Undergrads: Need a Mental Health Support Group?

Getting through college isn’t easy, and getting through it while dealing with a mental health issue is harder. The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County is happy to announce that we are creating a support group for undergraduate students attending local colleges.

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The Mental Health Association is a local nonprofit organization that specializes in providing peer support services—creating spaces where people with shared experience dealing with mental health issues can turn to one another for support. While not a replacement for other mental health treatments, peer support can play an integral role in care and recovery.

Beginning Thursday September 26, we will be offering a weekly peer support group specifically for college students who are navigating mental health concerns. This program is free of charge and offers a safe space for undergraduates of all backgrounds from area schools to come together and support one another through the challenges of pursuing an education while dealing with a mental health issue.

The group will be run on a drop-in basis, so students do not need to commit to attending each week in order to receive support, and no advanced sign-up is needed to participate. Our goal is to make this group as accessible as possible in a time when many other supports entail long waiting lists and red tape.

As facilitators, Amanda Kelly (Wells College ‘12) and myself (Ithaca College ‘13) draw on our personal experiences of attending college while on our own mental health recovery journeys. Coming from this perspective, we work to create a compassionate, empathetic space and offer genuine peer support.

Meetings will take place on Thursdays from 2–3 p.m. in downtown Ithaca at the Mental Health Association on South Geneva Street, two blocks from the Ithaca Commons, a central location for college students from across Tompkins County that provides space and privacy away from campus environments.

—By Melanie Little

Melanie Little is the Director of Youth Services at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County (MHATC)

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Undergraduate Students Support Group
Time: Thursdays, 2pm-3pm
Location: Mental Health Association’s Jenkins Center for Hope and Recovery, 301 S. Geneva St, Suite 110 (basement level) Ithaca, NY 14850

For More Information
Melanie Little, Director of Youth Services
mlittle@mhaedu.org
(607) 273 9250

Aiming for a Student Mental Health “Gold Standard” at Cornell

The Sophie Fund’s co-founders, saying that they are encouraged by Cornell University’s launch of a comprehensive review of student mental health policies and practices, called on the review teams to set the ambitious goal of creating a gold standard for collegiate mental health.

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100-year-old statue of Cornell founder Ezra Cornell in the Arts Quad

Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, who created The Sophie Fund in 2016 as a mental health advocacy group after the suicide death of their daughter Sophie during a health leave of absence from Cornell, made the statement in a 25-page presentation on August 23 to the two review teams containing their personal perspectives and main concerns. The review is taking place during the 2019-2020 academic year.

“At times, we have expressed frustration over delays in launching Cornell’s comprehensive review,” they wrote. “But it is important now to look forward and help ensure that it brings about the greatest possible support for student mental health.” The Sophie Fund founders said they “are encouraged by Cornell Health Executive Director Kent Bullis’s commitment to creating a ‘healthier and more supportive campus environment with improved support resources and clinical services for our students.’” MacLeod and Hack wrote to President Martha E. Pollack in April 2017 asking for an independent, external-led task force of experts to assess the university’s approach to student mental health and make recommendations for improvements.

Click here to download The Sophie Fund’s “Perspectives on Student Mental Health at Cornell University: A Presentation to the Mental Health Review Committee and the External Review Team.”

Highlights:

Scope of the Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

We encourage the review teams to set the ambitious goal of producing a model package of findings and recommendations enabling Cornell to establish a gold standard for collegiate mental health.

Cornell University’s Institutional Mindset

We encourage the review teams to review prevailing attitudes toward student mental health in the university’s leadership echelons; and consider recommendations for changes in institutional mindset and leadership culture as a necessary prerequisite for effectively addressing student mental health challenges.

Campus Climate and Institutional Accountability

We encourage the review teams to review the broad cross-campus framework for supporting student mental health and wellness, and consider recommendations for strengthening accountability; streamlining policies, programs, and practices; and enlisting schools, faculty, staff, and students in a comprehensive, coordinated, results-oriented effort that prioritizes student mental health, healthy living, and unqualified support for every student’s academic success.

Cornell University Student Mental Health Policies

We encourage the review teams to inform their findings and recommendations with a review of all current Cornell policies related to or affecting student mental health.

Cornell University Budgetary Resources

We encourage the review teams to review how university resources are allocated for student mental health; to explore potential new sources of funding; and consider budgetary recommendations based on what is needed to fully implement best practices.

Student Mental Health Data

We encourage the review teams to inform their findings and recommendations with a review of key data providing insights into the prevalence of mental health challenges and the means utilized to address them.

Cornell University Student Input

We encourage the review teams to actively seek and receive maximum input from students in order to fully understand the mental health challenges students face, which include seeking and receiving psychological counseling, navigating academic pressures that exacerbate mental disorders, and taking leaves of absence due to mental health crises; and consider recommendations strongly informed by student input.

Clinical Best Practices

We encourage the review teams to review the mental health policies, programs, and practices at Cornell Health and the Counseling and Psychological Services unit, and consider recommendations that ensure alignment with current best practices.

Mental Health Leaves of Absence

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s policies, programs, and practices for mental health leaves of absence; and consider recommendations for better supporting students in the process as they consider, take, and return from leaves.

Ithaca Community Resources

We encourage the review teams to undertake a review, including substantive discussions with Ithaca community stakeholders, of the practice of referring students to community service providers; and consider recommendations that better safeguard the mental health interests of students as well as community members.

Trauma at Cornell University

We encourage the review teams to review the prevalence of student sexual assault and hazing, the mental health consequences for victims, and the practices in place to address the problems and support the victims; and consider recommendations seeking an end to the cycle of student-inflicted trauma and ensuring maximum support for victims.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s Alcohol and Other Drug policies, programs, and practices; and consider recommendations for enhancing prevention and intervention strategies, treatment, and recovery support.

Prevention and Early Intervention, and Crisis Intervention

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s policies, programs, and practices for creating a safe community; preventing student suicides; supporting at-risk populations; and aiding students in crisis; and consider recommendations for improvements.

Mental Health Education

We encourage the review teams to review policies, programs, and practices for communicating knowledge and tools on mental health and fighting stigma; and consider recommendations for improvement.

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Are you a Cornell student or a member of the Ithaca community? You may provide your comments and ideas to the review teams by emailing the Mental Health Review Committee (MHRC) at this address: mhrc@cornell.edu.

The heads of the Mental Health Review teams are:

External Review Team:

Michael Hogan, consultant at Hogan Health Associates

Mental Health Review Committee:

Marla Love, senior associate dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students, Student and Campus Life

Miranda Swanson, associate dean for Student Services in Cornell Engineering

Cornell will soon be publishing an online survey about student mental health available here.

 See also:

Launching Cornell’s Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

 

 

Launching Cornell’s Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

In the six years that I’ve been at Cornell University, we have seen an unprecedented growth in the need for campus mental health services. While the Cornell administration has been extremely generous in increasing our clinical resources in recent years, it remains a challenge to keep pace with the growing need for care. And we’re not alone: universities across the country are struggling with similar challenges.

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Michael Hogan, leader of External Review Team

Beginning in 2018, I was part of many campus conversations—with students, colleagues, and campus leaders, including President Martha E. Pollack and Vice President Ryan Lombardi—about the need to find new ways to engage our community in addressing the environmental factors contributing to student distress, and to seek new perspectives on the services and resources available to students on campus.

In September 2018, these conversations and others led President Pollack to commit the university to a Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health, to begin in 2019.

The Campus Health Executive Committee (CHEC) oversaw the development of the review’s scope and planning during the Fall 2018 semester. Feedback was solicited from a wide range of student, staff, and faculty stakeholders, including members of the university-wide Coalition on Mental Health. The consensus was that the comprehensive review should focus on two themes: how to meet the growing clinical needs of students facing mental health problems, and how to improve the campus environment and culture to better support student mental health.

In Spring 2019, CHEC announced the members of the two groups charged with conducting the review: an internal university Mental Health Review Committee tasked with examining Cornell’s academic and social environment, climate, and culture related to mental health, and an External Review Team responsible for reviewing the university’s clinical services and campus-based strategies.

The internal committee, made up of 13 students, faculty, and staff, is led by Marla Love, senior associate dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students, and Miranda Swanson, associate dean for Student Services in the College of Engineering.  Love and Swanson are seasoned student affairs professionals who are relatively new to Cornell, bringing a fresh perspective to the review process. Love joined Cornell in October 2017 after serving for 15 years at various institutions across the country including Scripps College and Phillips (Andover) Academy, and most recently at Azusa Pacific University. Swanson came to Cornell in December 2017 from the University of Chicago, where she spent 16 years as dean of students in the Physical Sciences Division and working with graduate students in the Humanities Division.

Members of the internal team include Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, mental health promotion program director for Cornell Health’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives; among the four students in the group is Chelsea Kiely ‘20, of the College of Arts and Sciences, who is president of Cornell Minds Matter, a student mental health promotion organization.

The External Review Team, comprised of three highly respected leaders in the field of mental health, is led by Michael Hogan, who served as mental health commissioner in New York, Connecticut, and Ohio over a span of 25 years. He is a member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s executive committee, and was a developer of the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare. Hogan chaired President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health and has served on the board of the Joint Commission, an independent organization that accredits healthcare organizations and programs in the United States.

The other members of the external team are Karen Singleton, associate medical director and chief of Mental Health and Counseling Services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Medical; and Henry Chung, senior medical director of Behavioral Health Integration Strategy at the Care Management Organization of Montefiore Health System, and professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Listening tours and focus groups will be held through the Fall 2019 semester, and the final report of findings and recommendations will be submitted in Spring 2020. Updates about the reviewers’ process and progress—in addition to the final report—will be posted on the Mental Health Review website.

I have also asked the members of both review teams to provide ongoing feedback to Cornell’s leadership as the review proceeds, including recommendations specific to our work at Cornell Health.

It is important for the Cornell community to note that we will not be waiting for the completion of the review to begin implementing important changes to our clinical services. A new counseling appointment model—which will include brief same-day appointments, and more options for follow-up care—will begin in Fall 2019. We look forward to the opportunity to gain valuable feedback and to identify opportunities for improvement.

I am grateful to President Pollack and Vice President Lombardi for prioritizing this university-wide review in support of student campus health. And I am confident that the review will result in a healthier and more supportive campus environment with improved support resources and clinical services for our students.

—By Kent Bullis

Kent Bullis, MD, is the executive director of Cornell Health

Photo credit: Suicide Prevention Resource Center (video screenshot)

Winnie, We’ll Miss You!

There’s a Cornell University student who Ithaca will dearly miss when she leaves town and goes out to make the rest of the world a better place. Her name is Winnie Ho.

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Winnie Ho at Cornell University’s 2019 graduation ceremonies

Since arriving from Syosset, Long Island, in 2016, Ho, 22, has worked on the ground with countless community organizations on issues such as mental health, suicide prevention, homelessness, substance use, and science education. She has served as a volunteer with multiple organizations, spearheaded numerous fundraisers and events, and supported students pursuing community engagement as an Engaged Ambassador with the Office of Engagement Initiatives. She has co-delivered the keynote speech at the “2019 What’s Great in Our State” mental health conference hosted by the New York State Office of Mental Health.

We are very grateful for Ho’s indispensable contributions to The Sophie Fund. For example, in her role as vice president of Service and then president of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) Gamma Chapter, Ho marshaled volunteers from APO as well as numerous other student groups to support The Sophie Fund’s annual cupcake contest and related fundraising.

Besides helping run the mid-October event in the Ithaca Commons, Ho’s army of good Samaritans collected monies that The Sophie Fund passed on to local mental health organizations—more than $500 donated to the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in 2017, and $1,300 to the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County in 2018. Ho has also served as a member of The Sophie Fund’s Student Advisory Group, offering endless perspectives and advice on everything the organization does.

The Sophie Fund was proud to learn that Ho was selected to receive The Cornell Tradition Senior Recognition Award at her graduation ceremonies last month. Cornell honored Ho for her many contributions to community service during her undergraduate years. In conjunction with the award, Ho generously donated a $500.00 honorarium to The Sophie Fund.

Ho was a double major in Biological Sciences (Neurobiology) and Sociology in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences; she minored in Inequality Studies and Global Health. For the next two years, she will be pursuing pharmaceutical drug policy research with the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at the Harvard University-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, with plans of continuing her advocacy and activism in health inequality everywhere. She hopes to one day pursue a career that combines her passion for service, social justice, and medicine.

Due to her work with Ithaca’s community organizations, Ho will move on not just with a Cornell degree but a profound appreciation for the importance of helping others—and ourselves—when it comes to mental health.

Ho puts it best herself:

“As I look to what lies beyond the ivory tower and beyond Ithaca, I reflect on my experiences here, and realize that one of the most important lessons I learned during my time here is that we all have mental health, and that it is absolutely critical to take care of oneself in the process of chasing our dreams. APO gave me a home like no other to pursue service in the company of the most kindhearted and loving individuals I’ve ever met, and I am so proud to call my fellow peers some of the most devoted advocates and volunteers for mental health I’ve ever seen.

“Change begins when we are willing to support ourselves and those around us. Service to mental health starts by choosing kindness and understanding. Not all big change comes in the form of huge events or big fundraisers or legislation (though these are all critically important). The biggest changes that have occurred during my time here have been the result of everyday people choosing to ask those around them how they are doing as opposed to what they are doing. Mental health intersects with every single aspect of our lives. Whatever comes next, we always have the choice to care for ourselves and each other.”

—By Scott MacLeod

Scott MacLeod is a co-founder of The Sophie Fund

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 the 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 the Brief Guide to Student Mental Health Advocacy, or click here to download a PDF.