Recommendations for Improved Student Mental Health at Cornell University

The Sophie Fund, briefing the Cornell University Mental Health Review teams this week, issued 22 recommendations for improving the institution’s student mental health conditions and services.

IMG_4295

Entrance to Cornell Health, Cornell University

Highlights of the recommendations include: aim for a student mental health “gold standard”; avoid excessive academic and social stress levels; upgrade clinical psychological counseling services; rationalize referrals to overburdened community mental health providers; effectively fight sexual assault and hazing; implement a student-centered health leave of absence policy; print the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number on student ID cards; create an ombuds for student mental health; and establish a Standing Committee on Student Mental Health to regularly review Cornell’s practices.

“Cornell, in common with probably all institutions of higher education, is confronted by a student mental health crisis,” said Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, speaking in a video conference call with the heads of the Mental Health Review Committee and External Review Team. “In our increasingly complicated world, college students are dealing with immense pressures during a transitional time in their lives and at an age when they are vulnerable to the onset of mental illness.”

“Much more needs to be done by institutions of higher education—including Cornell—to address those challenges. We need to better support the legions of students who are struggling with anxiety and depression and other disorders so that their mental health experiences do not break their trajectory toward successful and fulfilling lives.”

MacLeod added that “leadership is the ultimate key to successfully addressing the crisis, especially given the complexities around mental health and the complexities of managing an extremely large institution. Leadership will make all the difference in whether Cornell achieves real progress in better supporting student mental health, or tinkers around the margins with no tangible and sustainable improvement.”

Cornell’s “comprehensive review of student mental health,” announced in 2018 by President Martha E. Pollack, is taking place throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. According to Cornell’s website, the internal Mental Health Review Committee “is tasked with examining the Cornell campus context, including issues pertaining to the academic and social environment, climate, and culture related to mental health.” The External Review Team “is charged with a comprehensive review of clinical services and campus-based strategies.”

Click here to read or download The Sophie Fund’s “Recommendations on Student Mental Health at Cornell University,” presented to the review teams on January 15.

Click here to read or download The Sophie Fund’s “Perspectives on Student Mental Health at Cornell University,” presented to the review teams on August 23, 2019.

Detailed highlights of The Sophie Fund’s recommendations:

  • Cornell leadership should humbly acknowledge the existence of the crisis and the systemic challenges that must be overcome, and commit to working vigorously and transparently with all stakeholders to address the crisis.

 

  • Cornell leadership should aim for a student mental health gold standard, sparing no effort or expense in finding ways to successfully address the student mental health crisis. The crisis demands a gold standard, not a band aid.

 

  • Cornell leadership should provide and be held accountable for student mental health resources that are commensurate with the challenges, sufficient to support best practices, and in proportion with spending on other institutional priorities.

 

  • Cornell leadership should implement a cross-campus framework for supporting student mental health and wellness, with the aim of 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.

 

  • Administrators, deans, and department chairs must be fully engaged in avoiding excessive academic and social stress levels; providing reasonable accommodations for mental health and other disabilities; encouraging help-seeking behaviors; offering meaningful mentoring, advising, and tutoring; providing healthy residence life conditions; promoting resilience and coping skills; and in generally creating the “caring community” that Cornell aspires to be.

 

  • All faculty and staff should be provided with a “Gold Folder”—a one-page chart on recognizing signs of distress related to mental health or sexual assault, how to engage students in distress, and how to guide them to professional help.

 

  • Deans should be responsible for knowing the identities of Students of Concern and closely following their cases.

 

  • Administrators, deans, and department chairs must be engaged in identifying and supporting at-risk students.

 

  • Psychological clinical services must be upgraded to ensure that every student who needs help gets the best possible support, and that no student falls through the cracks of an overburdened and distracted healthcare system.

 

  • Cornell leadership should cease the practice of outsourcing student mental health treatment based on overburdened campus services. If more campus services are needed, then they should be provided.

 

  • Cornell should ensure that referrals to community providers are made solely on the basis of student preference, and are made to providers who are capable of accepting new clients and have been fully vetted.

 

  • Cornell leadership should develop and publish a comprehensive suicide prevention policy incorporating current and anticipated best practices, including the Zero Suicide Model in healthcare, and mandatory training in suicide prevention tools for gatekeepers including RAs, deans, department heads, and academic advisors.

 

  • Cornell leadership should develop new and effective strategies to combat the serious problems of sexual assault and hazing within its student body.

 

  • Cornell leadership should develop new and effective strategies for addiction prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support.

 

  • Cornell leadership should institute a mandatory online education module prior to freshman registration that provides students with information about mental health risk factors and warning signs, Cornell data related to student mental health, and resources for receiving support.

 

  • Cornell leadership should create and implement a leave of absence policy that prioritizes the interests of the student over those of the institution, and is designed to fully safeguard students’ health, academic, financial interests, and successful life trajectory. Cornell leadership must fully support students throughout the leave process—i.e., before, during, and after leaves are taken.

 

  • Cornell leadership should create an ombuds position to serve as an independent campus advocate for student mental health rights and to provide practical assistance to students navigating the university’s healthcare system and academic accommodations.

 

  • Cornell leadership should provide an effective factual presentation about student mental health risks and responses to parents of all incoming students before or during freshman orientation.

 

  • Psychological counselors and academic advisors should encourage struggling students to consult their parents and include them in discussions related to important decisions such as health leaves of absence.

 

  • Cornell leadership should leverage online platforms including Internet websites and social media accounts to deliver effective mental health education, effectively fight stigma and encourage help-seeking behavior, and most importantly, effectively provide resources for addressing mental health crises.

 

  • Cornell should print the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on student ID cards.

 

  • Cornell leadership should establish a Standing Committee on Student Mental Health including a range of key campus stakeholders to regularly review Cornell’s policies and practices and issue annual reports on identified needs for continued quality improvement.

Support Student-to-Student Mental Health at Cornell University

Our country is experiencing a growing mental health crisis, one that is seriously affecting college students at a vulnerable transitional stage in their lives. More than 40 percent of college students surveyed said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” and 11.3 percent seriously considered suicide, according to the 2018 National College Health Assessment.

cornell reflect

Cornell students attending a Reflect dinner

As college administrations everywhere struggle to meet the demands for mental health services, students themselves are stepping up to support one another. Empowering students amid their struggles is an essential way of helping them fulfill their meaningful life journeys.

In this season of giving, The Sophie Fund invites its friends and supporters to consider a donation before the end of 2019 to The Reflect Organization, a nonprofit innovator in student wellness that is making a difference on the campus of Cornell University and several others.

To make a donation, go to: http://www.reflecteffect.org/donate

The timing is crucial: a generous anonymous donor has pledged to match all donations up to $100,000 made by a deadline of December 31. As of today, Reflect has raised $84,000 of the $100,000 target.

Reflect is the brainchild of Jared Fenton, who launched the organization in 2015 after one of his classmates at the University of Pennsylvania took her own life. Fenton believes that students can support each other by speaking openly and honestly about their mental health. To provide a space for that to happen, Reflect sponsors monthly dinners as well as mental health programs and trainings that are creating a culture of authenticity, self-love, and allyship on campus.

After graduating from Penn in 2016, Fenton began responding to requests to launch Reflect chapters on other campuses—so far, they are up and running at Cornell, Columbia University, Barnard College, Queens College, and La Salle University.

jaredfenton

Jared Fenton, founder of The Reflect Organization

Cornell students attending Reflect’s programs—and there are hundreds of them—report better connections with other students, more willingness to discuss personal mental health issues, and greater readiness to seek help when needed.

“One of the most empowering things about Cornell Reflect is that students are able to help their peers just by being open,” says Talia Ostrow ’20. “We are changing the campus climate to one of openness all on our own.”

Reaching the campaign target of $100,000, doubled to $200,000 through the matching donation from Reflect’s anonymous supporter, will enable Reflect to take its work to a new level. This $200,000 will make possible an expansion in Cornell Reflect’s training and outreach efforts, enabling the program to serve a wider range of students, more effectively. It also will help facilitate Reflect’s planned growth to serve students on even more campuses.

Make a donation before December 31 by clicking the link:

www.reflecteffect.org/donate

“This is What Healing Looks Like”

The Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.) Peer Mentorship Program needs your support! Our Cornell University group is fundraising for its 4th annual Mental Health Summit November 9-11.

BOSS

Please consider making a donation today! Click here to make a quick contribution:

https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/15983

B.O.S.S. is a peer mentorship program for womxn of color at Cornell University. Our organization provides participants with tailored opportunities to connect and support one another as we navigate Cornell University and serve the greater Ithaca community.

A marquis event for B.O.S.S. is our Annual Mental Health Conference. For the past five years, B.O.S.S. has hosted a day-long mental health conference for womxn of color on campus, for the past two as a stand-alone organization in collaboration with many others including Cornell Health, Women of Color Coalition, and other groups.

The summit has given B.O.S.S. the platform to create a safe space for womxn of color to openly discuss their mental health, gain new techniques to better practice self-care, and discuss mental wellbeing within communities of color.

As a continuation on last year ’s Mental Health Summit, B.O.S.S. plans on expanding that day-long cornerstone summit to a multi-day summit. Our theme this year will be “This is What Healing Looks Like.”

This year, our overall goal is to explore ways to heal and grow within ourselves and practice techniques to establish a state of serenity and balance, even when we have gone through difficult phases within our academic, professional, or personal lives.

Similar to last year, we will extend invitations to surrounding schools, such as Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College, and other Ivy League institutions to hear about their best practices.

Additionally, we will facilitate workshops on topics such as body image and self-care, have bonding events, host community dinners, and create spaces for conversation as well as quiet reflection to suit a variety of participants.

Your contributions to such an important event, will allow for B.O.S.S. to be able to put on an even more rewarding and healing. With you donation, B.O.S.S. will be able to put on an even more rewarding and healing experience for womxn of color. Donations will be used to cover associated conference costs such as workshop material costs, speaker expenses, space rentals, food expenses, and relaxation station costs, among other things.

Thank you!

—By Amber Haywood

Amber Haywood is the co-president of Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.)

boss

Get a Cupcake Button!

Student organizations are fanning out across Ithaca to support this year’s “Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign” organized by The Sophie Fund, which will hand over all donations to the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County.

cupcakebutton2019

Students will be tabling at GreenStar Natural Foods Market, on college campuses, and other locations around town, collecting donations in exchange for a colorful button featuring a painting of a cupcake. The campaign is held in conjunction with the annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest, which will be held in the Ithaca Commons on Saturday, October 19.

“We are honored to designate the Advocacy Center as the recipient for this year’s Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign,” said Scott MacLeod, a co-founder of The Sophie Fund. “The Advocacy Center does incredibly valuable work in our community, fighting sexual assault and domestic violence and providing essential support to victims of abuse.”

Last year’s cupcake button campaign raised $1,367.50, which was given to the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County.

Student groups participating in the 2019 campaign include:

—Active Minds at Ithaca College

—Active Minds at Ithaca High School

—Cornell University student organizations: Cornell Minds Matter; Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter; Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity; PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health); and the Mortar Board Der Hexenkreis senior honor society

Image caption: Detail from Evolution (2009), a painting by Sophie Hack MacLeod

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.

peersupport

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)

*                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *

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