“Be the Change You Want to See”

When the story of American authorities separating children from their parents at the U.S.–Mexico border hit the headlines in mid-June, we knew we had to act. Six of us—Cornell University students staying in Ithaca during the summer break—met up and brainstormed what we could do.

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We were deeply concerned about the consequences of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy targeting asylum seekers and other migrants.  The Department of Homeland Security reported that 2,342 children had been separated from adults between May 5 to June 9. Many psychologists and health professionals condemned the separation and detention of children as a traumatic, emotionally damaging experience that could cause them “irreparable harm.” We were mindful, too, that nearly 100 South Asian asylum seekers were being detained in Oregon.

Motivated by what we saw as a gross abuse of political power, and inspired by the mass action taking place across the country, we decided to support fundraising for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. RAICES is one of the largest immigrant rights nonprofits in Texas that has been supporting immigrants and their families in securing legal representation, translation services, and other services. Almost overnight, a Facebook campaign had raised more than $20 million for the organization.

I remember wanting to donate but feeling helpless because I could not afford more than $5.00 from my own pocket. From the ubiquity of Facebook posts and conversations that were happening around the issue, I realized that many felt the same way. Unaware of any other effort to mobilize contributions from the Cornell community, six of us—Tarannum Sarwat Sahar ’20, Rose Ippolito ’20, Lizzie Lee ’19, Jaylexia Clark ’19, Anuush Vejalla ’20, and myself—got to work with three ideas in mind.

First, we wanted to multiply the amount of money we could have donated on our own. We also wanted to engage people on the family separation issue face to face. Lastly, we wanted to restore our own faith that positive and swift action could be taken by college students against injustices, even during a time of year when we are “on break.”

We figured we wouldn’t raise a huge amount—we would be content with even $200. On June 26, we began a week of tabling at the bus stop in front of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. We had to cancel two of the days due to the weather, but were overjoyed to have raised almost $560 by the weekend. We were excited by the prospect of reaching $750—half of the $1,500 minimum needed to pay the bond for a detained migrant at the border.

Suddenly, we experienced a dispiriting misfortune—during our Saturday shift, an individual stole the entire contents of the cash box, taking off with most of the donations we had received at that point.

The blow was difficult to bear in the moment. June 30 happened to be the date when thousands of people in Ithaca and across the United States were marching and protesting the Zero Tolerance policy and family separation. So we took to our online networks and began to spread the tale of our predicament to our friends in every corner of the country, and even to the friends who were abroad for the summer. Within 20 minutes, I saw my personal Venmo account jump by nearly $100.

Our donations surged past $500 just a few hours later. It was utterly surreal. Over the next 24 hours, money continued to arrive, in $20, $10, and $5 increments—and even one 87-cent donation. By Sunday afternoon, we crossed the $1,000 mark with more donations pouring in.

For us, this became a story of a community coming together—people rallying around the immigration issue, and also friends responding to our SOS. It was incredible to see our friends (and also people we didn’t know!) contributing their support so quickly and generously.

We are extraordinarily grateful for the kindness and goodness of those around us. We know that in the end, this goodness will always drown out the negative actions of others. We are extremely thankful for every single donor, every single volunteer, and every single person who has taken interest in our fundraising effort.

Throughout the week, we talked to more than 200 people passing by our table. They gave us spare change, any dollars they could spare, and more importantly, took out time in their day to support a simple idea: #KeepFamiliesTogether. We want this to serve as a reminder that there is always a way to be the change you want to see in the world—no matter what time of year, no matter with what resources, and even when upsetting things happen.

Our fundraiser is closed–our final total was $1,120–but we ask that any and all further donations be sent directly to RAICES via its website here (scroll down to the donate box).

—By Winnie Ho

Winnie Ho is a senior in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences studying neurobiology and sociology

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.

This Summer, On Instagram!

Attention Instagram fans! Meet Sophie Jones, a rising junior at Cornell University who is interning with The Sophie Fund and taking over our Instagramming for the summer. Sophie majors in psychology, minors in visual studies, skates on the Synchronized Skating Team, and volunteers with the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. You might find her at the Firefly Music Festival, catching Bojack Horseman on Netflix, or sampling the culinary delights of Louie’s Lunch Truck. Sophie is a mental health advocate, and her Instagram posts strive to celebrate the beauty of life in Ithaca and environs. Send her your ideas for images at thesophiefund2016@gmail.com.

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Who Runs for Newfield High?

Fancy a splash of color in your life? We mean that literally! Come out and join the annual Color Run at 10 a.m. Saturday June 16 at Newfield High School. Participants in the five-kilometer trek (walkers and cheering supporters are welcome, too) are doused at eight intervals with colored, non-toxic cornstarch. All for a great cause: to support Newfield’s Sources of Strength, a school club dedicated to spreading hope, help, and strength in the community.

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Scene from Sources of Strength’s 2017 Color Run

Runners and walkers wearing white t-shirts pass through eight color stations, each one representing a “source of strength”: family support, positive friends, mentors, health activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access, and mental health.

Besides fostering community spirit, the event is a fundraiser for Sources of Strength, which promotes mental health and wellness for fellow students. The group meets regularly for rap sessions focused on promoting personal strengths and community-message brainstorming, and directs struggling students to helpful resources. It organizes de-stressor events like SOS Extravaganza, which turns the high school campus into a night-long party with movies, games, and snacks.

Click here for the sign-up form.

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Month!

“Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, daily functioning, and ability to relate to others. Mental illness doesn’t develop because of a person’s character or intelligence. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, a mental illness is a disorder of the brain that can make it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life. No one is to blame—not the person, and not the family.”

So begins “Navigating a Mental Health Crisis,” a new resource guide for to help those experiencing a mental health emergency, published just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month.

Click here to download the guide

The guide includes sections explaining:

—How to understand mental health crises

—How to prepare for a crisis

—What to do during a crisis

—What to do following a crisis

—How to create a crisis plan

The guide is published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As NAMI explains:

When mental illness is present, the potential for crisis is never far from mind. Crisis episodes related to mental illness can feel incredibly overwhelming. There’s the initial shock, followed by a flood of questions—the most prominent of which is: “What can we do?”

People experiencing mental illness—and the people who care for them—need information. However, that information is not always readily available and the search for answers may require more energy and persistence than possible in times of crisis.

“Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency” provides important, potentially life-saving information for people experiencing mental health crises and their loved ones. This guide outlines what can contribute to a crisis, warning signs that a crisis is emerging, strategies to help de-escalate a crisis, available resources and so much more.

Like any other health crisis, it’s important to address a mental health emergency quickly and effectively. With mental health conditions, crises can be difficult to predict because, often, there are no warning signs. Crises can occur even when treatment plans have been followed and mental health professionals are involved. Unfortunately, unpredictability is the nature of mental illness.

Unlike other health emergencies, people experiencing mental health crises often don’t receive instructions or materials on what to expect after the crisis. That is why we created this guide, so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it.

Click here to find more information about NAMI

Click here to connect with NAMI-Finger Lakes chapter

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca is hosting two special events during Mental Health Awareness Month.

On Thursday May 17 at 7:30 a.m. the organization will hold its annual breakfast celebration at the Country Club of Ithaca, 189 Pleasant Grove Road. The event will honor Lynette Scofield, Claudia Brenner, Sandy True, and the Cayuga at Twilight Committee. Tickets are available for $25 via Eventbrite. Support a great local mental health organization.

On Thursday May 31, F&CS hosts a community screening of The Mask You Live In, a film directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom that follows a diverse group of boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The screening to be followed by a panel discussion takes place at Cinemapolis, 120 East Green Street, from 6-9 p.m. Reserve seats at the Cinempolis website.

Watch the trailer!