Walking for Hope and Change

More than 200 people raised over $30,000 in the 11th Annual Greater Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk on September 9 organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Central New York Chapter.

2023 Out of the Darkness Walk at Myers Park

The walk, which took place in Meyers Park in Lansing on the edge of Cayuga Lake, is among 400 held across the country every year designed to raise awareness and collect funds for research, training, and programming.

This year’s Greater Ithaca walk was held during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Walkers included many people who lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.

L³ Lisa’s Lagomorph Legion was the top fundraising team this year, collecting $6,285. Team Hope brought in $3,507; Jack’s Pack $2,377; Team 22 $1,150; and CFCU Standing with Stacy $1,110.

To add a donation to AFSP, click here

“Our mission, to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, would not be possible without each of you,” Crystal Howser, the walk chair, said in remarks kicking off the event.

Howser said that she volunteers with AFSP to remember and honor the memory of her father, Jerry Howser, and the many others who lost their battle to depression and other mental illnesses. 

“We strive to be a source of strength for our community and let everyone know they are not alone,” she added. “On this journey, strangers turn into friends and friends turn into family as we connect with one another and navigate through our grief. Together, we are strong. Together, we are making a difference.”

AFSP’s Cheyanne Scholl, Crystal Howser, and Karen Heisig

Dave Ashton, morning host on Ithaca’s WYXL-FM, said that suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and can no longer be swept under the rug.

“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health. You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. Suicide is a health issue that affects all of us,” he said.

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, a mental health advocacy organization in Ithaca, said that the most recent statistics indicate a 5 percent increase in the national suicide rate in 2021 and 2.6 percent increase in 2022.

But he cited contributions to greater local suicide prevention efforts, by AFSP as well as the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cayuga Health System, and others. He said that medical providers are working toward implementing the Zero Suicide Model, a quality improvement program designed to more effectively identify at-risk individuals and close gaps in in their care management.

The 2023 walk was sponsored by:

CFCU Community Credit Union; The Strebel Planning Group’s Fund for Community Enrichment; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Maguire Automotive; Borgwarner; Pizza and Bones; Lansing Funeral Home; Ithaca Beer Company; Texas Roadhouse; Moore Family Farm; Cayuga Health System; Visions Federal Credit Union; Lansing Redemption Center; Cayuga Lake National Bank; Tioga State Bank Foundation; Ithaca Apartment Management/Solomon Organization; Antlers Restaurant; GreenStar Food Co+op.

Town Hall: How Healthcare Helps Prevent Suicides

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition will host “How Healthcare Helps Prevent Suicides,” a community town hall to discuss local efforts to implement the “Zero Suicide” model for improving healthcare support for at-risk individuals.

The town hall, at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) on September 28 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., will feature panel discussions about why suicide is a public health challenge and how the Zero Suicide model is used by healthcare systems to prevent suicide deaths.

Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa will kick off the town hall with opening remarks.

Organizations serving as presenters and panelists include: Tompkins County Mental Health Services; Cayuga Health System; Cayuga Medical Associates; Guthrie Medical Group, Cortland; Cornell University; Ithaca City School District, Alcohol and Drug Council; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service (988 Call Center); Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services; Smile Through the Storms; and The Sophie Fund.

In addition, Coalition work groups will give brief presentations on their work to improve suicide data collection and analysis, prevent suicides among young people, and reduce access to lethal means within at-risk populations.

Several local mental health agencies and organizations will provide information tables with staff who can answer questions. They include: Tompkins County Whole Health; Tompkins County Office of Veterans Services; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service (988 Call Center); American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Central New York; and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes.

Zero Suicide is an emerging suicide prevention model designed to save lives by closing gaps in suicide care in healthcare as well as behavioral health settings.

The model calls for systematic use of screening for self-harm, safety planning for patients deemed at risk, referrals to appropriate levels of further care, safe transitions of care between providers, and evidence-based treatment for suicidality, among other tools.

“We recognize the critical role of healthcare in preventing suicide deaths,” said Zoe Lincoln, Whole Health Planner with Tompkins County Whole Health and Coordinator of the Tompkins County Zero Suicide Steering Committee, a collaborative group of local healthcare leaders. “The Town Hall highlights county-wide dedication to saving lives through evidence-based best practices, via the Zero Suicide Model. Together, we strive to elevate the standard of care and support for our community members in need.” 

Implementation of Zero Suicide across local healthcare is one of the objectives listed in the Coalition’s 2022-2025 Strategic Plan. In 2022, leaders from community and campus healthcare providers formed the Tompkins County Zero Suicide Steering Committee to lead and coordinate efforts.

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition was formed in 2017 and is comprised of health agencies, community organizations, and individual members who share a determination to prevent suicide deaths in the community.

“We are excited to present this Town Hall with a focus on Zero Suicide,” said Sally Manning, Racker Program Director and convenor of the Coalition. “We recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. The Coalition has a vision for our community where no lives are lost to suicide. This is a chance to learn more about suicide prevention and what we can all do to help those who may be struggling.”

The Sophie Fund has encouraged Tompkins County providers to work toward implementing the Zero Suicide model, beginning with a presentation by leading experts for healthcare leaders in October 2017. The Sophie Fund then sponsored a series of five presentations and trainings on Zero Suicide for healthcare leaders and clinicians in 2021-22.

Enter the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest!

Ithaca bakers, what’s your flavor this year? Tiramisu? Green tea? Earl Grey? Honey maple? Pumpkin spice? Vanilla bean? Surprise us! The judges are waiting for your cupcakes!

The 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest will take place on Saturday October 14 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons.

Click here for all the information on contest procedures and rules, and the Contest Registration Form. (You can register online, or download a Contest Registration Form and bring it to the contest venue with your cupcakes).

Contestants of all ages are welcome and will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250 and a Youth Award valued at $100. Truly, everyone is a winner! (Open to amateur bakers only.)

Contestants are asked to submit trays of six cupcakes, their recipes, and a brief story about their creations.

The story could be about a person, place, or thing that inspired the recipe and decoration. Or what techniques you favored. Or the joy you had baking them. Was there a challenge you had to overcome in making your cupcake dream a reality? Tell us!

Contest submissions are received from 10 a.m.–12 Noon on Saturday October 14 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion. The entries will then be judged by professionals from Ithaca’s bakeries and restaurants. Judging is based on cupcake taste, decoration, and originality. Winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony at 3 p.m.

Prizes include 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place, and Honorable Mention Awards, as well as the Youth Award for teens and pre-teens.

The 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union, Cayuga Health, and Maguire.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, 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, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

Support Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention Champions

Hey, Ithaca! It’s National Suicide Prevention Month. Mark your calendars to support our own community’s efforts to save lives and reach those who are struggling.

The Greater Central New York chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds its annual Greater Ithaca “Out of the Darkness” walk in Myers Park on Saturday September 9 with check-in starting at 9:30 a.m.

The local walk is among 400 held across the country every year to raise awareness and collect funds for AFSP’s mission, which includes research, training, programming, and education. Walkers include many people who have lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.

Click here to register for the walk or to make an online donation toward AFSP-CNY’s $60,000 fundraising goal.

“It has been 25 years since we lost my sad to suicide, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and miss him dearly,” said Crystal Howser, walk co-chair and captain of Team Hope.

“It is my goal to work hard, educate, erase stigma and help fight to prevent suicide losses from happening. This is our eleventh walk in Tompkins County. We need to let others know they are not alone and it is okay to reach out for help.”

“Boots & Bling” is a Western Gala fundraiser at the Ithaca Hotel on Saturday from 5-9 p.m. to support Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service. A night of dinner, dancing, inspiration, and connection will celebrate SPCS’s milestones, growth, and future vision.

Reservations closed for the event on September 1, but to make a donation to SPCS anytime you may click here. The funds will support SPCS’s critical mission as a regional call center for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline as well as a trainer and educator for suicide prevention in the community.

We Can Prevent Suicide Deaths Together

Despite increasing openness about mental illness amid efforts to fight stigma, suicide remains a taboo word. Many people experience suicidal thoughts, but keep that to themselves. However, suicide deaths are preventable, and many recent advances enable us to better prevent them.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an opportunity for all of us to learn more about mental illness, suicide, and what we can do to help those who may be struggling. It is a time to redouble efforts to break down the stigma that too often holds us back.

The recent advances include better screening tools for identifying people at risk of suicide, improved care management protocols, upgraded crisis response measures, and suicide-specific therapy treatment. Another advance is the introduction last year of the 9-8-8 hotline number to support people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. You can also call 988 if you are concerned about a loved one, friend, or colleague. Veterans and/or their loved ones and friends can call 988 and then press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

988 calls go to into a nearby crisis center, one of 200 across the country. When people call or text 988, or connect to chat online, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the Lifeline network. Trained counselors listen, understand how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Calls and texts to the Lifeline soared 33 percent since the simpler 988 number was introduced in July 2022.

According to KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation), in its first 11 months of operation 988 received nearly 4 million contacts, including 740,000 chats and more than 600,000 texts; an additional 1 million connections were made to the Veteran’s Crisis Line.

Ithaca’s 54-year-old Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service has long been part of the Lifeline network. Besides connecting through 9-8-8, its trained counselors can also be reached by dialing 607-272-1616.

The Lifeline has been proven to be effective. According to its administrator, numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor. 

The Lifeline is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health. SAMSHA provides a Partner Toolkit to help promote the 988 number and other suicide prevention services.

The latest statistics released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control serve as a reminder of America’s mental health crisis.

After declining in 2019 and 2020, suicide deaths increased approximately 5 percent in the United States in 2021. Provisional estimates now indicate that suicide deaths further increased by 2.6 percent in 2022, according to the CDC. One encouraging indicator in the provisional data was that suicide deaths of people aged 10-24 declined by 8.4 percent.

Overall, suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in the past two decades.

The latest figures underscore “the depths of the devastating mental health crisis in America,” according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another. If you or a loved one are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, please know that your life matters and that you are not alone.”

Take a moment to review the warning signs for suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Be sure to get help for yourself or others if you see the signs. You may save a life.

According to AFSP, something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Warning sign: Talk

If a person talks about:

Killing themselves

Feeling hopeless

Having no reason to live

Being a burden to others

Feeling trapped

Unbearable pain

Warning sign: Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

Increased use of alcohol or drugs

Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods

Withdrawing from activities

Isolating from family and friends

Sleeping too much or too little

Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Giving away prized possessions



Warning sign: Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:



Loss of interest




Relief/Sudden Improvement

For local, state, and national resources, visit The Sophie Fund’s suicide prevention page.

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.