ReEntry Theatre Explores Mental Health and Criminal Justice

Delia Divided is a new play by Judy Tate exploring mental health in the criminal justice system and beyond and written with the collaboration of formerly incarcerated individuals in the Civic Ensemble‘s ReEntry Theatre Program.

Members of the ReEntry Theatre Program

Gabriella da Silva Carr will direct a staged reading of the play by the ReEntry Theatre members via Zoom on June 12 and June 13. There will be a post-reading dialogue with audience members. Click here for the Civic Ensemble Ticket Office (Delia Divided tickets on pay-what-you-can basis). The Sophie Fund is a co-sponsor of the event.

The ReEntry Theatre Program creates original theater that highlights and investigates the complexity of real human stories. It is a supportive, creative community for people who have experienced incarceration or court involvement, and aims to raise awareness about and shift the narrative around the realities of the criminal justice system and the people involved. This program is led by a Leadership Council of nine formerly incarcerated individuals who recruit, mentor, and participate alongside new participants.

Judy Tate is Producing Artistic Director of The American Slavery Project, a theatrical response to revisionism in this country’s dialogue about enslavement and its aftermath. She is also the Founding Artistic Director of the Stargate Theater at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York. She is a four-time Emmy Award winning writer and Writer’s Guild of America award recipient.

The ReEntry Theatre Program is an ongoing weekly program. Participation is free and everyone who has experienced incarceration in jails, prisons, or drug rehabilitation programs is welcome to attend. Participants work with theater professionals from Civic Ensemble to grow theater skills, develop scenes and plays based on the ideas each individual brings, and build community. No theater experience necessary. Email info@civicensemble.org or call/text 607-241-0195 to receive the link to join.

For Mental Health, Ithaca’s MindWell Offers Evidence-Based Care

Mental health services in Tompkins County have been stretched to the limit for years. Demand for crisis support at local mental health clinics, as well as calls to Ithaca’s crisis hotline, spiked after the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted normal life in 2020. The number of people seeking non-crisis counseling in the county has also increased steadily since then.

MindWell Center Co-Founders Sarah Markowitz and Aaron Rakow

Into this breach last October stepped a new service provider promising cutting-edge approaches to mental health care: Mindwell Center LLP, located in the South Hill Business Campus.

MindWell is the brainchild of Aaron Rakow, a clinical psychiatry professor at Georgetown University who returned to his native Ithaca with a mission to upgrade the availability of services and standard of care in rural upstate New York. In short order, Rakow and co-founder Sarah Markowitz have hired 25 therapists and are adding another one-to-two a month; they plan to open a second clinic with 10 clinicians in September in Albany. MindWell is currently supporting 350 patients and counting.

“Across our society, we have more demand for mental health services than we have providers able to support that demand,” Rakow said. “In particular, within a category of the mental health field that we refer to as evidence-based care, or psychological intervention that is based on science, to be as effective as possible in treating a host of mental health challenges amongst individuals, there are even fewer practitioners that practice in that space. My hope is that through opening MindWell Center we will be able to address some of those needs.”

The Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce honored MindWell at its 2021 Annual Meeting and Celebration on May 20 with its Distinguished Business of the Year Award. Announcing the award, the Chamber said: “In response to a specific and substantial community need—access to effective, quality mental health care, and removing stigma regarding mental health concerns—MindWell founders Aaron Rakow and Sarah Markowitz have introduced a new model of treatment to our community and expanded their staff and services considerably in a short period of time.”

MindWell strives to provide the highest quality evidence-based mental health care to children, families, and adults for a spectrum of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders, substance use disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Besides supporting individual patients, MindWell is ramping up population-level initiatives—for example, it offers contracted services for companies where clinicians implement programs fostering healthy workplaces through leadership training, wellness seminars, stress reduction classes, support groups, and individualized care for employees. MindWell is offering similar services to schools in the region, both K-12 and colleges. Rakow believes that the Ithaca community is aware of the need to address the “mental health pandemic” many experts believe accompanied the Covid crisis.

Rakow said that another key part of MindWell’s mission is to support the training and retention of high-quality evidence-based clinicians in upstate New York. To that end, MindWell has formed partnerships with the University at Albany and Binghamton University to provide training through externships for graduate programs in clinical psychology.

Watch: Promotional video about the MindWell Center

Evidence-Based Care (EBC) is an evolving standard of care involving a variety of treatments endorsed by leading mental health associations. According to experts, it emphasizes integrating the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of a patient’s culture, individual characteristics, and personal preferences. Nonetheless, as a 2013 New York Times article pointed out, “surprisingly few patients actually get these kinds of evidence-based treatments” despite numerous trials demonstrating their effectiveness.

MindWell clinicians are trained to provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Measurement-Based Care (MBC) to carry out its evidence-based approach. According to the American Psychological Association, CBT encourages patients to recognize distortions in their thinking that are creating problems, and learn problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.

Any good therapist will utilize treatment elements such as reflective listening, validation, and empathy. As Rakow describes it, evidence-based treatment adds a roadmap for the client and the therapist to most efficiently decrease the symptoms of disorders through specific strategies and techniques that have been proven through science. In treating a patient with depression, Rakow explained, the therapist will assess the factors behind the patient’s negative thinking patterns. Then the treatment will focus on teaching coping skills that can change the patient’s cognitive narrative.

“The client gets a workbook to help their guidance and help their process at home,” said Rakow. “The clinician has a workbook to help guide the sessions. That is an evidence-based intervention in practice.”

Furthermore, MBC bases clinical care on data collected from patients throughout their treatment; experts say that MBC provides insight into treatment progress, highlights ongoing treatment targets, reduces symptom deterioration, and improves client outcomes.

“We are looking at every single session for the individual on how they are improving, if they are improving,” Rakow explained. “And if they are not, what can we be doing differently on an interventional level?”

To use an example, Rakow said that a clinician treating anxiety will have patients fill out screen tests during every therapy session to measure increases or decreases in symptoms. “So they can say, ‘It looks like you’ve had a difficult week. We’re seeing your anxiety go up. Let’s see how we can calibrate the treatment effectively to bring that level back down. Because we know you have that potential.’ If we are not practicing measurement-based care, we’re not practicing evidence-based care. Those two things must always go together,” Rakow said.

Some team members at MindWell are equipped to prescribe medications. That said, Rakow points out that many of the most evidence-based strategies involve the combination of psychotherapy and medication management, as opposed to a treatment regimen that involves medication management alone. Thus, MindWell’s team of multidisciplinary providers collaborate closely on cases to ensure that the treatments are optimally calibrated to each patient’s individual needs.

Population-level initiatives provide easier access to mental health treatment, Rakow explained. “There are far too many barriers to accessing high quality mental health care in our country,” Rakow said. “We will partner with hospitals, with school systems, with institutions of higher education, with businesses big and large, to provide integrated mental health solutions for their employees, for their pupils, for their staff, for their patients, to make the process of accessing mental health care that much easier.”

Rakow said that businesses are receptive to upstream mental health support for their employees, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, in part because they realize that decreased wellness can impact productivity and profits. He said that MindWell services for K-12 schools can focus on administrators, teachers, and staff as well as students and their parents.

School-integrated support helps parents avoid what can be a difficult challenge in navigating mental health services for their children on their own, Rakow said. “If you are a mom or dad, and your child needs mental health care, you have to locate a provider, wait for that provider to have an opening, take time off to drive across town and take that child to that appointment, wait while the child is seen, and follow up with the clinician,” Rakow said. “That could take weeks or months to treat, in the best-case circumstances.”

MindWell’s model for higher education similarly supports faculty and staff members while seeking to relieve the increasing burden on student counseling services.

“College student mental health is right now an extremely high need for our field,” said Rakow. “The institutions of higher ed in our region are taking this issue extremely seriously and have put an incredible amount of thought and commitment and resources towards it. But our need in our society from a mental health perspective continues to grow and the demand for it continues to increase. We need to really think innovatively about how we can provide support and access points for undergraduate and graduate populations of learners in our community to be able to effectively meet that demand.”

UPDATE: MindWell is working with regional insurance carriers to become in-network as soon as possible to increase access to its care model. In the meantime, MindWell offers a generous sliding scale for clients in need. MindWell also offers what it calls courtesy billing whereby the MindWell team submits the claim on the behalf of the client so they can focus on their care rather than dealing with paperwork.

Fighting Sexual Assault on Campus

Sexual harassment and assault are worldwide problems. IC Strike is an Ithaca College student organization formed in 2019 and dedicated to education, action, and allyship surrounding sexual assault. We believe it is our duty to inform the Ithaca community because sexual assault and violence is, more often than not, swept under the rug.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, meaning you regularly interreact with survivors of sexual assault every day.

There are differences in direct and indirect sexual assault prevention. The opportunity to distract people involved in a dangerous situation can be a safer way to provide a friend or a stranger a way out of an uncomfortable encounter. Asking directly or getting help from a figure of authority like a Resident Assistant, campus safety officer, or calling 911 can also save people from potentially traumatic situations.

Additionally, it’s important to create safe spaces to talk about uncomfortable situations. This can help individuals so that they don’t have to take on the big issues alone by helping to create safety and support networks for those that need them. Of course, education is at the core of sexual assault prevention. Education helps to create a safe space where conversations can be held about traditionally taboo topics such as consent and sexual violence.

April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There are many campaigns, some with different themes, designed to share information around sexual assault awareness and prevention. These campaigns stem from historical and intersectional branches of activism that continue to show how anyone can be affected by this issue.

IC Strike partnered with The Sophie Fund and the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County to launch an education campaign on social media during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We are trying to reach as many people as possible to educate them on our core issues.

IC Strike was created as a response to our founder’s experiences navigating the legal and health systems following a assault. Like her, many of our members seek validation and answers to questions surrounding their own experiences. As an organization, we strive to fulfill the needs of survivors and to educate our community to prevent the same trauma from occurring to others.

These issues of sexual violence affect everyone, and we believe that facilitating a safe and respectful space for learning and navigating tough conversations within a college community leads to personal growth and social progress. 

IC Strike adamantly believes in the power of education and communication. Our society struggles to have conversations about sex, trauma, and sexual violence. In breaking the social stigma surrounding these topics, people are able to learn more about themselves and the society they live in. The social gag rule on sexual assault fosters ignorance and perpetuates harmful behavior and values. By equipping students with the facts and the vocabulary to discuss these issues, productive conversations can be had and stigmas can be broken.

By Carmen Enge, Lindsay Sayer, and Julia Siegal

Carmen Enge, Lindsay Sayer, and Julia Siegal are students at Ithaca College and serve, respectively, as treasurer and co-presidents of IC Strike

READ: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Connect with Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of all forms of sexual violence on survivors and the community while also highlighting the work being done to promote healthy development and practices that work towards preventing these forms of violence from occurring. The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County is offering a variety of events in April to promote sexual assault awareness.

Roll Red Roll Film Screening Thursday April 15

Tompkins County teens are encouraged to join the Advocacy Center for a Netflix Watch Party and post-screening discussion of the film Roll Red Roll. Hosted by its student activism group, ACTion, the event will explore how social media and sports culture can influence sexual violence, as well as how students can challenge toxic social norms that perpetuate rape culture. To register for the screening, please fill out the following form: https://bit.ly/2OAGpJV

Wen-Do Women’s Self Defense Online Workshop April 19 & 20

The Advocacy Center invites college-enrolled women to participate in this four-hour self-defense program offered by the longest running women’s self-defense organization in Canada. This program will run over two sessions and includes frank discussions about violence against women and children along with verbal and physical resistance strategies. This program recognizes and celebrates our diversity, feminist principles, the empowerment of women and children while expressly rejecting victim blaming so often present in society. Follow the Advocacy Center on social media for more details and registration information.

Mighty Yoga Donation Class April 24

Join Mighty Yoga for a smoothly paced vinyasa flow experience. Donations raised through this yoga session will support survivors of sexual assault, as well as preventative education efforts led by the Advocacy Center. To sign up, please visit https://www.mightyyoga.com/livestream-schedule and select April 24 on the calendar. Then click on the “Sign Up” button next to the 1 p.m. donation class. *If you do not have an existing Mighty Yoga account, you will need to create one in order to register for the session.

Denim Day April 28

Wear jeans to raise awareness about the misconceptions that surround sexual assault! Started after an Italian Supreme Court ruling in which a rape conviction was overturned because the victim had been wearing tight jeans: the justices ruled that she must have helped her rapist remove them, thereby implying consent. For denim day materials visit www.denimdayinfo.org and follow the Advocacy Center on Facebook and Instagram for info and updates. Use #ACdenimday2021 so the Advocacy Center can follow your posts!

Clothesline Project Display DeWitt Park April 30 12-1pm

The Advocacy Center is excited to offer a socially distanced opportunity to see this powerful display in person. The project provides a space for domestic and sexual violence survivors to create and unapologetically display the “dirty laundry” that is abuse. The t-shirts, which contain powerful stories, images, and artwork, are hung on a clothesline to show that the people who experience domestic, sexual, or emotional violence aren’t just statistics but people in our communities and neighborhoods. *Social distancing and masks required

Take Back The Night! April 30

March. Rally. Speak Out. Vigil. Keep an eye out for social media posts and website updates as the Advocacy Center plans the 2021 virtual event! Participants are encouraged to join any way that feels comfortable. Marchers are encouraged to make signs, banners or wear clothes that highlight groups and organizations standing in solidarity with survivors or with messages of protest against domestic and sexual violence.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, IC Strike, and The Sophie Fund on Wednesday launched an education campaign on social media to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Download Poster: April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Each day throughout April, the local organizations are posting infographics on their social media platforms about safety plans, reporting procedures, hotline help, medical and mental health support, and tools to fight sexual assault.

Citing data from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the campaign highlights that sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. RAINN says that one out of every six American women, and one out of every 33 American men, has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

College women are at three times greater risk of assault, according to RAINN; 13 percent of all graduate and undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that sexual violence impacts health in many ways and can lead to short and long-term physical and mental health problems.

The Advocacy Center is the premier community organization providing support services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and child sexual abuse. Besides the social media campaign, the Advocacy Center is organizing a host of activities throughout the month. They include a screening of the film Roll Red Roll, a Wen-Do Women’s Self Defense online workshop, a yoga class fundraiser, a Clothesline Project Display in DeWitt Park, and a “Take Back the Night!” march, rally, speak out, and vigil.

“The Advocacy Center is dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of all forms of sexual violence on survivors and the community, while also highlighting the work being done to promote healthy development and practices that work towards preventing these forms of violence from occurring,” said Advocacy Center Executive Director Heather Campbell.

IC Strike, a student organization at Ithaca College dedicated to education, action, and allyship surrounding sexual assault, is collaborating in the social media campaign because it believes in the power of education and communication.

“Our society struggles to have conversations about sex, trauma, and sexual violence,” said IC Strike Co-President Julia Siegel. “The social gag rule on sexual assault fosters ignorance and perpetuates harmful behavior and values. By equipping students with the facts and the vocabulary to discuss these issues, productive conversations can be had and stigmas can be broken.”

The social media campaign was designed by Lorelei Horrell and Margaret Kent, Ithaca College students and interns at The Sophie Fund.

“I have enjoyed getting to work with other individuals who are passionate about sexual assault awareness,” said Kent. “As a female college student, the issue of sexual assault is a common worry. I hope that our campaign can help raise awareness about this issue and at the same time, make survivors feel seen.”

Horrell agreed on the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“There’s a lot of stigma around discussing sexual assault that makes it more difficult for survivors to find information and resources,” said Horrell. “As a young woman and as a college student, fear of sexual assault is constant. Working on this campaign both validated that fear and transformed it into something more. We can be angry, and we can be afraid, but we can also learn how to protect ourselves, practice being able to support our friends, and educate ourselves on all the resources available if something does happen.”

Click any of the links to check out the campaign’s social media posts and share:

https://www.facebook.com/thesophiefund/

https://www.instagram.com/thesophiefund/

The Sophie Fund’s Sexual Assault page: National, state, and local resources to learn about sexual assault and how to deal with it.