Supporting College Students on Mental Health Leaves of Absence

The Sophie Fund released a proposal August 21 aimed at supporting students taking leaves of absence for mental health reasons from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

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The proposal calls for an Ithaca community-based program featuring a “leave of absence coach,” a community outreach worker providing practical guidance and moral support for students in transition. It also proposes a website hosting useful information about college leave policies, strategies for fruitful time off from school, local housing options, and employment opportunities.

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, said he discovered wide agreement about the need for a program among college administrators, community healthcare services, student organizations, and individual students facing mental health challenges.

“Young people facing mental health issues often suddenly find themselves on leave from school without the campus support networks they relied on as enrolled students,” said MacLeod. “This can become a period of uncertainty and even isolation for many students. With growing numbers of students taking leaves to focus on their mental health issues, we think it is vital that the community find ways to provide support. The goal of the students as well as their institutions should be to chart positive trajectories for their return to school and success in life. We hope administrators at Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College will support the idea.”

MacLeod said The Sophie Fund distributed the proposal to key stakeholders in the community, and hopes it will generate serious discussion about development and funding and lead to the implementation of an effective program by early next year. The proposal estimates as many as 400 students a year may be taking leaves from area colleges.

The proposal seeks to ensure that students on leaves have access to information on the full range of challenges they will confront during their leave period—about housing, jobs, educational opportunities, volunteer opportunities, healthcare services, etc. It seeks to provide substitutes for the campus support systems that become unavailable to students during their leaves.

According to the proposal, today’s generation of college students is experiencing a mental health crisis in line with the increasing rates of mental health disorders in the general population. College counseling centers are reporting rising numbers of students seeking support for serious depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses.

“Leaves of absence entail an often unexpected, abrupt, and painful loss of a structured environment that includes a support network of friends, professors, university staff, roommates and other fellow students, campus organizations, cultural and athletic facilities, and school medical providers,” the proposal says. “Testimonies from students on mental health leaves of absence relate how it can be a confidence-crushing experience that induces shame and guilt.”

The Sophie Fund was established in April 2016 in memory of Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell University art student who succumbed to her battle with depression in Ithaca on March 26, 2016. The focus for the fund’s work is supporting mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Click here to download a copy of the proposal.

For more information about The Sophie Fund, go to www.thesophiefund.org

The Sophie Fund’s 2017 Campaign

Please consider making a donation today to advance The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives for young people in the Ithaca–Tompkins County community.

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We are working with state, county, and city officials, local mental health agencies, student groups, and college administrators to help our young people with mental disorders live safe and fulfilling lives.

Among our projects so far:

  • Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise awareness and funds for mental health initiatives
  • The Watershed Declaration by 18 organizations, pledging to intensify local suicide prevention efforts
  • Launch of Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition by more than 40 local leaders
  • Campaign to bring Zero Suicide Initiative to Tompkins County
  • The Sophie Fund Author Series: “Readings on Mental Health,” at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca
  • “Life Coach” initiative to provide local resources and support to college students on mental health leaves of absence

100% of donated monies go directly to local

non-profit organizations supporting mental health

To make a donation today, click here to be directed to The Sophie Fund donation page at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.

Thank You!

Taylor Swift’s Story

Music star Taylor Swift is victorious in her effort to hold a prominent Denver radio personality accountable for sexually assaulting her during a publicity event prior to a concert at the Pepsi Center in 2013.

After a jury ruled in her favor on Monday, Swift described her effort as a fight for “anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault.” Acknowledging that not every victim can afford the “enormous cost” of taking a case to court, she announced that she would donate funds to multiple organizations that provide legal assistance to sexual assault victims. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” Swift said.

Swift attorney Douglas Baldridge said the singer is “taking a stand for all women—she’s trying to tell people out there that you can say no when someone grabs you, no matter who they are. I think it’s a new day, because someone with the guts and the courage to stand up with absolutely no upside in doing so—that being Taylor Swift—has told everyone, ‘This is it, the line’s drawn.’ It means ‘no means no,’ and it tells every woman that they will determine what is tolerable to their body.”

The Denver Post quoted Abbey Shaw, a 16-year-old fan who was on hand for the verdict, saying: “She is putting out a message for women like us: Stick up for yourselves.”

The case began when KYGO radio host David Mueller groped Swift, who was 23 at the time, under her skirt during a backstage meet-and-greet photo session. At the trial, she described the incident: “He stayed attached to my bare ass-cheek as I lurched away from him. It was a definite grab. A very long grab.”

Swift chose not to report the incident to police, but her manager informed station executives about the incident. Mueller sued Swift’s team for $3 million for making false allegations and getting him fired. Swift countersued for $1 in symbolic damages to hold Mueller accountable and serve as an example to other women. The jury in the civil case brought in U.S. District Court was apparently swayed by the testimony of eight witnesses supporting Swift’s allegations as well as by a photograph depicting the incident. In civil cases, jurors must reach a verdict based on a preponderance of evidence not proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in criminal trials.

Swift wept during the trial, and during her testimony described the shock of having been assaulted: “A light switched off in my personality.” She said she “just looked at the floor. I couldn’t look at either of them [Mueller or his girlfriend], and I just said in monotone, ‘Thanks for coming.’”

Attorney Baldridge said the $1 awarded to Swift represented something of immeasurable value because typically “victims are prone to blink rather than relive the shame and humiliation of what took place. It takes people like Taylor, wonderful people like Taylor, who we all know, to stand up and draw these lines.”

Meet the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition

More than 40 local mental health leaders launched the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition at a day-long working meeting held in Ithaca Monday.

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“It’s inspiring to see the breath of the organizations and individuals represented,” said Frank Kruppa, director of the Tompkins County Health Department. “It’s one of the things that makes Tompkins County special: when we have these types of issues, we are able to get folks in the room and talk about how we are going to tackle them.”

Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Services Sharon MacDougall, the coalition’s organizer, said that the county seeks to foster greater collaboration in suicide prevention among the array of agencies and groups who deal with the issue.

“A coalition brings together all the experts that are in your county already,” she explained. “You have so many different perspectives, so many resources, so many different knowledge bases, and pulling them together gives you that focused lens on a community problem. We can help make that bigger effort to reducing suicide. If it is one death, it is one too many for Tompkins County. Zero suicide sounds like a lofty goal, but I think it has to be the goal.”

Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, briefed the participants on steps toward creating a successful suicide prevention coalition and presided over a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis.

“Things are off to a great start,” said Lloyd-Lester, who described the participants as “a diverse group of stakeholders, a cross section of people who are really invested in suicide prevention for the community.” But he warned that the coalition faced the critical challenge of sustaining momentum.

“At the meeting today, there was a lot of real energy, a lot of people all saying, ‘This is important work, we need to do it,’” Lloyd-Lester said. “How do you sustain that over the long haul? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A coalition has to be built on more than just those individual champions. It’s got to be a culture, a way of doing things in the community. It takes recognition that no one entity can be responsible for suicide prevention in the community.”

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Garra Lloyd-Lester, Suicide Prevention Center New York

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, told the gathering that while Tompkins County’s suicide rate last year was seven deaths per 100,000, the actual number of suicide deaths jumped from four in 2014 and five in 2015 to 11 in 2016. “We can’t be complacent about suicide loss,” she said.

Marvin, whose agency has spearheaded suicide prevention in the area since 1969 by staffing a crisis hotline, after-trauma services, and education programs, listed two goals she hoped the coalition would help advance. The first is better understanding of people at risk in certain communities and how to reach them—such as financially struggling young adults, middle-aged men, gun owners, drug users. The second is adoption of the Zero Suicide Initiative, a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems.

“What we need to communicate is that there is hope, there is help, and that there is absolutely no shame in getting help,” she concluded.

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Sharon MacDougall, Garra Lloyd-Lester, Lee-Ellen Marvin

Agencies and organizations represented at Monday’s meeting of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition included:

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes

Care Compass Network

The Sophie Fund

Human Services Coalition

Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County

Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services

Tompkins Community Action

Planned Parenthood Southern Finger Lakes

Franziska Racker Centers

Cayuga Medical Center

The Advocacy Center

Ithaca Free Clinic

Lakeview Mental Health Services

Cornell Health

Ithaca College Office of Counseling and Wellness

Ithaca College Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management

Empire State College

Ithaca City School District

Groton Central School District

Tompkins County Legislature

Tompkins County Health Department

Tompkins County Mental Health Department

Tompkins County Office for the Aging

Tompkins County Youth Services Department

Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response

Suicide Prevention Center New York

Broome County Suicide Awareness for Families and Educators

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