World of a Campus Mental Health Advocate

Zoe Howland was a half hour into her day at the national headquarters of Active Minds when she got a call from the Washington Post. The reporter was seeking comment about a new study documenting the positive impact of the organization on student mental health on college campuses across the country. Howland, a summer intern, was the perfect spokesperson.

ZoeHowland

Zoe Howland

Howland is a senior at Ithaca College and the co-president of IC’s Active Minds chapter. She signed up as a member of the student organization in her freshman year, and now helps lead its campaigns to fight the stigma around mental illness and its education programs about mental health for the campus community. The IC chapter has several dozen members; Mikaela Vojnik serves as co-president.

“I love being a voice in student mental health, and I feel like the position of president of Active Minds really does help me do that,” Howland, who is double majoring in Sociology and in Culture and Communication and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, said in a recent interview.

One of the projects that Howland is helping oversee is “Send Silence Packing,” a traveling installation of 1,100 backpacks representing the number of college students who die by suicide each year. The day-long exhibition will be held in the IC quad, with the aim of provoking discussion and raising awareness about mental health, promoting suicide prevention, and connecting students to mental health resources. The Sophie Fund is a sponsor of the event.

Howland said that Active Minds also plans to continue building on the Speak Your Mind (SYM) panels, which are designed to reduce stigma through storytelling. Students who have gone through Active Minds training visit classes, share their experiences about mental health and mental illness, and participate in question-answer sessions with the students. This year, Howland seeks to expand SYM’s reach to places like the Business and Music schools. “It would be nice to branch out a little bit and get panels in classes that don’t focus on that in their content,” she explained.

Howland’s summer internship at Active Minds headquarters in Washington, D.C. fostered an even closer relationship for IC’s Active Minds chapter. “I got to work with the chapter coordinator, so I did a lot of corresponding with new and developing chapters to try and get their chapter off the ground,” she said. “I got to talk to people who were really passionate about mental health and just wanted help bringing it to their campus, and I got to see the behind-the-scenes of such a cool nonprofit.”

Howland also serves on the national Active Minds Student Advisory Committee, comprised of students from chapters across the country who contribute local perspectives.

Over the course of Howland’s college career, she has widened her own perspective on mental health. Her courses in Sociology and Culture and Communication studies have offered new lenses for her thinking. Where Sociology has allowed her to consider societal views on mental health and treatment, Culture and Communication studies has encouraged her to investigate how the ways we choose to talk about mental health shape our perceptions and ultimately our attitudes toward stigmas.

Advocacy through Active Minds, education in the classroom, and her personal experience have all played a part in Howland’s comprehensive outlook on mental health. And though she’s dedicated plenty of thought to the topic, she goes on to say, “But of course I’m always learning. There’s always more information to find and more articles to read.”

Over time, Howland has come to discover at the heart of her mental health philosophy is talking, sharing stories, and diminishing stereotypes. “I think you gain a lot of really valuable knowledge,” she explained. “Just getting to know people and their stories gives you a broader base to base your assumptions and knowledge when you’re talking to someone else about it.”

ActiveMinds

Active Minds national Student Advisory Committee

Howland has made no concrete plans for her future, but she is definitely interested in pursuing work in mental health after graduation next spring. She credits Active Minds for shaping so much of her college experience, both in and out of the classroom. “I think that it really ignited a passion in me that didn’t really exist before which has definitely shaped what I want to do with my life,” she said.

For now, Howland will focus her energy on writing her senior thesis on the topic of—you guessed it—mental health. “My thesis will be about how people talk about mental health on a day-to-day basis, how people trivialize mental health while also stigmatizing it,” she explained. Clearly, Zoe Howland has much to teach us, for a long time to come.

—By Margaret McKinnis

Margaret McKinnis, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in English and Honors. She is a nonfiction editor at Stillwater, a student literary magazine, and an assistant director of the New Voices Literary Festival.

Albany Honors The Sophie Fund with Mental Health Advocacy Award

The New York State Office of Mental Health on Thursday presented The Sophie Fund with an Excellence in Suicide Prevention award for its mental health advocacy work in Tompkins County at the state’s 2018 Suicide Prevention Conference held in Albany.

JourneyOfHealingAward092018

The Sophie Fund and its founders, Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, received the state’s Journey of Healing Award for “exemplary advocacy by a Suicide Attempt or Suicide Loss Survivor.”

MacLeod and Hack established The Sophie Fund to support mental health initiatives aiding young people after the 2016 death by suicide of their 23-year-old daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell University student.

“The Sophie Fund is a beautiful example of how a tragic loss can transform a community,” said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan.

“Scott and Susan took their painful loss and channeled it into a passion to save lives in Tompkins County. We thank Scott, Susan and everyone involved in The Sophie Fund for their hard work and commitment to suicide prevention.”

Said Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service (SPCS): “Scott and Susan have transformed their grief in just two years into a powerful force of influence for suicide prevention in Tompkins County.”

SPCS and Tompkins County Mental Health Department nominated The Sophie Fund for the award. State officials cited The Sophie Fund’s “tenacity” in securing the adoption of The Watershed Declaration in 2017, which called for intensified suicide prevention efforts in the county, and in advocating for the Zero Suicide Model to be adopted by local healthcare providers.

The Sophie Fund also has sponsored student mental health programming at Cornell University and Ithaca College; mental health first aid training; a series of bookstore readings by authors of books on mental health; and artists who address mental health and suicide themes. It is working on an initiative to support college students taking a health leave of absence. The Sophie Fund also sponsors the annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise mental health awareness and raise monies for local mental health nonprofits.

MacLeod and Hack thanked the Office of Mental Health and the Tompkins County nominators for Thursday’s recognition.

“In the loss of our precious Sophie in 2016, we witnessed the profound depths of mental illness and the immense tragedy of suicide,” they said in a statement released by the Office of Mental Health. “In establishing The Sophie Fund in her memory, we resolved to do everything possible to support young people battling mental disorders. Suicide is preventable, and we also resolved to do everything we could so that we do not lose one more person, young or old, to suicide in Sophie’s adopted Ithaca–Tompkins County community.”

MacLeod and Hack also paid thanks to “the countless people who have made The Sophie Fund’s work a reality”—supporters and partners in Tompkins County, friends, family, and others in the greater Ithaca area and beyond, and the New York Suicide Prevention Office.

Sophie was born in Johannesburg and spent her childhood living in South Africa, then France, and eventually Egypt. But she adopted Ithaca as her hometown, spending five summers in the violin program of the Suzuki Institutes at Ithaca College and then enrolling at Cornell in 2010. At the time of her death, she was on a health leave of absence from Cornell and working in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene.

Photo caption: Sigrid Pechenik, associate director, New York State Suicide Prevention Office; Susan Hack, co-founder, The Sophie Fund; Jay Carruthers, director, New York State Suicide Prevention Office; and Garra Lloyd-Lester, director, New York State Suicide Prevention Community Initiatives

Time for a Mental Health Task Force at Cornell

We have written a letter to President Martha E. Pollack stating that the recent review of Cornell University’s mental health practices by The Jed Foundation is “plainly insufficient” and calling on her to appoint an external-led task force to perform an “independent, transparent, and robust review.”

IMG_9300 copy

Statue of Andrew Dickson White, Cornell’s first president, in the Arts Quad

Our daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod ’14, died by suicide at age 23 in Ithaca while on a Health Leave of Absence from Cornell, where she was enrolled in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. In setting up The Sophie Fund in her memory to advocate for mental health initiatives aiding young people in the greater Ithaca community, we became very concerned about the mental health policies, programs, and practices for supporting Cornell students.

We initially wrote to President Pollack on April 19, 2017, just after she assumed office as Cornell’s 14th president, detailing our concerns about “systemic failure” in Cornell’s institutional handling of mental health matters, and called on her to establish an independent task force to report on Cornell’s mental health policies, practices, and programs and to make recommendations on needed improvements.

In a January 11, 2018 email to us, President Pollack declined our request. She cited an “external assessment” conducted by The JED Foundation, JED’s on-site visit to the Cornell campus in the summer of 2017, and Cornell’s “ongoing engagement with the foundation to ensure we are providing holistic support.” She also cited the JED review in subsequent remarks to Cornell’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) and the Cornell Daily Sun.

In a letter last month, dated August 23, we informed President Pollack that we have examined what Cornell has made public about JED’s “external assessment” and concluded that it is plainly insufficient. It is not the independent, transparent, and robust review that we sought and that we believe Cornell’s students deserve. And it does not adequately address many of the concerns we raised in our original 2017 letter—about practical issues such as campus and off-campus mental health services and the high incidence of sexual assault and hazing misconduct, as well as policy concerns such as a defensive mindset that appears to prioritize Cornell’s public image over the welfare of students struggling with mental disorders.

We pointed out that, despite her promise to release the JED report, to date Cornell has chosen to publish—on the Cornell Health website—only two documents related to the review.

A glaring and troubling omission in the two posted documents is any reference in findings or recommendations regarding the capacity of the Counseling and Psychological Services staff to meet the demands of students for services. Another omission is any reference to the capacity of community mental health providers to address the needs of Cornell students referred to those off-campus services by CAPS. The documents report no findings and make no recommendations in areas such as academic workloads and faculty and academic staff handling of students in distress.

We explained to President Pollack that it does not appear that the JED review included a comprehensive assessment of Cornell’s suicide prevention policies and practices. However, we commended Cornell Health Executive Director Kent Bullis for recently announcing provisional support for the Zero Suicide Model initiative within the framework of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

As we wrote in our letter to President Pollack, we do not believe that the JED review can be considered an independent external assessment because institutions of higher education pay The JED Foundation a $22,000 fee to become what JED calls “partners” in the JED Campus program. Furthermore, the director of Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services has a longstanding professional relationship with JED and is a member of its Advisory Board. The JED External Contributor who conducted JED’s on-site visit to the Cornell campus is a professional colleague of the CAPS director.

Neither of the two posted documents contain any JED findings; rather, in the first document JED merely makes brief comments on Cornell’s self-reported survey responses, and in the second document JED makes recommendations without reference to any findings they are presumably based on.

We understand that the review entailed only one on-site campus visit by a JED External Contributor, and the visit lasted merely three hours. We also understand that the External Contributor’s visit did not include meetings with any of the community providers who receive many CAPS referrals.

According to the JED Campus program, its partnerships with participating colleges’ mental health programs include the following five elements, which Cornell has not released: a Strategic Plan “complete with detailed objectives and action steps for implementation”; a Fourth-Year Post-Assessment “evaluating systems change”; a Healthy Minds Study, which JED describes as “an in-depth assessment of students’ attitudes, behaviors and awareness of mental health issues”; a Feedback Report on the JED Campus and Healthy Minds Study findings; and a Summary Report containing data analysis for the JED Campus assessment and the Healthy Minds Study. JED declined to release its Cornell report to us, citing a confidentiality agreement with Cornell.

We believe that the JED review is clearly inadequate for a comprehensive assessment of the serious mental health challenges faced by a large university campus today, especially one located in a small upstate community. As we reminded President Pollack, the 2017 Cornell 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.

We have often heard the view that Cornell’s mental health policies are better than those of many universities, and that Cornell’s mental health statistics are no worse. We find such a complacent view to be surprising and disappointing, especially coming from a world-renowned research institution. In fact, these escalating mental health challenges require a relentless approach in response from everyone in a position to act. We truly hope that President Pollack—and Cornell—will lead the way.

—By Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack

Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack are the co-founders of The Sophie Fund, a nonprofit organization advocating mental health initiatives aiding young people in the greater Ithaca community. The organization is named in memory of their daughter Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell fine arts student who took her own life in Ithaca in 2016.

UPDATE 9/7/18:

Lee Swain, director of JED Campus, sent the following comment to The Sophie Fund:

I do see one inaccuracy I’d like to correct related to this paragraph:

“According to the JED Campus program, its partnerships with participating colleges’ mental health programs include the following five elements, which Cornell has not released: a Strategic Plan “complete with detailed objectives and action steps for implementation”; a Fourth-Year Post-Assessment “evaluating systems change”; a Healthy Minds Study, which JED describes as “an in-depth assessment of students’ attitudes, behaviors and awareness of mental health issues”; a Feedback Report on the JED Campus and Healthy Minds Study findings; and a Summary Report containing data analysis for the JED Campus assessment and the Healthy Minds Study. JED declined to release its Cornell report to us, citing a confidentiality agreement with Cornell.”

The elements you describe are part of our current program. I believe Erica explained to you how the program has changed. When Cornell joined, the program was designed slightly differently than is currently described on our website. For instance, we did not have a partnership with or include the Healthy Minds Study at that time. So, Cornell did not participate in that data collection. Also, Cornell is not completely through the four year program yet, which is why they have not posted or shared the “fourth year post assessment” as it has not yet been completed. It should also be noted that because Cornell joined an earlier version of the program than what is described on the website, they also only paid $1,950, the cost of the program at that time, not the $22,000 that schools currently pay which includes the Healthy Minds Study, a day long visit (sometimes a bit more) and policy and protocol review (both at the beginning of the program and throughout as policies are changed/adapted). We also collect more data on counseling center utilization, crisis incidents, and staffing patterns in the current version of the program than in the original version.

The Mental Health Summit: BOSSy Womxn at Work

Do you believe mentorship is important? Do you have a passion for community service? Do you think mental health is a crucial topic? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions you might be interested to learn more about a Cornell University-affiliated organization called Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.).

ttgabbzu87476ub5hbnt

B.O.S.S. is a student-run peer mentorship program designed for womxn of color by womxn of color. Every year we pair underclassmen with upperclassmen womxn of color and facilitate these relationships through service events and fun activities. This program was bred out of a desire to help womxn of color become more socially mobile. Additionally, this program aims to equip underclassmen with a mentor who has already been where they are and can provide helpful insights and advice.

Attending a predominantly white institution (PWI) presents many stressors for womxn of color. Taking this context into account, particularly at Cornell, it is especially important to carve out spaces for womxn of color to not only exist, but also thrive. The hardships womxn of color face are distinct from our male counterparts. We operate under the societal stressors of gender, race, and often class (just to name three). Taking all these factors into account, B.O.S.S. is fostering coalition building between womxn of color to strengthen our social, academic, and professional prospects.

B.O.S.S. once existed as a subset program within the Black Women’s Support Network (B.W.S.N.). The decision to branch out was led by Stephanie Carter and Sarah Edwards; two chartering members of the B.O.S.S. executive board. Their vision to make B.O.S.S. a program inclusive of all womxn of color as a means to coalition build revolutionized our mission, goals, and approach. Evelyn Ambriz, our former advisor, also played a crucial role in changing the face of B.O.S.S. To this day we operate in the vein of coalition building between womxn of color.

The name B.O.S.S. was chosen to acknowledge the nuances of the oppression womxn of color face in professional settings. Womxn in positions of power are generally deemed to be bossy, overbearing, rude, and shrill. Men will often be praised as assertive, commanding, respectable, and strong for the same approaches to leadership. In naming this organization B.O.S.S., we’re reclaiming bossy as something positive and empowering. Womxn should be bossy! Especially in spaces where we are often in the minority and have to work twice as hard to achieve half as much as our more privileged counterparts.

In November for the fourth consecutive year we are hosting the Mental Health Summit, our marquee event. The intent of the summit is to have conversations about mental health that are catered toward womxn of color. We recognize that mental health is a stigmatized topic of conversation. By facilitating open and honest dialogue about our struggles, we hope to chip away at that stigma. By collaborating with different faculty, departments, resource centers, and groups both on and off campus, we’re able to craft workshops that provide probing and interactive dialogue around mental health.

This year our theme for the summit is: “The ‘I’ of the Storm: Finding Calm Amongst the Chaos.” We’re placing an explicit focus on the ways womxn of color often exert themselves for their communities. In this summit we propose tools to prioritize the self even in the midst of police brutality, injustice, and continual general inequality.

We have curated an exciting group of workshops that address many provocative, taboo questions and topics that we often don’t discuss in communities of color.

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that the summit’s keynote speaker this year is a latina woman named Dior Vargas, an exceptional mental health activist who has been recognized in the Guardian, Forbes, Newsweek, and NBC New Latino for her contributions to mental health awareness. She regularly tours the country to host workshops, sit on panels, and give keynote addresses. Her presence and contributions will undoubtedly communicate profound messages to our attendees that they won’t forget anytime soon.

This year we are expanding the traditionally one-day summit into a three-day event from November 9-11. We’re collaborating with other colleges in the Finger Lakes region to extend the dialogue beyond the bounds of Cornell. For folks coming from different cities, we will be providing free housing accomodations in collaboration with CU Image. Registration will go live on our website in early October: https://bebossycornell.wixsite.com/boss. Food will be provided throughout the weekend. Additionally, the summit will be open to the Ithaca community. And most importantly, it’s free for all attendees!

If you have any questions or inquiries, please feel free to direct them to bebossy.cornell@gmail.com. Additionally, if you want to learn more about us and the team please visit our website at https://bebossycornell.wixsite.com/boss.

A special thank you to The Sophie Fund for all their incredible support. We’re proud to be working with an organization that values mental health just as much as we do!

—By Raven Schwam-Curtis

Raven Schwam-Curtis is a junior in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in Asian Studies and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies. She is the co-chair of Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.), and has served on its executive board since her freshman year.

*  *  *

Please Consider Making a Donation

In order to make this free event a reality, we need your help to raise money! Our crowdfunding campaign ends September 14th at 12:00AM EST. We have just a few days left in our crowdfunding campaign to reach our goal of $7,000. If you have even just have a few dollars to spare, we would greatly appreciate any donation. Please visit our crowdfunding page at https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/10131/wall to make a gift today. Let’s make this event as spectacular as possible!

*  *  *

 Mental Health Summit Program

Friday, November 9

6­–7 p.m.: Check in and Registration

7–7:30 p.m.: Family Groups and Icebreakers

8–9 pm: Dinner (pizza with vegetarian and vegan options)

9–10:30 p.m.: Midnight Yoga hosted by the Cornell Fitness Center

Saturday, November 10

9–10 a.m.: Registration & Breakfast (served until 10 a.m.)

10–10:15 a.m.: Executive board address

10:15–10:45 a.m.: Superwomxn takes a seat

  • How would you define the superwomxn complex?
  • Why does it exist?
  • How can we feel like we are good enough without having to do it all?
  • Anxiety and societal pressures around the superwomxn complex

11–11:45 a.m.: Workshops (occuring simultaneously)

1) Transitioning into College

  • Culture shock, new independence, large class sizes, social adjustment, navigating new spaces, finding a role on campus, academic adjustment (competitive nature of Cornell), manifesting your confidence, balancing self-praise and humbleness
  • Tools to address these concerns

2) Student Activism and Mental Health

  • Exhausting pressure to attend ALL activist gatherings linked to social identities
  • What does it mean to be an activist? And understanding your version of activism
  • Campus climate – dealing with administration and politics as womxn of color (being loud versus being heard)
  • Tools to address these concerns

3) Imposter Syndrome

  • Being at a PWI, manifesting in your own lane, what’s for you is for you, comparisons, the competitive nature of college, worthiness in collegiate settings, everyone isn’t on a level playing field, the pressure to achieve from yourself and from family, failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure, toot your own horn
  • Tools to address these concerns

12–12:45 p.m.: Lunch

1–2 p.m.: Workshops (occurring simultaneously)

  • Talking with family/professionals about mental health
  • How do you address mental health with families that don’t acknowledge it? How do you overcome that fear of talking to family/professionals?

2) Flirtatitionships/Relationships in college and sexual assault

  • Being mindful of how spending excess time with a partner can impact you
  • Mental abuse in relationships//power dynamics
  • Determining when enough is ENOUGH
  • Trying to keep your private life private in small, often close knit communities of color

3) Body Image

  • Expectations for our bodies and subsequent eating disorders that may arise. How do we recognize and address it in ourselves and friends?
  • Self perception and colorism
  • Roots of body image perceptions

2–3 p.m.: Keynote Address by Dior Vargas

3–3:15 p.m.: Snack break

3:15–4 p.m.: Workshops (occurring simultaneously)

1) How do I help a friend with…

  • Struggles with health, abusive relationships, resources with limited money, etc…

2) Depression in college

  • Navigating mental health services as a womxn of color
  • How to talk to your professors about mental health concerns without oversharing

3) Living intentionally

  • Learning about yourself, finding yourself in college and taking risks despite community, familial, and more pressures
  • Being your own best friends – being gentle with yourself

4–6 p.m.: Dinner

6–7 p.m.: Snacks and Study with BOSS/Reflective Time

7–9 p.m.: Late Night Vision Boards

9 p.m.–2 a.m.: Free time or optional movie night

Sunday, November 11

10–12:30 p.m.: Brunch

 

Mental Health Awareness for Musicians

Being a musician can be one of the most fulfilling and wonderful things a person can do with their life. It can also be one of the most stressful and pressure-filled careers a person can choose.

Students at Ithaca College’s School of Music have become increasingly concerned about the overwhelming silence about mental health in higher education, including in our particular school. To combat the silence and better educate our community about this issue, last year a group of music students led by Mikaela Vojnik founded the Mental Health Awareness for Musicians Association (MHAMA).

vojnik-2

Music students face pressure to practice for hours and hours each day and to constantly perform their best. The pressure of being a student with an average of 18 credits per semester, and being a musician, and being a person, and all at the same time, can really take a toll on someone’s mental health. Even beyond academia, many musicians struggle to take care of themselves. They often value themselves based on their musical abilities rather than who they are as people.

MHAMA strives to promote healthy lifestyles and self-care for all students in the School of Music. It also aims to improve understanding among students as well as professors about mental health disorders and how to address them in the context of an extremely competitive environment. There is a lot of pressure from professors and peers alike to perform at a high level, making it feel as though there is very little room for error. This demand for perfection can make it difficult for students to take care of their mental health, especially if they are living with a preexisting or newly developed mental illness.

Our organization strives to educate and create conversations about mental health in the music school specifically focused on how being a musician intersects with mental health. We have hosted workshops that discussed performance anxiety, meditation, and stress management. We have held events that focused on depression, suicide prevention, and how to use resources on campus as a way to reach out for help and support.

vojnik

MHAMA’s overall goal is to create a more positive and inclusive environment within the School of Music, to promote a better understanding of mental illnesses and mental health, and to encourage people to reach out for help when they are struggling. It is important for us to create a culture with greater empathy and compassion for mental health.

By Hannah Cayem and Mikaela Vojnik

Mikaela Vojnik is a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Music with an Outside Field in Counseling and Sociology and the founder and president of MHAMA.

Hannah Cayem is a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Music Education and Vocal Performance and the vice president of MHAMA.

Contact for more information about the Mental Health Awareness for Musicians Association at Ithaca College: icmhama@gmail.com