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: More information about the symposium is available at:

“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  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.

Experts on the Zero Suicide Model

The Suicide Prevention Center of New York’s “AIM for Zero: Suicide Care is Healthcare” symposium September 28-30 featured 11 outstanding presentations by leading experts on the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare. The presentations covered the model’s history, evidence base, core elements, screening and assessment tools, use in primary care, emergency departments, and crisis care systems, and special implications for preventing suicide among Black adolescents, LGBTQ youth, and members of tribal nations.

DOWNLOAD Click here to download a PDF of summaries of the 11 “Aim for Zero” presentations, compiled by The Sophie Fund.

Here is a listing of the 11 individual summaries:

“Vision Zero: Eliminating Suicide & Transforming Healthcare” C. Edward Coffey, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina [WATCH VIDEO]

“If Preventing Suicide is Our Target, Suicide Safe Care—in all Healthcare Settings—Is the Bullseye” Michael Hogan, former New York State Commissioner of Mental Health and co-developer of the Zero Suicide Model [WATCH VIDEO]

“A National Perspective on Zero Suicide in Healthcare” Richard McKeon, Branch Chief for Suicide Prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) [WATCH VIDEO]

“Implementing Zero Suicide in Health Systems” Brian Ahmedani, director of the Center for Health Policy and Health Services Research at the Henry Ford Health System [WATCH VIDEO]

“Best Practices for Primary Care” Virna Little, Chief Operating Officer & Co-Founder of Concert Health, a national organization providing behavioral health services to primary care providers [WATCH VIDEO]

“Zero Suicide Work in Emergency Departments: Opening Pandora’s Box” Edwin Boudreaux, professor of Emergency Medicine, Psychiatry, and Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School [WATCH VIDEO]

“The Promise of 988: Crisis Care for Everyone, Everywhere, Every Time” [WATCH VIDEO] David W. Covington, member of the Executive Committee of National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

“From Equality to Equity in LGBTQ Youth Suicide Prevention” Keygan Miller, Senior Advocacy Associate for The Trevor Project [WATCH VIDEO]

“Singing in a Strange Land: Suicide Prevention for Black Youth” Sherry Molock, associate professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at George Washington University [WATCH VIDEO]

“Making Suicide a Never Event – Zero Suicide in Indian Country” Sadé Heart of the Hawk Ali, Tribal Lead and a Senior Project Associate at the Zero Suicide Institute and former Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services [WATCH VIDEO]

“A Zero Suicide Story” Wykisha McKinney, Zero Suicide Program Manager at The Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD (Intellectual or Developmental Disability) [WATCH VIDEO]

READ MORE: The Zero Suicide Model in Tompkins County

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

Zero Suicide: A Personal Story

Wykisha McKinney lost her brother Johnny to suicide in 2004 and subsequently struggled with suicidal thoughts herself as she coped with a beloved sibling’s death.

In “A Zero Suicide Story,” a presentation at the Suicide Prevention Center of New York’s “AIM for Zero: Suicide Care is Healthcare” symposium September 28-30, she shared her personal story to illustrate the importance of the Zero Suicide Model’s commitment to patient care and a “just culture” for care providers, and the key role that loss survivors like herself play in implementing safer suicide care.

McKinney, Zero Suicide Program Manager at The Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD (Intellectual or Developmental Disability), said that Johnny was a Texas A&M University grad, an advocate for Black LGBTQ people, and a case manager at a Houston-area clinic for men who were HIV positive.

He was diagnosed with AIDS in 2000 and the illness took a heavy toll on him physically and emotionally, she said. He took his own life shortly after his doctor advised him to be admitted to the hospital to treat his worsening infection.

Last in a Series about the Zero Suicide Model for Healthcare

McKinney said that her brother’s death led her to become a suicide prevention advocate who asks many questions:

“What if my brother would have been screened for suicide risk on his routine visit to his doctor who was aware that he was HIV positive, who was aware that he had had an escalation in his health problems, and who was aware that his health issues were getting to the point where he was thinking about and discussing end of life decisions? What if the hospital system and the clinics prepared their doctors who all worked with HIV positive folks diagnosed with AIDS were all trained in how to screen and assess for suicide, and collaboratively create a safety plan? What if they were able to connect Johnny to a mental health professional? So those [steps] would help to close those gaps.”

The Zero Suicide Model, McKinney said, “answers the ‘what if.’ It tells us what could happen if these things take place. It tells us what could happen if we add or tweak our policies and procedures in a way that could promote life-saving practices.”

McKinney said that the Zero Suicide framework is defined by a system-wide organizational commitment to safer suicide care and behavioral health care. “It represents a culture shift away from fragmented suicide care toward a holistic and comprehensive commitment to patient safety as the most fundamental responsibility of healthcare,” she said.

“For me as a survivor of suicide loss, someone whose brother was actively involved in the health system and visited a health care practitioner the day before he died, I see the value of Zero Suicide. My personal story speaks to the importance of Zero Suicide.”

She explained how Zero Suicide promotes a just culture of practice for healthcare practitioners. “The Zero Suicide framework is not designed to point fingers at people, which is what’s wonderful about it,” she said. “Oftentimes when you implement new new procedures or new practices or when you tell your organization we’re going to evaluate how we do things, people may think that you mean you want to evaluate what I did or what I’m doing wrong. But the Zero Suicide framework is designed to look at the system as a whole. So it looks at that system and it identifies where those gaps are.”

Survivors of suicide loss regularly ask themselves about the “what-ifs,” McKinney said. “I’m not in any way saying that my brother’s medical professionals were responsible for his death, woulda, coulda, shoulda or he would be here today. What I’m saying is that the Zero Suicide framework provides an opportunity where the Johnnys of the future or the Johnnys of today have more opportunity to receive help and care throughout their time with their doctors.”

McKinney said that her position at Texas’s Harris Center reflects how engaging suicide attempt survivors and loss survivors is a key component of the Zero Suicide framework.

“My perspective of the healthcare system and the mental health care system is a little bit different,” she said. “I can see both perspectives, the perspective of the organization and the perspectives of a survivor of suicide loss. It creates an equitable workplace. It helps with quality improvement as it inspires innovation to improve the services. Sometimes our executives have a perspective of what of what may be happening and it may be a little bit different from what actually is happening.

“And so engaging those with lived experience. especially those who’ve had experience with working through your health system, can help to open your eyes and enlighten you on how these systems that are embedded in our policies and procedures work. It helps to develop employee and volunteer skills and their knowledge of suicide prevention beyond the theoretical and textbook learning. For the organization, it builds community involvement, it helps us to build relationships of trust with the communities and individuals.”

Adoption of the Zero Suicide framework also provides valuable opportunities to people with lived experience, McKinney said. “It transforms our painful experience into creating positive solutions,” she explained. “For me, as a survivor of suicide loss, helping is healing. Helping was my therapy.”

READ MORE: The Zero Suicide Model in Tompkins County

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.