Why Cornell Minds Matter

Mental Health Weekend is my last hurrah.

I joined Cornell Minds Matter, a student organization that promotes mental health at Cornell University, during the spring semester of my freshman year. My first year of college was rough. Academically, I managed fine. Mentally, I struggled to stay afloat.

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Cornell Minds Matter President Cooper Walter

The normal homesickness, imposter syndrome, and fish-out-of-water sensation that many teenagers experience when saying goodbye to their families and going away to college were hard enough. On top of this, my anxiety symptoms were worsening. The social anxiety disorder that I had been diagnosed with a few years before had been improving with cognitive behavioral therapy. But traveling across the country, from a small high school on a strip mall to a campus of almost twenty thousand, was almost too much.

I felt isolated. I didn’t go to the dining halls because sitting alone in a crowded room was unbearable. I tried supplementing my calorically insufficient diet with packages of Oreos that I would eat in one sitting, but I kept losing weight. Losing hope, I got an email about Club Fest, the big gathering of hundreds of campus clubs in Cornell’s field house. That’s where I discovered Cornell Minds Matter.

Cornell Minds Matter (CMM) is a student group that strives to promote the wellbeing of our campus, reduce the stigma of mental illness, and connect students to the many resources available. Headquartered in a room in the Dean of Students Office, Cornell Minds Matter hosts discussion series on mental health topics (such as Dining with Diverse Minds), de-stressing events (such as gratitude card writing and bamboo planting), free physical exercise activities (including yoga and Zumba), and dozens of other events.

When I approached Cornell Minds Matter’s table, the CMM members struck me with their generosity, passion, and compassion. I was immediately interested. Being pre-med, I wanted someday to help people with their health. In CMM, I could serve others and maybe, just maybe, even raise myself out of the morass I was in.

Over three years, starting out as a regular member, then becoming a program chair, then a vice president, and now, in my senior year, president of this amazing organization, I’ve tried my best to make Cornell a better place for all minds. I can’t thank Cornell Minds Matter enough for supporting me all these years as I’ve struggled—and, I’m grateful to say, largely overcome—my own mental illness.

I’m not alone in my battle. Twenty-five percent of college students experience a mental health disorder during their time at university. Yet, less than one-third seek help. Tragically, 1,100 college students die each year by suicide, making suicide one of the leading causes of death among college students and young people generally.

So, along with my incredible fellow CMM members, I’ve been organizing Cornell Minds Matter’s Mental Health Weekend to take place April 13–16. The Weekend’s main theme is suicide.

On Saturday, April 14, we’re hosting a Speak Your Mind student panel in partnership with Active Minds at Ithaca College, where students will share their personal stories about suicide.

On Saturday evening at Hotel Ithaca, the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service of Ithaca is hosting Dancing for Life, its 6th annual fundraiser for the local crisisline that provides 24/7 support for people in crisis.

On Sunday, April 15, through the support of The Sophie Fund, we are hosting a screening of the new documentary on suicide, The S Word. The film will be immediately followed by a Q&A panel discussion with director Lisa Klein, mental health activist Kelechi Ubozoh, and leader in the New York suicide prevention scene Garra Lloyd-Lester. Among the half dozen other events is a Mental Health Gala at the Johnson Museum on April 13.

We’ve put our hearts as well as our minds into Mental Health Weekend. As a graduating senior, it will be one of the last Cornell Minds Matter events I’ll help with. I hope you can make it.

—By Cooper Walter

Cooper Walter is the president of Cornell Minds Matter. A member of the Class of 2018, he studies human biology, health, and society in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University.

 

March For Our Lives

“We, the youth of the United States, have built a new movement to denounce gun violence and call for safety in all of our communities. And this is only the beginning.” — Parkland school shooting survivor and activist Emma González.

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At a time of broken leadership in America, and on so many levels, it is truly stirring to witness the #neveragain movement led by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida along with legions of other young Americans.

They’re smart, eloquent, poised, and committed. And they’re determined to act and get results. The focus is on gun control, but this is a movement that will do much more to make the world a safer, better place.

Millions will take part in the historic March For Our Lives on Saturday March 24 in Washington and across the country. Ithaca’s march culminates with a rally in the Commons at 2 p.m.

Emma González is probably right—this is only the beginning. Here’s an extract of the powerful essay she wrote for Teen Vogue this week:

I was born in 1999, just a few months after 13 people were left dead after a shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. From 1966 to the Valentine’s Day that my school proved to be less than bulletproof, nearly 1,100 people have been killed in mass public shootings in the U.S.. From the deaths of 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, to the 2016 massacre of mostly Latinx people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, to the loss of 58 lives at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas last year, we’ve seen mass shootings play out again and again and again.

Gun violence has torn up many communities across the country, mainly due to negligence on behalf of local and national government to properly regulate access to guns, ignorance to their constituents’ varying situations, and willingness to take money from organizations that very clearly do not have the best intentions for the future of the United States.

We Stoneman Douglas students may have woken up only recently from our sheltered lives to fight this fight, but we stand in solidarity with those who have struggled before us, and we will fight alongside them moving forward to enact change and make life survivable for all young people. People who have been fighting for this for too long, others who were never comfortable enough to openly talk about their experiences with gun violence, or still others who were never listened to when opening up about their experiences with gun violence or were afraid to speak out — these are the people we are fighting with and for.

González and fellow Parkland activists made the cover of TIME magazine this week. “The young voices of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have changed minds and even laws,” writes TIME.

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High School Warriors Against Suicide

“The truth is, we all struggle. We need you. Together, we rise.” — Arlee Warriors.

Can we prevent suicide? The Arlee Warriors high school basketball team thinks so.

In Montana, which records the highest suicide rate in the United States, the Arlee players dedicated this month’s statewide high school basketball tournament to suicide prevention. To spur their cause, the Warriors made a moving video sending support to people struggling with thoughts of hopelessness and encouraging others to fight for them.

The Warriors of Arlee, where half the town’s population of 600 is Native American,  are pretty amazing at basketball, too. On March 3, Arlee High School won a second straight state title, defeating Manhattan Christian School 66-58.

Arlee Warriors, you inspire us, on and off the court!

[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.]

 

“Keying into Emotions”

“I can share it with my family.” — Amelia Erikson on how baking cupcakes brings her happiness and helps her open up about her mental illness.

Michayla Savitt hangs out with Amelia Erikson, a 2016 psychology and neuroscience graduate of Ithaca College with bipolar II disorder, in Episode 8 of The Scoop on Mental Health. In “Keying into Emotions,” Amelia shares stories about the evolution of her mental illness starting in childhood, and how she devised personal ways of coping without medication—including the happiness she feels when baking cupcakes. “The other great thing about that is I can share it with my family,” she explains. “If I’m in a little bit of a happier mood while baking, it’s a really good time to be talking to them and sort of explaining how I have been feeling.”

8pod“Keying into Emotions” [Episode 8] Listen

Amelia Erikson shares stories of her bipolar II disorder and how she copes with the symptoms without the aid of medications.

“Changing the Tape”

“That’s got me through the hardest moments.” — Mental health advocate Dayna Altman on how helping others has helped her deal with her own mental disorders.

In Episode 7 of The Scoop on Mental Health, Michayla travels to Boston to meet Dayna Altman, who’s pursuing a career in public health inspired by the people who helped her through her own mental health challenges. In “Changing the Tape,” Dayna talks about both losing and gaining control with a mental illness, and the multiple advocacy projects that have come out of her experiences. As she tells Michayla: “Planning, helping other people, it’s what drives me, it’s what I love, it’s what I want to do the rest of my life. I think that’s got me through the hardest moments.”

“Changing the Tape” [Episode 7] Listen

Dayna Altman speaks about coping with her mental illness by telling her story openly and encouraging others to tell their truths as well.