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

Mayor Svante Myrick: Support Suicide Prevention

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation Wednesday in support of The Watershed Declaration, a commitment by local mental health stakeholders to intensify efforts to prevent suicide in the community.

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“I call upon our citizens, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions to raise awareness of Ithaca’s mental health support services, encourage those in need to seek treatment, honor those in our community we have lost too soon, and commit to an all-out effort to prevent suicide,” Svante said in issuing the proclamation at the start of the Ithaca Common Council meeting Wednesday evening.

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting held on April 17 of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The declaration termed suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Myrick said there is strong evidence that a comprehensive public health approach is effective in preventing suicide, and called on the community’s health and behavioral health systems to prevent suicide deaths using the best available information and practices.

Moreover, Myrick said, “every member of our community can play a role in protecting their friends, family members, and colleagues from suicide. Our community needs to advance suicide prevention by fighting the stigma around mental health and seeking treatment for mental disorders.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, expressed her gratitude for “the mayor’s support for reinvigorating our community’s commitment to suicide prevention. The need has never been greater. Unfortunately, suicide rates have been increasing in the last 15 to 20 years.”

“This proclamation is highlighting the need to address suicide prevention,” said Sharon MacDougall, deputy commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County. MacDougall added that her agency is working with the New York State Office of Mental Health to create a Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “Selected key stakeholders will be invited to a planning meeting to start the Tompkins Suicide Prevention Coalition this summer,” she said. “This coalition will help coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies, providers and others to improve suicide prevention across Tompkins.”

Proclamation

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at a meeting of 18 organizations hosted by The Sophie Fund, which was established in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to promote improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.

The Watershed Declaration stated:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Photo caption: Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, The Sophie Fund Co-Donor Advisor Scott MacLeod, and Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin

Cornell’s Walk for Suicide Prevention

Cornell University’s Phi Sigma Pi (PSP) national honor fraternity sponsored a suicide prevention walk on April 28 to benefit The Sophie Fund of Ithaca and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Phi Sigma Pi organized this walk because we wanted to increase campus conversation about mental health,” said PSP brother Elizabeth Cavic (’18), who studies Human Development in the College of Human Ecology. “We believe that people not engaging in these critical conversations about mental health perpetuates the stigma surrounding poor mental health, which contributes to further stigmatization.”

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund, thanked Cavic, her fellow PSP brothers, and all those who participated in the walk. “We’ve had the honor of working with Phi Sigma Pi on other mental health projects, and are very grateful for the support it gives to mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts,” he said.

MacLeod and his wife Susan Hack established The Sophie Fund in 2016 to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca area. The fund is in memory of their daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod (’14), who died by suicide in Ithaca in March 2016.

PSP is a co-educational fraternity open to undergraduate students that embraces the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and fellowship. The PSP Beta Nu Chapter at Cornell was founded in 1994 and has about 80 active members in a given semester.

[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.]

The Watershed Declaration

Community mental health stakeholders representing 18 organizations on Monday declared suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

GarraLloyd-Lester                       Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York

The call to action, known as The Watershed Declaration, was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

The Watershed Declaration stated as follows:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, praised the call to action. “I was excited and moved to see leaders from different parts of our social service community together in one room, thinking about and committing to suicide prevention,” she said. “There is indeed a public health crisis, and the way to prevent suicide is with awareness, vigilance, and the willingness of all parts of society to commit to this effort.”

Addressing the gathering at The Watershed in Ithaca, Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, announced plans to convene a “key stakeholders” meeting in June with the aim of establishing a suicide prevention coalition in Tompkins County.

Lloyd-Lester explained that suicide is increasingly seen as a public health problem rather than just an issue to be handled by an individual and their therapist.

“Operationally, that means we can all play a role in helping individuals who might be struggling with thoughts of suicide, to help keep them safe,” said Lloyd-Lester. “Seeing the folks here today it is really reflective of this idea that suicide is everybody’s business. That is the mantra that the state talks about: suicide prevention is everybody’s business.”

Sharon MacDougall, Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County, welcomed the state’s initiative. “Suicide prevention efforts in Tompkins County are strong and need collaboration among all our agencies, providers, and groups like The Sophie Fund,” she said. “A Suicide Prevention Coalition will help bring these efforts together in close collaboration—providing a unified and passionate Tompkins County voice advocating zero suicides in our county.”

Monday’s meeting was organized by The Sophie Fund, which advocates for improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.

 

Removing the Stigma for LGBTQ Teens

An important new study says that suicide attempts by American high school students decreased by 7 percent in states that passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage. The rate decreased by 14 percent among students identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

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“State same-sex marriage policies were associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts, providing empirical evidence for an association between same-sex marriage policies and mental health outcomes,” said the study, published by JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association, on February 20. “We estimated that, each year, same-sex marriage policies would be associated with more than 134 000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide. These results reflect an important reduction in adolescent emotional distress and risk of mortality from suicide.”

The study concluded:

“We provide evidence that implementation of same-sex marriage policies reduced adolescent suicide attempts. As countries around the world consider enabling or restricting same-sex marriage, we provide evidence that implementing same-sex marriage policies was associated with improved population health. Policymakers should consider the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies.”

Study leader Julia Raifman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health speculated that the same-sex marriage laws diminished a social stigma by making LGBTQ people feel equal and supported by the wider social community.

Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation, told the PBS NewsHour that the feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behaviors. It’s a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24 years. The prevalence of suicide attempts is four times greater among LGBTQ youth.

The Johns Hopkins study looked at 32 of the 35 states that legalized same-sex marriage between 2004 and 2015, comparing suicide rates in those states to suicide rates in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage. In 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage for all Americans.

Download a PDF of the study here.