NAMI Finger Lakes: Supporting Mental Health in Our Community

Who do you turn to when you’re struggling to understand a loved one who may be experiencing a mental health condition? Do you feel connected to the resources you need to be a positive support to your family member or friend? Are you making your wellbeing a priority in your pursuit of care for others?

The Finger Lakes chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides free family support, education, and advocacy regarding matters of mental health. Click here to download, print, and share our guide to NAMI-FL’s programs and services.

When families and friends recognize signs that their loved one may be experiencing changes in their mental health, it can be confusing and overwhelming. For 35 years, NAMI-FL has been a trusted resource in our community. Families and friends come to us to learn about their loved one’s experience and to find support for themselves in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment.

One never has to worry that they can’t afford NAMI services, as they are always free.

Please consider supporting NAMI-FL? Click DONATE to make your financial contribution.

Our evidence-based signature classes and support groups are led by trained family peers and developed by NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of the millions of Americans living with mental illness.

The history of NAMI is a long tale of courageous families across the nation, from a nationwide signature drive to double mental health funding to building a national organization with over 600 affiliates.

Our local affiliate was founded by Jean Walters in 1986 when families found a warm and compassionate space to share their experiences and find support around the kitchen table. (Listen to the Talk Tompkins podcast with Jean in which she describes how she became a mental health advocate.)

We’re proud of the confidence and trust our community has placed in us to grow and connect more people to the mental health support and resources they need. NAMI-FL is governed by a volunteer board of directors; through the tireless efforts of many volunteers and the generous support of the Park Foundation, NAMI-FL created the position of executive director in 2020.

Together, the board and executive director work with volunteers to meet the needs of families in our community. We increase our impact through connections with other organizations with the shared goal of improving the lives of our loved ones and everyone experiencing changes in their mental health.

NAMI-FL has a rich history of advocacy in our community and in New York State. We keep our local policymakers informed about the mental health needs and challenges in our communities and encourage initiatives such as the implementation of our Ithaca Wellness and Recovery Court and Crisis Intervention Training for local law enforcement. We stay informed about changes in local services and keep families up to date.

We collaborate with NAMI New York State to meet and inform our state representatives about the issues that are important to us. We’re actively working to improve the lives of families impacted by mental illness and empowering our community to advocate for a stronger system of care. Click here to see NAMI NYS’s 2021 Legislative Agenda and learn simple ways you can use your story to make an impact.

We often hear that NAMI-FL is the area’s best kept secret. With your help, we can spread the word, amplify our collective voice, and work together to build a strong system of mental health care. Together, we can make sure families are knowledgeable about their loved one’s experience and never feel alone in their own.

Click here for a review of NAMI-FL’s 2021 activities and to learn how you can volunteer or support our work in the community and across the state.

At NAMI-FL, you are never alone. To save lives, to change lives, we must come together for mental health. We look forward to connecting with you in 2022!

—By Beth McGee

Beth McGee is the executive director of NAMI Finger Lakes

Media & Mental Health: Our Words Matter

The Kennedy Forum’s annual meeting October 6 & 13 presents “Our Words Matter: Harnessing the Power of Communications to Advance Mental Health Equity.” The online event features leaders in communications, media, advocacy, and activism to discussing best practices and defining a clear path forward. The meeting will feature remarks from Patrick Kennedy, former congressman and founder of The Kennedy Forum; Representatives John M. Katko and Grace Napolitano, co-chairs of the congressional mental health caucus; and Senator Dick Durban.

Click here to register and attend “Our Words Matter”

From the The Kennedy Forum:

“Today’s society is hindered by an unconscious, implicit bias that fuels discrimination against those living with mental health and substance use disorders. Our words often reflect that bias, perpetuating negative stereotypes. Thus, the urgent need for more thoughtful, accurate communications about mental health and addiction that will open minds, connect communities, and empower policymakers. Now, more than ever, we must take steps to understand, nurture, and advance the role of communications in the fight for mental health equity. Normalizing a national conversation is key to lasting change.”

Program highlights October 6:

“Our Digital Reckoning: A Deep-Dive into the Past & Present of Mental Health in the Media”

For the first time in history, we’re seeing conversations about mental health dominate headlines, traditional journalism, celebrity news, hit songs, and Instagram posts. Media trailblazers, clinical experts, and activists come together to set the stage for the day: What got us to this critical moment, and what are the implications of finally pulling the realities of mental illness and substance use out of the shadows and into our headlines?

  • Kate Snow, Senior National Correspondent & Anchor, NBC News
  • Kari Cobham, Senior Associate Director, The Carter Center’s Rosalynn Carter Fellowships
  • Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director, The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
  • Mark Ishaug, CEO, Thresholds

“Generation Push Notification: The Impact of Ever-present Tech on our Mental Wellbeing”

We are well into the age of the 24-hour news cycle. Information constantly surrounds us. We no longer have to seek out news and media; instead tech companies continually feed us through sophisticated algorithms. Are these advancements creating efficiencies in our information consumption? Or is it creating a tech addiction and negatively impacting our mental health? This panel convenes experts from The Social Dilemma, a 2020 American docudrama film that provides a deep dive into how social media’s design is meant to nurture an addiction, manipulate individuals, and make us question the “truth.”

  • Dr. Anna Lembke, Chief, Stanford University Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic
  • Jonathan Haidt, Social Psychologist, New York University Stern School of Business
  • Renée DiResta, Technical Research Manager, Stanford Internet Observator
  • Eileen Guo, Senior Reporter for Tech Policy, Ethics, and Social Issues, MIT Technology Review

“Confronting Your Chaos and Using Your Platform for Change”

CNN’s Irish journalist, Donie O’Sullivan, earned praise for his reporting from the January 6th riot in Washington, DC and for his calm demeanor in the face of an angry crowd leading a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol building. But this measured reporter will also tell you that, “The most terrifying position I have been in in my life has been in my own mind in the grips of anxiety and depression.” This sincere discussion explores one reporter’s experience with mental health challenges and how he is using his platform as a high-profile journalist to engage others in honest, and sometimes difficult, conversations around mental health.

  • Donie O’Sullivan, Correspondent, CNN
  • Rhitu Chatterjee, Health Correspondent, NPR

“Gaming the System: An Influencer’s Approach to Promoting Mental Health Care”

By 2022, the online gaming market is expected to take in $196 billion in revenue, more than box office and recorded music revenues combined. Currently, there are over 2 billion gamers worldwide who seek out platforms such as Twitch and Caffeine to live stream their favorite gameplay. One influencer is using this platform to reach young people and discuss real life issues including mental health care and substance use.

  • She Snaps, Online Broadcaster, Podcaster and Mental Health Advocate
  • Ryan Jenkins, Anchor / Reporter, TMJ4 NBC Milwaukee

“The Weight of Gold: The Pursuit of Olympic Dreams and the Fallout”

Olympics athletes train for most of their lives for an opportunity on the world’s biggest athletic stage. When it’s over, many athletes face mental health challenges. Hear from Brett Rapkin, Director of the HBO Sports documentary The Weight of Gold, on the process and importance of sharing the mental health stories of Michael Phelps, Apolo Ohno, Shaun White, Lolo Jones, and others. Learn how the documentary inspired discussion about mental health issues, encouraged people to seek help, and highlighted the need for support.

  • Brett Rapkin, CEO & Founder, Podium Pictures
  • Jeremy Bloom, 3-time World Champion / 2-time Olympic Skier

Program highlights October 13:

“Barrier-Free Care: How the Digital Era Harnesses Online Communities and Accessibility to End Mental Health Stigma”

Technology has broadened our ability to engage individuals in wellness and mental health care. More and more, people are turning to apps, social media, podcasts, and more to learn and explore their own self-care. We talk to three leaders in the field who are breaking down traditional barriers in an effort to heal others.

  • Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Licensed Psychologist, Author, Therapy for Black Girls
  • Jennifer Libby, Founder & CEO, Promly
  • Aidan Kohn-Murphy, Founder & CEO, Gen-Z For Change
  • Michael Puente, Reporter, WBEZ Chicago

“Separating Raven From The Hulk: One Olympian’s Story About Strength In All Forms”

Raven Saunders is a silver medalist in shot put at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In her life, she won three NCAA collegiate titles in the shot put for the University of Mississippi, was a world junior medalist in 2014, and the Pan American junior champion in 2015. She holds a personal record of 19.96 m for the shot put. Raven is also a fierce advocate for mental health due to her own personal challenges and triumphs. She shares her story with NBC journalist, Char Adams, who helped to bring her into the media spotlight.

  • Raven Saunders, Olympic Silver Medalist
  • LZ Granderson, OpEd Columnist, The Los Angeles Times

“Speaking Your Truth: Courage and Authenticity in the Face of Online (and offline) Mental Health Stigma”

Join this intimate conversation with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Andy Cohen, Emmy Award-winning host, producer, and author best known as the host and executive producer of the Emmy-Nominated “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen,” on Bravo. Throughout his career – spanning from network journalism, authoring bestselling books, hosting talk shows, and touring with Anderson Cooper – Andy has been exposed to many sides of the media and its impact on our popular culture. In this session, Andy will share his personal experiences in the field and offer perspective on how we can utilize media to change the conversation around mental health.​

  • Andy Cohen, Host & Executive Producer, “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen”
  • Patrick J. Kennedy, Former Congressman (D-RI), Founder of The Kennedy Forum

“MindSite News: Shining A Light On Mental Health”

MindSite News is a new, editorially independent, digital publication focused on mental health, resilience and recovery. This new platform intends to translate science into accessible English and be written in a way that is powerful, authoritative, and engaging to both experts and the lay public. To shed more light on MindSite itself, James Burns, Interim Executive Director of The Kennedy Forum Illinois will sit down with Rob Waters, Founding Editor of MindSite News, to discuss this new platform and how it came to be. They will dive into details around editorial content curation and the distribution channels for this content, as well as how people can actively engage and contribute to this new, and important resource for the mental health community.

  • Rob Waters, Founding Editor, MindSite News
  • James Burns, Interim Executive Director, Illinois, The Kennedy Forum

“Our Words Matter: The Role of Journalists in Creating Safe, Human-centered Stories about Mental Health”

Although stereotypes and misperceptions regarding mental health and substance use disorders are pervasive, journalists can play an influential role in educating and informing the public about these public health issues and reduce the prevalence of sensationalized inaccurate information that fuels stigma and discrimination. Join this powerful discussion to learn how to promote responsible and fair communications in our media.

  • Dr. Steven Adelsheim, Clinical Professor, Director, Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • John Daniszewski, Vice President and Editor at Large for Standards, The Associated Press
  • Scott MacLeod, Co-Founder and President, The Sophie Fund
  • Christine Herman, Reporter, Illinois Public Media

Support The Learning Web of Ithaca!

Welcome to The Sophie Fund’s 2021 Cupcake Button fundraiser! Each October, we work alongside student organizations to raise monies for a local nonprofit focused on community wellbeing.

Members of The Learning Web’s Volunteer Community Service Program help the Family Reading Partnership prepare books to be given to local kids

This year the campaign is collecting funds for The Learning Web, an Ithaca agency offering experiential learning, youth employment, and independent living programs to youth and young adults in Tompkins County. 

One hundred percent of monies raised will go to The Learning Web and specifically to its Supporting Strong Families project. The project helps youth with children learn new skills, acquire childcare equipment and supplies, and access needed resources.   

Click here to DONATE via GoFundMe

The Learning Web strives to support local youth—from the homeless to the more fortunate—to make the transition to adulthood successfully, finish high school, develop a productive career path leading to gainful employment and self-sufficiency, and contribute in a healthy and positive way to better the greater Ithaca community.

Every year The Learning Web helps 600 youth, 200 of whom are homeless, through a variety of programs. Services are provided to ensure safe housing, assist education and training opportunities, develop career pathways through apprenticeships and employment, and help with parenting skills for young parents.

For more information about The Learning Web, go to: https://www.learning-web.org/

This year’s fundraising campaign is supported by many student organizations, including Cornell University’s Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter, Reflect at Cornell, Phi Sigma Pi, Pre-Professional Association Toward Careers in Health (PATCH), and Cornell Circle K; and Ithaca College’s IC Strike.

Students will raise money through in-person activities (and provide donors with Cupcake Buttons) and through online collections via GoFundMe.

The symbol of the campaign is a Cupcake Button, because the fundraising takes place in the run-up to the Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest hosted by The Sophie Fund. To enter this year’s cupcake contest, go to: https://thesophiefund.org/cupcake-contest/

2021 Cupcake Button (detail from Evolution, a painting by Sophie Hack MacLeod)

For more information about The Sophie Fund, go to: www.thesophiefund.org

Why Cornell’s Clinicians Need Cross Training

As Cornell University administrators consider the recommendations from a mental health review released last October, Cornell Health needs to cross train all of its clinicians to diagnose and treat substance abuse disorders and other mental health disorders as soon as possible.

Cross training is an important consideration in all health services, but it is especially necessary for clinicians who work with college students. For example, a female student sought help from her college’s counseling program because she was feeling anxious and depressed. She met with a counselor for several weeks but experienced no relief. Her counselor decided to seek advice and brought her case to the counseling service’s weekly clinical meeting. After a lengthy discussion, another counselor asked, “Did you ask about her drinking?” No, the counselor had not asked about her drinking because she focused on the presenting problems, anxiety and depression. In the end, the counselor diagnosed the student as having a serious alcohol use disorder and treated her successfully for both addiction and depression.

Another in an occasional series of articles about student mentaOne in an occasional series of articles about student mental health. For more information, go to The Sophie Fund’s Student Mental Health Page

Clinical services, whether in the workplace or on a college campus, have a common problem: most clinicians do not have sufficient training to diagnose and treat both substance use disorders and other mental health disorders. This occurs primarily because clinical training programs often do not provide social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists with sufficient background and skills to diagnose and treat substance abuse disorders, particularly addiction.

At the same time, programs specializing in training counselors about substance use disorders may give short shrift to the diagnosis and treatment of other mental health disorders. Clinical services can rectify this problem by ensuring that all clinicians are cross-trained to the point of competence where they can identify, assess, and intervene on both substance abuse disorders and other mental health issues.

Cross training is especially important for college counseling services because college students drink, sometimes excessively, and use and abuse other drugs such as marijuana, prescription drugs (e.g. Adderall and Ritalin), Ecstasy, and cocaine. Since the 1990s, college health practitioners have utilized two approaches to prevent and treat substance use disorders among students.

The first is a harm reduction model. For example, it seeks to reduce the harm associated with excessive drinking by teaching students to drink responsibly. Within this framework, college health practitioners think of heavy drinking as a symptom of an underlying social problem, a dysfunctional “culture,” and they create programs such as social norming campaigns and BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening & Intervention for College Students) to teach students moderate drinking norms with the expectation that students will change their behavior and drink moderately or not at all.

The second approach conceives of substance use as a coping mechanism that students use to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. By treating the stress, anxiety, and depression, clinicians believe that students will be less reliant on alcohol and other drugs to cope and use alcohol and other drugs responsibly. These interventions work well with students who are not addicted and are abusing alcohol or other drugs, but they are inadequate for treating those who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

More recently, colleges have begun to recognize that many college students who drink excessively and abuse other drugs cannot control their consumption because they are dependent upon alcohol and other drugs and many college health services have begun to develop recovery programs to treat their addiction. One study, for example, found that 18 percent of college students have an alcohol use disorder: 12 percent met the criteria for a diagnosis for alcohol abuse and six percent met the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence.

Interview skills are essential for making an accurate diagnosis and ensuring effective treatment. Mental health clinicians and addiction specialists can learn from one another to improve their skills.

Again, the classic example is the depressed client who seeks help from a mental health practitioner for depression. A male student sees a mental health clinician who focuses the interview on his symptoms of depression and reasonably prescribes anti-depressants and talk therapy. However, the clinician misses the fact that the client is implying that his alcohol consumption is minimal but is actually consuming large quantities of a depressant (i.e. alcohol). The therapist does not consider the patient’s self-medication and prescribes antidepressants.

In the opposite scenario, the same male student sees an alcohol and drug counselor to discuss his potential abuse of alcohol. The counselor does a standard intake evaluation and determines that he does meet all the criteria for alcohol addiction but, because of the nature of the questions asked, the counselor misses the fact that this person has had all the symptoms of depression since before he ever took his first drink. In both scenarios, the most effective treatment requires the clinician to diagnose both the addiction and depression and treat them in an integrated manner. Treating only the depression will perpetuate the addiction, the pain, and dysfunction. Only treating the addiction will perpetuate the depression and likely lead to ongoing suffering and relapse.

Cross training ensures that health services deliver the most competent care in the most cost effective manner. The only thing worse than not getting the help one needs is thinking you are getting help when you are not. Clinicians owe it to their patients to be able to assess issues across the mental health spectrum. As Cornell Health responds to the mental health review, it can ensure that students receive the most effective care by guaranteeing that all of its clinicians have sufficient training to diagnose and treat both substance use disorders and other mental health disorders.

—By William J. Sonnenstuhl and G.P. Zurenda

William J. Sonnenstuhl is an emeritus professor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell University. His primary research examines alcohol and drug problems in the workplace and on college campuses. He is the faculty advisor for Sober@Cornell, President of Cornell Collegiate Recovery, Inc., board member of Cayuga’s Watchers, and member of the Fraternity, Sorority, and Alumni Council.

G.P. Zurenda is a social worker and addiction specialist. He holds an MBA from the SC Johnson College of Business.

A Cornell Mental Health Resources Guide

When I started my first year at Cornell University, I experienced imposter syndrome and overwhelming feelings of depression and anxiety. I questioned whether I belonged at an Ivy League school and had doubts about whether I could be successful on my own. I began having a negative view about myself and my capabilities, started self-isolating, and worked to attain a level of perfection that isn’t possible in my classes.

Memorial Room, Willard Straight Hall, Cornell University

While I was going through all this, I realized I never heard or had any information about the groups and initiatives on campus that were directed toward addressing student mental health. I believe that I could have benefited from them when I felt so alone.

It is essential that incoming students have this indispensable information if they ever need support or a community to turn to if they are struggling. Turning to someone who understands or even talking to someone while you’re dealing with a hardship makes a big difference. Getting out of your own head gives you perspective about what you’re going through and how you perceive the situation. You are never alone. Your struggles and vulnerabilities do not make you weak. Sharing makes you stronger and more connected with others.

One in an occasional series of articles about student mental health. For more information, go to The Sophie Fund’s Student Mental Health Page

My experience, and then learning about the deaths of Cornell students earlier this year, motivated me to create the Cornell Mental Health Resources Guide to empower incoming and current students to find and ask for emotional support when they need it—whether they’re going through a crisis or need someone to talk to. The transition to college is very difficult. It’s important more than ever, given the Covid-19 pandemic, that new students know that they are supported and that there are communities of students that are here to support them and have their own experiences related to dealing with mental health and negative body image.

Through this guide, I hope to inform students about where they can find support and the kinds of resources and communities that exist on campus to address their personal, mental health, academic, and/or spiritual needs. I want to further the idea that asking for help is a strength and challenge the societal belief that emotions should be pushed aside.

DOWNLOAD: Cornell Mental Health Resources Guide 2021-22

Mental health should be a number one priority. Many students buy into a hustle culture in college that encourages you to struggle and put yourself last, but your wellbeing should reside in the center of everything you do. Taking care of yourself allows you to feel better about yourself, put struggles into perspective and see challenges objectively, be less tired and stressed, focus and perform better in your academics, be a better friend, be present, etc. Only by taking care of yourself can you show up as who you truly are. Investing time in relationships is also important as human connection makes us happier.

Over the summer, I distributed my work to more than 800 organizations, professors, and departments on campus. It was sponsored by student organizations working to address mental health on campus including Cornell Minds Matter, EARS, Reflect at Cornell, and Body Positive Cornell. It was shared with freshmen through Cornell’s new student orientation, the Tatkon Center, Cornell residential housing, Cornell athletics sports teams, and students coming back from health leaves of absence. It has also been shared by some professors in their course syllabi.

In receiving a lot of positive responses from the Cornell community, I’ve been able to see that there are many people who care about student wellbeing at Cornell and want the best experience for every student. Together, we can work to make Cornell an even better campus and environment for students to grow and thrive.

—By Katie Gorton

Katie Gorton is a sophomore at Cornell University hoping to study Communications.

DOWNLOAD: Cornell Mental Health Resources Guide 2021-22