Brief Guide to Student Mental Health Advocacy

Mental disorders, from anxiety and depression to dependency on alcohol and opioids, are an increasing challenge for American society. Today’s college students face a mental health epidemic as they leave home for the first time at an age of life common for the onset of mental illness. Due to concerns about reputation, liability, cost, and other factors, college administrations have broadly failed to meet the growing crisis with a scaled response.

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Student advocates play a critical role in improving mental health policies and practices. On the occasion of the 4th Annual Ivy League Mental Health Conference hosted by Cornell University April 26-28, The Sophie Fund presents A Brief Guide to Student Mental Health Advocacy. The guide highlights useful facts and figures, key advocacy goals, resources on student rights, and campus mental health best practices.

Some statistics underlining the urgency of supporting student mental health (Please note that some of the material below in this post may cause distress for some readers.)
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  • 43.8 million American adults—18.5 percent of the population—are experiencing mental illness in a given year, and 75 percent of mental illness cases begin by age 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

 

 

  • 46.8 percent of college students surveyed reported that academics have been “traumatic or very difficult to handle,” and 39.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” according to the 2017 National College Health Assessment; 12.1 percent seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and 1.9 percent had attempted suicide.

 

  • 35.8 percent of surveyed college students seeking counseling in the 2017-18 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide” (up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year), according to Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2018 Annual Report; 10.3 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.

 

 

  • In a campus-specific study, Cornell University’s 2017 Perceptions of Undergraduate Life and Student Experiences (PULSE) Survey of 5,001 undergraduates reported that 71.6 percent of respondents often or very often felt “overwhelmed,” and 42.9 percent said that they had been unable to function academically for at least a week on one or more occasions due to depression, stress, or anxiety. Nearly 10 percent of respondents reported being unable to function during a week-long period on five or more occasions. Nine percent of the respondents—about 450 students—reported “having seriously considered suicide at least once during the last year,” and about 85 students reported having actually attempted suicide at least once in the last year.

 

Click here to read A Brief Guide to Student Mental Health Advocacy, or click here to download a PDF.

“Be the One”: Caring Connections in Tompkins County

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To promote the occasion in 2018, members of the Collaborative Solutions Network (CSN), a broad association supporting family mental health throughout Tompkins County, came up with a campaign. They called it “Be the One,” and the goal was “to spread the belief that everyone needs a safe, secure and nurturing relationship.”

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Lansing Middle School students join the “Be the One” movement

Thanks to community enthusiasm, “Be the One” turned out to be much more than a fleeting slogan. More than 100 people representing some 30 organizations came together at The Space @ GreenStar on December 10 to formally re-launch “Be the One” as an ongoing public wellness project to promote supportive relationships. The New York State Office of Mental Health provided funding, and Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation declaring 2019 “Be the One Year in the City of Ithaca.” Ithaca Voice, Ithaca Times, and The Lansing Star have featured the campaign in their news reports.

Students throughout the county are wearing “Be the One” T-shirts and hoodies, and matching motivational silicone wristbands, and sharing “Be the One” stories in classroom discussions. “Be the One” has a website with information explaining the campaign and toolkits and downloadable posters for bringing it to schools and community groups, and an active Facebook page and Twitter account sharing updates about “Be the One,” news about community wellness events, and inspirational stories from the world’s headlines. There’s even a “Be the One” song, which goes in part:

Imagine what this world could be

If kindness led each thought and deed

Building our communities

In peace and love and harmony.

In a time of rising anxiety and depression, “Be the One” has resonated with its message that safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, based on feeling cared for and connected to other people, build resilience in individuals and communities. Tompkins County has been rocked by three teen suicides in the past year. “Stress can get in the way of letting relationships happen,” Jaydn McCune, a program director at Racker and coordinator of CSN, said in an interview with The Sophie Fund. “But when we have someone to relate to, we can then gain a sense of lightness and possibility.”

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Lansing Central School District decoration

Superintendent Chris Pettograsso has overseen an enthusiastic rollout of “Be the One” in the Lansing Central School District. In late January, two campaign volunteers held sessions helping Lansing students share how they and their teachers could “Be the One.” In mid-March, Lansing Middle School students ran a program to introduce “Be the One” to fifth graders. On March 26, Lansing held a special session to encourage teachers and staff to embrace the “Be the One” ethos and improve empathy and support for students.

“Students have gained much more self-awareness of who really care for them and how they can care for others, and they have been very open to talking to their teachers about that,” Pettograsso told The Sophie Fund. On March 23, a “Be the One Lansing Team” took part in the 6th Annual Ithaca Polar Plunge at Taughannock Falls State Park Beach to support the Special Olympics.

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Lansing Middle School students sharing the “Be the One” campaign with 5th graders

Liz Klohmann, director of the Ithaca Youth Bureau and a member of the campaign planning committee, said the organizers are developing a common curriculum “that can be used by teachers and youth directors all throughout the Tompkins County community.” The campaign encourages schools to introduce “Be the One” in health class, invite students to write stories about their own “Be the One” experiences for English class, create “Be the One” awards, and create community outreach projects around the campaign theme.

Community members have begun posting experiences about their “Ones” on the “Be the One” website—about inspirational teachers, friends, an family members. An anonymously posted story recounted the relationship between a teacher and her elementary school teacher and their re-connection decades later.

“As a fourth grader I’d been happy and alive. Not so as an adult— I felt boxed-in and very, very sad. Mrs. N and I got into a pattern of visiting every week. I could tell her anything. Sometimes we sat and said very little. At one point she said to me, ‘I’m not worried about you, B. You have such vast inner resources.’ That was lifeline!”

McCune tells a story of how “Be the One” helped a teacher change course in the Dryden Central School District. The teacher was complaining to a colleague about a fourth-grader who was driving her up the wall with misbehavior in her classroom all day. She then noticed another teacher wearing a “Be the One” bracelet. “She stopped and realized that she needed to ‘be the one’ for her student,” McCune said. “The teacher realized that her student was having trouble, and that she wanted to do her best to help him.”

—By Amber Raiken

Amber Raiken, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing, with a Creative Writing Concentration, and minoring in Education Studies. She is a writer and the social media director for IC Distinct Magazine, a student-run culture and fashion publication.

Photo credits: Courtesy of the Lansing Central School District

Meet Our Interns

Hello, Friends of The Sophie Fund! We’ve been fortunate to work with three interns from Ithaca College’s Department of Writing during the Spring semester. Look for their articles on local mental health heroes and other topics in the coming weeks.

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Amber Raiken, Chanelle Ferguson, and Nicole Kramer

Amber Raiken is a junior majoring in Writing, with a Creative Writing Concentration, and minoring in Education Studies. She is a writer and the social media director for IC Distinct Magazine, a student-run culture and fashion publication.

Chanelle Ferguson is a sophomore majoring in Writing and minoring in Journalism and African Diaspora. She is a writer at IC View, Ithaca College’s alumni magazine, and a student assistant at Career Services.

Nicole Kramer is a senior Writing major and Sociology minor. She is a nonfiction editor for Stillwater, a student-run literary magazine. She also enjoys creating mixed media image-text work and writing poetry.

Cornell Students Raise Funds for Mental Health

The Sophie Fund this week handed over a $1,367.50 check from its 2018 “Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign” to the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. Cornell University students collected the monies in conjunction with the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund.

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“We are so grateful to the Sophie Fund for their generous support of our mission,” said Mental Health Association Executive Director Josephine Gibson. “We are invigorated to see the interest from Cornell students and our community in mental health education. Education is essential to combat the stigma surrounding mental health that creates a barrier to treatment and prevents people from seeking help before they reach a crisis.”

Scott MacLeod, a co-founder of The Sophie Fund, credited student organizations from Cornell University for the success of the 2018 campaign. “We are grateful for the chance to collaborate with Cornell students to raise awareness about mental health and also to raise funds for mental health programs,” MacLeod said. “Cornell student organizations poured their heart and soul into this cause. The Sophie Fund sincerely thanks them for their efforts. The Sophie Fund is proud to contribute the funds raised in our 2018 campaign to the Mental Health Association, which plays such a vital role in mental health training and education in our community.”

Student groups participating in the cupcake button campaign were Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter, Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, Cornell Minds Matter, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health), and the Mortar Board Der Hexenkreis senior honor society.

“Every penny of our fundraising total this year was due to the hard work of volunteers who engaged students and community members at Ho Plaza, the Arts Quad, and at the Collegetown GreenStar Natural Foods location,” said Winnie Ho, outgoing president of Alpha Phi Omega. “Beyond the impressive totals, the conversations that were fostered continue to be the most valuable experience of each year’s fundraising.”

The Sophie Fund organizes the annual fundraising campaign to support a local mental health nonprofit organization. The Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service was the recipient of monies in the 2017 campaign. Donors receive colorful buttons bearing the image of a cupcake. A highlight of the 2018 campaign: “Cupcake a Cornellian,” in which students made donations in exchange for the opportunity to mash a gooey cupcake (or just a heaping plate of whipped cream) into the face of a student leader.

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Josephine Gibson, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; Matthew Jirsa, former president of Cornell Minds Matter; and Winnie Ho, former president of Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter