sever-Schoonmaker 3rd Place with her “I Got My Fill on Blueberry Hill” Cupcakes. The two-in-one treats consisted of lemon cupcakes with fresh blueberry compote filling and fresh blueberry buttercream frosting, topped with miniature blueberry pies. “I was inspired to present this cupcake after reading that Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene,” Sever-Schoonmaker said. “The flavors of blueberry and lemon, coupled with the natural, bold color of the buttercream, seemed to fit that description to a tee.”

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker’s “I Got My Fill on Blueberry Hill” Cupcakes

Katy Holloway received the Youth Award for her Adventures in Candy Land Cupcakes. The judges were impressed with Holloway’s gluten-free red velvet cupcakes frosted with vanilla buttercream and topped with an array of candy decorations highlighted by a forest of Dum Dum lollipops. But they were also touched by the story behind her cupcakes, about how she and an elementary school friend used a second-hand Candy Land game to invent their own fairytales to make memories she treasures.

Katy Holloway’s Adventures in Candy Land Cupcakes

Best Story Award went to Milo Bakum, whose Pusheen Cupcakes were accompanied by an adventure story about Pusheen Cupcake, “the bravest in Cupcake Village.” With the help of a wizard, a blacksmith, and Pusheen Kit Kat, Pusheen Cupcake succeeded in defeating the Broccoli Army and conquering Brussels Sprout Castle. “And everybody lived happily ever after.”

Dina S. won the Best Video Award with her Ocean Cupcakes, which featured dazzling decorations of the deep blue sea in various stages from a hurricane to waves lapping on the beach. “Ever thought that it would be hard to turn something as beautiful as the ocean into food?” Dina asked. “Here in front of you have exactly that!”

Dina S.’s Ocean Cupcakes

This year’s contest, moved online due to continuing concerns about the Covid-19 coronavirus, drew cupcakes with diverse themes ranging from Upstate apple picking, Ithaca waterfalls, Finger Lakes wine country, fall harvest, sharks, Frodo and Bilbo, Tim Burton’s filmmaking, tropical Taiwan, Parisian desserts, and a certain pet snail named “Pippi Long-Stalking.” The spectrum of cupcake flavors included thyme, mango, coconut, almond, maple, pumpkin, carrot, lavender, honey, strawberry, peanut butter, Earl Grey tea, salted caramel, marshmallow, and Crème Brûlée, among others.

The event celebrated the 24 contestants who baked cupcakes and then shared photos, stories, and even some videos of their creations. The winners were announced at an online ceremony on October 23 hosted by The Mighty Mickie Quinn and featuring musical performances by Kenneth McLaurin & SingTrece, Nellia Mattson & Savannah Loiacono, and the Mozart Group Class at Ithaca Talent Education.

Kenneth McLaurin & SingTrece

Nellia Mattson & Savannah Loiacono

Mozart Group Class at Ithaca Talent Education

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s great culinary community:

Yuko Jingu of Akemi Food

Ashley Case of Case Sera Sera

Racquel Riccardi of the Sinfully Delicious Baking Co

Melissa Kenny of Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop

Ashley Case, Yuko Jingu, Racquel Riccardi, and Melissa Kenny (clockwise from top left)

Cupcake Contest Host The Mighty Mickie Quinn

The 6th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people. Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, Sophie was on a medical leave of absence from Cornell and active in Ithaca’s culinary scene.

Top Winners (receiving Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants):

1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Rachel Allison

2nd Place ($100+Gift Card from Rasa Spa): May Cayzer

3rd Place ($50): Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

Best Video Award ($100): Dina S.

Youth Award ($100): Katy Holloway

Best Story Award ($100): Milo Bakum

(The list of Honorable Mention and Special Award recipients will be posted soon!)

EVENT: “Kindness, Acceptance, and Inclusion in the Age of Covid-19”

October is National Bullying Prevention Month! Join the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force for a webinar next Wednesday October 27 @ 3 pm, “Kindness, Acceptance, and Inclusion in the Age of Covid-19.”

TO REGISTER: Email talbert@tompkins-co.org

Bailey Huston, coordinator of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, will discuss the definition and dynamics of bullying, types of bullying, roles students play, what adults can do to help, and available resources.

MORE RESOURCES: Go to https://thesophiefund.org/bullying/

DOWNLOAD: Bullying Prevention Resources for Schools 2021

Let’s work together to prevent bullying and its harmful effects on victims and perpetrators alike.