Well Done, Active Minds

An important new study indicates that student mental health organizations such as Active Minds on college campuses increase mental health knowledge, decrease stigma around mental disorders, and increase helping behaviors.

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Facebook photo of Active Minds members at Ithaca College

“Student peer organizations’ activities can improve college student mental health attitudes and perceived knowledge and significantly increase helping behaviors,” said the study, published this week in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Such organizations can complement more traditional programs and play an important role in improving the campus climate with respect to mental health.”

The study, titled “Strengthening College Students’ Mental Health Knowledge, Awareness, and Helping Behaviors: The Impact of Active Minds, a Peer Mental Health Organization,” surveyed more than 1,100 students during the 2016–17 academic year at 12 California colleges with Active Minds chapters.

A June 28 Washington Post story about the study cited the Active Minds chapter at Ithaca College, and it’s co-president, Zoe Howland:

“The rising senior at Ithaca College joined its chapter her freshman year and says the group made her transition easier. The New York school’s chapter is one of the oldest and largest in the country, averaging about 30 members a year. Among the activities they promote are ‘Speak Your Mind’ panels for which students are trained to tell their own mental-health stories or those of friends or family members. The panels visit classrooms and several times a year address the entire campus. ‘I came in not knowing what I wanted to do,’ said Howland, who is now the group’s co-president. ‘Now I want to go into mental-health advocacy. Active Minds ignited a passion in me that I didn’t know existed.’”

Executive Director Alison Malmon founded Active Minds in 2003 while at the University of Pennsylvania three years after the suicide of her 22-year-old brother Brian, a student on leave from Columbia University. The group has some 450 chapters and operates on more than 600 campuses across the country.

According to the study, student peer organizations conduct a range of activities “to lessen stigma, improve knowledge of mental health, and enhance skills for identifying and referring peers struggling with mental health issues.” Active Minds’ activities include campus installations such as “Send Silence Packing,” a display of more than 1,100 backpacks to represent the number of college students lost to suicide each year; speak-out events and storytelling programs; and discussion groups and and seminars. “These activities help promote an ongoing dialogue about mental health on campus through peer-to-peer conversations, social media, ongoing programming, and campus print media,” said the study.

The study concluded:

“These findings suggest that, in addition to more traditional education or contact-based programs that rely on short-term or singular experiences to reduce stigma and improve knowledge of mental health issues, student peer organizations that establish an on-going presence on campuses and use a combination of educational, contact-based, large-scale programs, and small-group activities initiated and led by peers on campus throughout the year can meaningfully influence not only student perceived knowledge and attitudes but also their behaviors within a single academic year.

“Such changes in how the general student population views and understands mental health issues, brought about by student peer organizations, could be instrumental in shaping a more supportive climate toward mental health issues on campus. This has important implications for addressing student mental health treatment needs, because students with mental health problems are more likely to receive needed services if they feel the climate on their college campus is more positive with respect to mental health.

“Increased familiarity with Active Minds over the school year, whether resulting from exposure to a range of on-campus activities (e.g. public exhibitions and interactive events) or simply general awareness of the organization, appears to have successfully raised perceived mental health knowledge and awareness and decreased stigma, regardless of whether students were actively involved in Active Minds programming. Furthermore, students who became actively involved with Active Minds during the academic year appear to be more likely to take action to support others with mental health issues, behavioral activation that is not commonly seen in many more traditional education or contact-based programs.”

The study noted that the work of campus organizations like Active Minds can potentially increase students’ use of mental health services, but added that there remains a critical need for “sufficient mental health services” to meet the needs of students. “Among college and university students in the United States,” the study said, “there is a substantial gap between the need for mental health treatment and the receipt of mental health services.”

According to the study:

“Recent studies estimate that 20% to 36% of college students deal with some form of serious psychological distress, but that only approximately a third of these students, many of whom have access to on-campus providers and insurance to cover services, receive treatment. This unmet need for mental health care among college students represents a significant public health issue. Young adulthood is a critical period: without treatment for mental health problems, students face a range of potentially serious and lasting consequences, including dropping out, substance misuse, difficulties with social relationships, and lower lifetime earning potential.”

The Fall 2015 National College Health Assessment, in a survey of 19,861 students at more than 40 American schools, reported that 35.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

According to the 2017 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, data collected from 147 college counseling centers showed that 34.2 percent of 161,014 college students seeking counseling in the 2016–17 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” The rate increased for the seventh year in a row, up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. The data also showed that 10 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.

For more information, go to the Active Minds website.

“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.

Thank You, GreenStar Family

The Sophie Fund is proud to be a recipient in GreenStar Natural Food Market’s “Bring Your Own Bag, Use it for Good” donations program. Last week, GreenStar delivered a check to The Sophie Fund for $290.10—the result of $0.05 donations by 5,802 GreenStar customers.

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GreenStar’s support for The Sophie Fund’s work for improved youth mental health in the Ithaca community doesn’t stop there. The coop is the prime sponsor of the Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund each October. GreenStar also welcomed Cornell University and Ithaca College students into its stores last fall to collect donations supporting mental health in Tompkins County. The students raised a total of $829.50, which was presented to the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service last month.

Established in 2014, the Bring Your Own Bag, Use it For Good program has raised more than $10,000 for local nonprofits ranging from the SPCA of Tompkins County to the Cayuga Nature Center. The program, which gives customers a 5-cent donation token for providing their own grocery bags, has also spared the environment some 230,000 carrier sacks.

Thank you, GreenStar family!

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Cupcake Buttons: Supporting Suicide Prevention

The Sophie Fund presented a donation check for $829.50 on Wednesday evening to the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service (SPCS) of Ithaca. Cornell University’s Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter and Active Minds at Ithaca College raised the funds in The Sophie Fund’s “cupcake button” campaign last fall.

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Alpha Phi Omega President Winnie Ho hands a check to Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin

Both student organizations set up fundraising tables on their campuses as well as at GreenStar Natural Food Market’s stores in the West End and Collegetown. Alpha Phi Omega also raised funds in the Ithaca Commons during the Apple Harvest Festival. The Sophie Fund selected SPCS to be the recipient of monies collected in the 2017 cupcake button campaign.

“We sincerely thank Alpha Phi Omega and Active Minds, as well as all the many people who made generous donations, for supporting the cause of suicide prevention in Tompkins County,” said Scott MacLeod, an officer of The Sophie Fund.

“The student organizations not only collected money, but they engaged meaningful conversations within their own circles and with the campus and Ithaca communities about mental health. The commitment of these organizations is nothing less than amazing. Hats off to GreenStar for allowing us to raise funds at their locations and for their tremendous support for mental health and well-being in the community.”

Alpha Phi Omega President Winnie Ho handed over the donation check in a brief ceremony to SPCS Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin. Ho was joined by Alpha Phi Omega members Joanna Hua, Trisha Ray, and Ashley Kim.

“As college students who have the privilege to interact with so many different organizations across our campus and in our local community, we have had the chance to see how critical it is that mental health and wellness is supported on every level,” said Ho.

“The partnership between Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter and The Sophie Fund is the result of a dedication to improving mental health on collegiate campuses. We are thrilled to be working with incredible organizations such as Ithaca Suicide Prevention & Crisis Services who have done so much for students and community members. There is important work still left to be done to support our peers, but we are optimistic about the future of this collaboration.”

S. Makai Andrews, co-president of Ithaca College’s Active Minds chapter, and an intern at SPCS and The Sophie Fund, led the Active Minds effort. “We wanted to participate in the button selling as a means to increase mental health visibility in the Ithaca area and reduce the stigma surrounding these situations,” said Andrews. “We were happy to serve as examples of college-aged students who have struggled with our mental health and spoke with many interesting people in the community about what changes they would like to see in how we talk about mental health.”

“Gifts like these always give us a lift, helping us continue the work we do by reminding us that the community cares,” said Marvin. “The staff, board, and volunteers of Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service are grateful for this donation because we know that it represents a big effort by student members of Alpha Phi Omega at Cornell and Active Minds at Ithaca College.”

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Peri Margolies and S. Makai Andrews of Active Minds at GreenStar Natural Foods Market during the cupcake button campaign

SPRC operates Crisisline, offering free and confidential crisis counseling, staffed 365 days a year by trained volunteers who respond to calls from Tompkins County and across the 607 area code. It also provides “The Chat,” an Internet chat service for young people who are reluctant to talk on the telephone.

The Crisisline is a member of the National Suicide Lifeline system and is accredited by the American Association of Suicidology. It is also a founding member of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition established last July.

The overall mission of SPCS is to promote constructive responses to crisis and trauma and to prevent violence to self and others through direct support and community education.

SPRC’s Education Program provides suicide prevention and mental health programs to youth and adults in public schools, colleges, and universities, and community-based settings.

Another program is After-Trauma Services, which provides free short-term counseling and support groups to those who have lost a loved one to suicide or unexpected death.

SPCS traces its history back to 1968, when Ithacans lobbied for a 24-hour crisis line following a series of suicides in the community. Reverend Jack Lewis took the first call in 1969, from a young man who felt so upset that he had decided the only solution was to kill himself. With the help of SPCS’s first volunteer counselor, the young man renewed his hope and sense of possibility.

“We’re so thankful for the essential work that SPCS does to educate the public and provide support for people struggling with mental disorders and suicidal thoughts,” said MacLeod. “Calling the Crisisline, if you or somebody you know is experiencing difficulties, can literally save a life.”

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the Crisisline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

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).