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.

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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.”

 

Thank You, Active Minds

Congratulations to Active Minds of Ithaca College, the top fundraising team at Saturday’s Out of the Darkness Ithaca Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The 16-member Active Minds Team raised $1,060, followed by $953 by Team Hope, $706 by Bob’s Angels, $700 by Team Scott, and $555 by the Cornell University Childcare Center.

Out of the Darkness walks raise awareness about suicide prevention and raise monies for new research, educational programs, advocacy for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. This year’s Ithaca Walk raised a total of $9,629.

file7Active Minds of Ithaca College Team

Active Minds Co-President S. Makai Andrews, who served as AM’s Team Captain for the Ithaca Walk, was the third-highest individual fundraiser with $555 in donations. AM Social Media Chair Kristin Butler brought in another $210.

Andrews said she joined the walk wanting to give hope to people who may be battling suicidal feelings. “There is still an incredible degree of shame and disapproval associated with those who struggle with their mental health,” she said. “Though we know what bipolar disorder is now, that doesn’t mean that those experiencing manic or depressive episodes are always given the time off work that they may need. Though we know what depression is, we’re still telling people to perk up.”

Elizabeth Mortlock was the second-highest individual fundraiser with $782 in donations.

The Ithaca Walk’s No. 1 individual fundraiser was Clara Scher, who brought in $825 donations. Scher said she sought to spread awareness and raise money in memory of her friend and teammate Madison Holleran, a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania track and field student athlete who took her own life in January 2014.

Scher was one of several walkers who said they were driven to help prevent suicide after experiencing the devastating loss of a friend or loved one. “This tragedy exposed the debilitating effects of major depression, and motivated me to devote my career in the field of psychology to help prevent the loss of others to this horrific disease,” Scher said.

Donations to the Ithaca Walk can be made through December 31—click here to contribute through the Active Minds Team.

[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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S. Makai Andrews and Kristin Butler

 

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Ithaca Walk Registration

 

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Ithaca Walkers gathering at Cass Park

 

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Spreading the message with AFSP merch

 

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Active Minds table at the Ithaca Walk

 

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Out of the Darkness walks

Photos courtesy of Active Minds of Ithaca College

 

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.

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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

Mayor Svante Myrick: Support Suicide Prevention

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation Wednesday in support of The Watershed Declaration, a commitment by local mental health stakeholders to intensify efforts to prevent suicide in the community.

MyrickMacLeodMarvin

“I call upon our citizens, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions to raise awareness of Ithaca’s mental health support services, encourage those in need to seek treatment, honor those in our community we have lost too soon, and commit to an all-out effort to prevent suicide,” Svante said in issuing the proclamation at the start of the Ithaca Common Council meeting Wednesday evening.

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting held on April 17 of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The declaration termed suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Myrick said there is strong evidence that a comprehensive public health approach is effective in preventing suicide, and called on the community’s health and behavioral health systems to prevent suicide deaths using the best available information and practices.

Moreover, Myrick said, “every member of our community can play a role in protecting their friends, family members, and colleagues from suicide. Our community needs to advance suicide prevention by fighting the stigma around mental health and seeking treatment for mental disorders.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, expressed her gratitude for “the mayor’s support for reinvigorating our community’s commitment to suicide prevention. The need has never been greater. Unfortunately, suicide rates have been increasing in the last 15 to 20 years.”

“This proclamation is highlighting the need to address suicide prevention,” said Sharon MacDougall, deputy commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County. MacDougall added that her agency is working with the New York State Office of Mental Health to create a Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “Selected key stakeholders will be invited to a planning meeting to start the Tompkins Suicide Prevention Coalition this summer,” she said. “This coalition will help coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies, providers and others to improve suicide prevention across Tompkins.”

Ithaca Proc

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at a meeting of 18 organizations hosted by The Sophie Fund, which was established in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to promote improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.

The Watershed Declaration stated:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Photo caption: Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, The Sophie Fund Co-Donor Advisor Scott MacLeod, and Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin