“We’re Here for a Reason”

In the second episode of Michayla Savitt’s podcast The Scoop on Mental Health, we hear the story of Scott Fried, an incredible man who decided to devote his life to volunteer service after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS three decades ago. “We’re Here for a Reason” tells a remarkable tale of loss, forgiveness, and self-love, culminating in Scott’s mission to help others with self-acceptance and promote safe-sex education. As Scott tells Michayla: “There is inside of each of us an innate worth, an innate sense of goodness and value, that can never, never, ever be unfriended, or undone, or blocked, or just missed, or ghosted, or benched, or ignored.”

scoopicon-mini “We’re Here for a Reason” [Episode 2] Listen
Scott Fried tells us how getting infected with HIV/AIDS led him to start a life of preaching messages of self-worth and love to people around the world.

Get the Scoop on Mental Health

Throughout the past year, I developed and produced The Scoop on Mental Health, a podcast series now being shared by The Sophie Fund. In my opinion, we can never talk too much about subjects that “make us human.” Hearing true stories is one of the most effective ways of changing someone’s perspective on an issue, which is why I started this series—to help normalize talking about mental health in everyday conversations.

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I experienced first-hand the positive ripple effect that comes from talking about things that are difficult and personal. Hearing these incredible stories of resilience from complete strangers, from classmates, and even from my family members has reaffirmed the reason we need to talk about mental illness: knowing you are not alone in your struggles is key to accepting challenges and seeking help. While I cannot attest to the full effect it has on my guests and listeners, from their feedback I know it has had a positive influence on accepting their conditions.

As someone who has lived with depression and anxiety since childhood, I can say that hearing these stories helped me to accept my own condition. While it certainly doesn’t define who I am, it plays a large role in my daily life. Openly saying “I take medication” and “I go to therapy” is a recent step in my mental health journey, because like many people, I tucked my issues away in fear of being judged. Fear that I would be seen as incompetent, or weak, because I don’t fit society’s definition of “normal.”

For as long as I can remember I’ve been depressed, but high functioning, receiving on and off treatment for multiple years. However, after a head injury in June 2016 my symptoms began to worsen. At some point during that summer I slipped into a hypomanic state—I lost my appetite, was barely sleeping, my mind raced at all times, and I felt like I had lost control of my mental well-being.

One day in September, I crashed. I couldn’t get out of bed all day, and just felt completely numb. I knew something was very wrong, and that I needed help. Eventually I called my mom, and with help from her and my dad we made a plan to get proper treatment for what I learned was bipolar II disorder.

In retrospect, I should have taken time off from college, but was terrified of the repercussions of leaving with the fall semester well underway. I managed to get my feet back on the ground, but knew that getting through the semester meant discussing my situation with my friends, my boss, and my teachers. In doing so, I finally realized that being honest helped so much more than dealing with it on my own—and most of all, they were more likely to say “I’m here for you, how can I help?” than to pass judgment.

That’s the common theme you’ll hear in this podcast series—whether it’s just daily mental health care, or managing a mental illness, finding ways to exercise the mind and let people in makes the burden that much lighter.

In this first episode, you’ll meet Bridget, a friend of mine who speaks about her anxiety and depression amidst balancing work, life, and self-care. “It Was Just Something I Dealt With” tackles the misconception that high anxiety should not be taken seriously, along with what we can do to push past the stigma. I continue to admire Bridget’s grit in this fight, both in her own life, and in spearheading technology to help others keep track of their mental health.

I am honored to share these stories, and hope that it inspires you to tell your own stories in whatever way you are comfortable. More than anything, I urge you to continue the conversation however you can—for just by talking about mental illness, we can better understand one another, and work to end the stigma that harmfully keeps mental illness shrouded from sight.

—By Michayla Savitt

Michayla Savitt, a recent Ithaca College alumnus, is a news anchor and reporter at Cayuga Radio Group

scoopicon-mini“It Was Just Something I Dealt With” [Episode 1] Listen

Bridget Strawn tells us about how she learned to manage her anxiety and depression, and how that experience inspired the creation of a self-care app.

A Concert for Mental Health… and Hope

Ithaca College’s music students and faculty staged an unforgettable show featuring Broadway hits, old favorites, and even a Handel aria Tuesday evening November 14 in “Music for the Mind: Mental Health Awareness Concert.”

The event in Ford Hall at the Whalen School of Music was the brainchild of Megan Jones, a junior voice student, who was inspired to “do something” after a fellow student and dorm mate attempted suicide earlier this year. The Ithaca College community quickly rallied to the cause.

“Nobody should feel as alone as my dear friend did, and I so strongly believe that music is a perfect way to bring attention, raise awareness, and comfort anyone around to hear it,” Megan told The Sophie Fund.

“Music for the Mind” was a tour de force showcasing IC’s exceptional instrumental, voice, and dance talent in nine musical pieces, including “Make Someone Happy,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Rise Up,” “Lascia Chio Pianga,” “Please Stay,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “You Will be Found.”

“A strength of the Ithaca College community is our care for one another,” Deborah Harper, director of IC’s Center for Counseling, Health and Wellness, said in opening remarks to the audience. “What you are about to experience is one example of care in action. Music uplifts us, soothes us, inspires us, invites us to feel deeply. I would like to thank Megan for bringing her vision—’Music for the Mind’—to life tonight. As we spend the next hour together, I want to invite you to reflect on the value of our connections to life and to the people we hold dear. Open yourself to the music and allow your heart and mind to be moved.”

Before the curtain rose, Megan Jones introduced her friend Lola, who spoke eloquently and powerfully about her experience, and addressed others “who might be struggling right now”:

“This concert is for you. You might be used to being spoken around. For people to slightly touch the subject of your life, and just as quickly to draw back. For people to talk to the helpers instead of the people who need help.

“I am not you. Your symptoms are yours. You are your own person. But also you are not alone. All in all, you aren’t. You are a human in a world full of humans. You are not going crazy. You are suffering from an illness. You are living through it. You’re doing the best you can, and that really is enough. I don’t know you or what you are going through, but I know you can get through it. You’re strong, you’re trying, you’re alive, you’re here.

“Your disorder or illness is not just an excuse. You are more than enough. It may take a while to get out of this funk. It may just be something you deal with forever. But you will overall get better. You will learn to cope better. You will make friends. You will lose friends. It might be hard. You’ll continue to learn and you’ll continue to grow. One day, I truly think, the good days will start to outweigh the bad.

“Remember that people can’t know what you are going through until you tell them. That’s still something I’m trying to learn and get used to. You need to learn to take care of yourself at the end of the day.”

Click here to watch the “Music for the Mind” concert

Photos by Sarah Horbacewicz

[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.]

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“Please Stay,” by Jake Runstad. Performed by the Ithaca College Choir, directed by Janet Galván, professor of performance studies.

 

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“Please Stay,” by Jake Runstad. Performed by the Ithaca College Choir, directed by Janet Galván, professor of performance studies.

 

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“You Will be Found,” from Dear Evan Hansen, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

 

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“Rise Up,” by Andra Day. Performed by Laurel Albinder and IC Voicestream.

 

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“My Oh My,” by Punch Brothers. Performed by Jonah Bobo, John Bourdelais, Tom Brody, Marybeth MacKay, and Nicky Young

 

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“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from Carousel by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Performed by Deborah Montgomery-Cove, professor of performance studies.

 

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“Finding Hope,” by Ava Maria Safai. Performed by the IC Unbound Dance Company.

 

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“Lascia Chio Pianga,” from Rinaldo, by George Frideric Handel. Performed by Ivy Walz, associate professor of performance studies, with string quartet and dancers.

 

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“Lascia Chio Pianga,” from Rinaldo, by George Frideric Handel. Performed by Ivy Walz, associate professor of performance studies, with string quartet and dancers.

 

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“Make Someone Happy,” by Jule Styne. Performed by Marc Webster, assistant professor of performance studies, (with Megan Jones and Christopher Zemliauskas).

 

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“Make Someone Happy,” by Jule Styne. Performed by Megan Jones, IC voice student, (with Marc Webster and Christopher Zemliauskas).

This Close to Happy

Daphne Merkin, author of This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, will be the featured guest speaker at a “Readings on Mental Health” event on Sunday, November 19 sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County and hosted by Buffalo Street Books.

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John Kaag called Merkin’s 2017 memoir “one of the most accurate, and therefore most harrowing, accounts of depression to be written in the last century… Ms. Merkin speaks candidly and beautifully about aspects of the human condition that usually remain pointedly silent.”

Andrew Solomon, reviewing This Close to Happy for the New York Times, wrote: “It is standard fare to say that books on depression are brave, but this one actually is. For all its highly personal focus, it is an important addition to the literature of mental illness.”

Merkin is also the author of Enchantment, Dreaming of Hitler and The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontës, and the Importance of Handbags. A former staff writer at the New Yorker, she has also written for the New York Times, Elle, Bookforum, Departures, Travel + Leisure, W, Vogue, Tablet Magazine, and other publications. She has taught writing at the 92nd Street Y, Marymount College, and Hunter College.

Merkin’s appearance is part of “Readings on Mental Health,” a series featuring authors of books on mental health topics made possible by a grant from The Sophie Fund.

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Alternatives and Us

The Sophie Fund is proud to announce that Alternatives Federal Credit Union is a sponsor of the 2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest held this Saturday October 14.

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Besides helping underwrite the costs of the contest with a financial donation, the fantastic Alternatives team has been working with us behind the scenes to make the event even better than last year. Among the additional features: a coloring contest for the kids (up to age 8). Participants won’t be disappointed!

We’re glad to share in the uniqueness that Alternatives brings to Ithaca. Cornell University (’73) social psychology grad Bill Myers founded Alternatives in 1979 with a mission of serving low and moderate-income people and communities. It prides itself in providing access to safe financial services and education for underserved people.

As a Community Development Credit Union, Alternatives is member-owned, locally controlled, and self-supporting. According to its statement of purpose:

“We believe that by controlling the flow of funds within a small community, the community can build itself to suit its own needs and be more self-reliant. Our social mission is integrated into our economic mission, so for whatever reason, joining Alternatives is making a choice towards a more economically just community.”

Alternatives has been recognized for its social mission and standard of excellence. In 2014, the National Credit Union Association ranked Alternatives as the No. 1 Community Development Financial Institution in the United States.

In 2011, the Wells Fargo Next Awards presented Alternatives with its Advocacy Award for its policy and advocacy leadership on a living wage that began as a local effort and grew into a national movement.

The Sophie Fund is honored to work with Alternatives in our efforts to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in our community.