Even Polo Players Get the Blues

Cornell University’s Varsity Polo Team is an outstanding example of how each one of us can play a vital role in promoting mental health. For the fifth year in a row this Saturday, October 28, the team is playing a benefit match to raise awareness and collect donations for suicide prevention.

2017_Benefit_Match_Poster

The fitting tagline for this year’s benefit match is “Even Polo Players Get the Blues.” Members of the Cornell equestrian team created the annual event in memory of Sue Knight (’81), captain of Cornell championship teams in 1980 and 1981. Knight died by suicide after a long battle with depression in early January 2013 at age 53.

“This cause is especially important to Cornell polo team members both past and present as we lost a beloved former women’s team player and team captain far too soon,” said Anthony Condo, Jr., a Cornell volunteer coach. “In short, it is real close to home for so many of us.”

The benefit match is a day of weekend fun, with spectators taking in the match, watching a demonstration of polo skills, and meeting members of the Cornell team. The event starts at 2 p.m. at the John T. Oxley Equestrian Center in Ithaca. Parking and admission are free.

Donations collected will be directed to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national organization devoted to new research, educational programs, advocacy for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss.

Click here to make a donation to AFSP anytime.

[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.]

Cornell polo team members

Caption: Cornell polo coaches and team members celebrating an Amateur Cup victory, August 2017.

Students and The Sophie Fund

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week at Cornell University, but for some college students in Ithaca, it’s seems like every week is mental health week. In a good way!

The Sophie Fund is privileged to partner on a host of projects with student organizations at Cornell and Ithaca College. Active Minds at Ithaca College, and Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter and Phi Sigma Pi at Cornell all played vital roles in the 2017 Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in the Commons on October 14.

APO-PSPVolunteers from Cornell University’s Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter and Phi Sigma Pi

Besides volunteering to register contestants, inventory the cupcake entries, participate in preliminary judging (okay, hard work!), and clean up the Bernie Milton Pavilion afterwards, students participated in a related fundraising effort for suicide prevention. In one week alone in September, APO Gamma collected more than $500 in donations. APO Gamma also delivered excess cupcake entries to the Friendship Center at the Ithaca Rescue Mission for the homeless.

Speaking at the cupcake awards ceremony, Winnie Ho, vice president of service for APO Gamma, said that working for mental health causes was one of her fraternity’s top priorities. Here’s what she had to say:

“I’d like to take this time to talk about the partnership that we have developed with The Sophie Fund over the past year. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of our chapter to get involved in all the mental health opportunities that exist in this town.

“For us, service remains one of our most important cardinal principles. We’ve seen an overwhelming response from many of our brothers to support for opportunities within APO and other opportunities outside of APO to serve and support their friends, their loved ones, and their community.

“At Cornell it is Mental Health Awareness Week, and APO Gamma is hosting many events, and so are many other student organizations. Which helps prove the point: anyone can get involved in mental health. You can start by asking yourself, asking your friends, taking care of the people around you. You don’t need to organize anything enormous to start improving the mental health of other people. Thank you so much for coming out today. Happy cupcakes!”

DSC_8712 copyWinnie Ho of Cornell University’s APO Gamma Chapter

Cooper Walter, president of Cornell Minds Matter, staffed a table at the cupcake contest to engage contestants and passersby on mental health issues. During the awards ceremony, he issued a special appeal to young people in Ithaca. Here’s what he had to say:

“In the couple minutes we have here today, I want to talk about mental health and young people. College age—18 to 24—is a pivotal turning point for everyone’s lives. It is at that age that most of the mental health disorders onset. And it is the age that we build the life skills and the coping strategies that set us up for success.

“At Cornell, 25 percent of all students have a mental health disorder, but only 30 percent [of those] seek help. I want to challenge every one here—especially the young people—to take a moment to engage with mental health. Ask yourself, ‘What does mental health mean to you?’ ‘What is your mental health?’ ‘How can you improve it?’ ‘And what are you going to do—today—to advance mental health and make your life better.’

“I also challenge you to take a moment to engage with your peers. Many friends are struggling with their mental health, or can improve their mental health, but aren’t thinking about it. Today, when you talk to your friends, ask them: ‘How are you doing?’ But don’t just take ‘Oh, I’m good,’ or ‘I’m fine,’ at face value. Ask them, ‘Are you struggling with anything?’ ‘Can I help you in any way?’ ‘Is there anything you’d like to discuss?’

“If we take these small steps, considering what mental health is to us, and reach out to our friends to help them engage with mental health, we can set ourselves up for a successful life, and successful health.”

DSC_8709 copyCooper Walter of Cornell Minds Matter

CMMCornell Minds Matter at the Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in the Commons

PSPVolunteers from Phi Sigma Pi

APOWinnie Ho and Ivan Rios of APO–Gamma

APO Buttons 092517APO–Gamma brothers collecting donations for suicide prevention in Ho Plaza

AM-greenstar2Members of Active Minds at Ithaca College collecting donations for suicide prevention at GreenStar Natural Foods Market

 

The Ithacan on College Health Leaves of Absence

“Kids on medical leave from the three universities often fall through the cracks.” —David Shapiro, President and CEO of Family and Children’s Service.

Bianca Mestiza of The Ithacan, Ithaca College’s student newspaper, has a comprehensive piece in the latest edition on The Sophie Fund’s proposal to aid students on mental health leaves of absence.

ithacanstory

Excerpts from the article below, but see the whole piece at The Ithacan:

The Sophie Fund, an organization whose focus is to enhance mental health initiatives, released a proposal Aug. 21 aimed to support students who take leaves of absences for mental health reasons from local universities such as Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

The proposal seeks to create an Ithaca community–based program to help college students who on are on mental health leaves of absence. In order to have a successful transition away from college, students need help before, during and after they return from their leave to adjust back to the demand of their academic work, according to the proposal.

The program features a “life coach” who would be a professional in the community employed by a local mental health agency. The life coach would help the students stay connected by holding individual and group meetings. In addition, The Sophie Fund’s website would help the student by giving useful information about local housing options and employment opportunities.

[Scott MacLeod, Sophie’s father and co-founder of The Sophie Fund] said the proposal has been shared with local stakeholders, agencies and campus organizations such as the Active Minds chapter at the college and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.

Deborah Harper, director of Ithaca College’s Center for Counseling and Wellness, said in an email that the proposal is a good idea because it benefits students who stay in the area while they are on leave.

MacLeod said that taking a leave of absence can be a very disrupting time for students who make that decision.

“This can be a very disruptive phase in a young person’s life when they have gone off to college … and suddenly they find themselves out a campus … so we have developed a project proposal to provide support to students who take a leave of absence,” he said.

Norbert McCloskey, executive director of the Ithaca Health Alliance, said he thinks the proposal is a good idea, and that he would like to see Cornell University and Ithaca College support it.

“I would like to see both the colleges here in town actually implement the proposal if they can find the means to do that,” McCloskey said.

David Shapiro, president and CEO of Family and Children’s Service, said via email that he is pleased with the proposal and appreciates MacLeod’s efforts to provide services to students who are having a difficult time.

“Kids on medical leave from the three universities often fall through the cracks,” Shapiro said. “I applaud Scott’s efforts to think of a solution to support these vulnerable students.

S. Makai Andrews, co-president of the Active Minds chapter at the college, said the campus should work on providing better assistance to students who take a leave of absence.

“I think that colleges should be better at facilitating the process, whether someone is on leave for their mental health, physical health or other personal reasons,” Andrews said. “The idea of a leave of absence is terrifying to most students because graduating ‘on time’ puts heavy pressure on much of the student body.”

Sophomore Jeewon Yim took a mental health leave of absence for a year after her freshman year and returned home to South Korea during her leave.

“I was mostly depressed about staying in a rural place, “Yim said. “On top of that, I was struggling to figure out what I really wanted to study… These reasons all came up to me as a really big emotional pressure, so I thought I should take a year off and see how my feelings change.”

Yim said she would like to see the campus community reach out to students more to see how they are feeling.

“I think the point is to encourage students and give them confidence that it is OK to ask for help,” she said.

Harper said that CAPS does outreach to students to let them know about their services. They meet with families of incoming students to encourage them to seek support from CAPS, if needed.

MacLeod said he hopes more organizations get involved with the proposal and that students provide input since they will be the ones who will need support.

McCloskey said the community support can help students taking leaves of absence.

“If we can help folks deal with that early on, their quality of life improves, their chances of success in college improves and their long–term success in life will improve,” McCloskey said. “I would like to see [the proposal] move forward and adopted, and I hope that does, indeed, become the case.”

 

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.

loa-photo

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

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.]