“This is What Healing Looks Like”

The Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.) Peer Mentorship Program needs your support! Our Cornell University group is fundraising for its 4th annual Mental Health Summit November 9-11.

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Please consider making a donation today! Click here to make a quick contribution:

https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/15983

B.O.S.S. is a peer mentorship program for womxn of color at Cornell University. Our organization provides participants with tailored opportunities to connect and support one another as we navigate Cornell University and serve the greater Ithaca community.

A marquis event for B.O.S.S. is our Annual Mental Health Conference. For the past five years, B.O.S.S. has hosted a day-long mental health conference for womxn of color on campus, for the past two as a stand-alone organization in collaboration with many others including Cornell Health, Women of Color Coalition, and other groups.

The summit has given B.O.S.S. the platform to create a safe space for womxn of color to openly discuss their mental health, gain new techniques to better practice self-care, and discuss mental wellbeing within communities of color.

As a continuation on last year ’s Mental Health Summit, B.O.S.S. plans on expanding that day-long cornerstone summit to a multi-day summit. Our theme this year will be “This is What Healing Looks Like.”

This year, our overall goal is to explore ways to heal and grow within ourselves and practice techniques to establish a state of serenity and balance, even when we have gone through difficult phases within our academic, professional, or personal lives.

Similar to last year, we will extend invitations to surrounding schools, such as Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College, and other Ivy League institutions to hear about their best practices.

Additionally, we will facilitate workshops on topics such as body image and self-care, have bonding events, host community dinners, and create spaces for conversation as well as quiet reflection to suit a variety of participants.

Your contributions to such an important event, will allow for B.O.S.S. to be able to put on an even more rewarding and healing. With you donation, B.O.S.S. will be able to put on an even more rewarding and healing experience for womxn of color. Donations will be used to cover associated conference costs such as workshop material costs, speaker expenses, space rentals, food expenses, and relaxation station costs, among other things.

Thank you!

—By Amber Haywood

Amber Haywood is the co-president of Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.)

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Undergrads: Need a Mental Health Support Group?

Getting through college isn’t easy, and getting through it while dealing with a mental health issue is harder. The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County is happy to announce that we are creating a support group for undergraduate students attending local colleges.

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The Mental Health Association is a local nonprofit organization that specializes in providing peer support services—creating spaces where people with shared experience dealing with mental health issues can turn to one another for support. While not a replacement for other mental health treatments, peer support can play an integral role in care and recovery.

Beginning Thursday September 26, we will be offering a weekly peer support group specifically for college students who are navigating mental health concerns. This program is free of charge and offers a safe space for undergraduates of all backgrounds from area schools to come together and support one another through the challenges of pursuing an education while dealing with a mental health issue.

The group will be run on a drop-in basis, so students do not need to commit to attending each week in order to receive support, and no advanced sign-up is needed to participate. Our goal is to make this group as accessible as possible in a time when many other supports entail long waiting lists and red tape.

As facilitators, Amanda Kelly (Wells College ‘12) and myself (Ithaca College ‘13) draw on our personal experiences of attending college while on our own mental health recovery journeys. Coming from this perspective, we work to create a compassionate, empathetic space and offer genuine peer support.

Meetings will take place on Thursdays from 2–3 p.m. in downtown Ithaca at the Mental Health Association on South Geneva Street, two blocks from the Ithaca Commons, a central location for college students from across Tompkins County that provides space and privacy away from campus environments.

—By Melanie Little

Melanie Little is the Director of Youth Services at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County (MHATC)

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Undergraduate Students Support Group
Time: Thursdays, 2pm-3pm
Location: Mental Health Association’s Jenkins Center for Hope and Recovery, 301 S. Geneva St, Suite 110 (basement level) Ithaca, NY 14850

For More Information
Melanie Little, Director of Youth Services
mlittle@mhaedu.org
(607) 273 9250

Donate to The Sophie Fund: Our 2019 Appeal

Please consider making a donation today to support The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities. Sophie would have turned 27 this week, and we are marking the anniversary to launch our 2019 fundraising campaign.

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Special goals for the coming year include expanding participation in the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare in Tompkins County; promoting bullying prevention initiatives for K-12; advocating for college student mental health; and expanding our website and social media content.

We are proud to report on many collaborations and initiatives throughout the past year to benefit mental health in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities and on the Cornell University and Ithaca College campuses. Highlights:

Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force: The Sophie Fund in collaboration with the Tompkins County Youth Services Department spearheaded an initiative for a collective community effort to combat youth bullying, which includes more than 30 government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts.

Suicide Prevention: The Sophie Fund sponsored training in Mental Health First Aid for managers, chefs, servers, bartenders, baristas, and others in Ithaca’s high-stress hospitality sector. We also provided a grant for training 25 Cornell students in the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention program.

Cornell University Student Mental Health Review: The Cornell administration launched a review to take place during the 2019-2020 academic year. The Sophie Fund has been a prominent local advocate for a review since writing to President Martha E. Pollack in early 2017 expressing concerns about Cornell’s policies, programs, and practices.

The Reflect Organization: The Sophie Fund awarded a grant to The Reflect Organization, which facilitates innovative, proactive programs that provide college students with a safe forum to engage in open and honest discussion around mental health. The grant will help support the new Reflect chapter at Cornell University. From Reflect President Jared Fenton: “We are proud to be a partner of The Sophie Fund and honored to be a grantee. Capacity-building support is just what we need. It will profoundly enhance our ability to best serve the most students possible.”

“Mental Health Weekend” at Cornell University: The Sophie Fund collaborated with the Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter service fraternity and other student organizations to raise $1,367.50 for the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. Said APO President Winnie Ho: The Sophie Fund has become a recognizable name on our campus as an organization that has actively engaged with college students in every conversation about local and collegiate mental health.”

“Send Silence Packing”: The Sophie Fund provided the funding to Active Minds at Ithaca College for a stigma-fighting, awareness-raising suicide prevention exhibition featuring 1,100 backpacks to represent the average number of college students who die by suicide every year. A photo of the exhibition featured in a New York Times article on student mental health.

“The Loneliness Project”: The Sophie Fund provided a grant for a long form, multi-platform series about depression produced by WRFI Community Radio, Ithaca Voice, Cornell Daily Sun, and the Park Scholars Program at Ithaca College. The series won the 2019 small market radio category Award for Outstanding Public Affairs Program or Series from the New York State Broadcasters Association.

“Readings on Mental Health”: The Sophie Fund supported the 2018 author series featuring Laura June, Courtenay Hameister, and Kelly Jensen, presented by the Mental Health Association and hosted by Buffalo Street Books.

College Student Mental Health Leave of Absence: The Sophie Fund provided a grant to the Mental Health Association of Tompkins County to develop a project to support local college students considering or taking a leave of absence due to mental health struggles.

“Brief Guides” Series: The Sophie Fund published brief guides on student mental health advocacy, bullying prevention, and the Zero Suicide Model.

Ithaca College Interns: During the 2018-2019 academic year The Sophie Fund hosted four students from Ithaca College’s writing program—Margaret McKinnis, Amber Raiken, Chanelle Ferguson, and Nicole Kramer—to write articles about local mental health champions for our website.

Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest: The Sophie Fund organized its third annual contest last October to promote mental health awareness. The contest was sponsored by GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro and Spa. Volunteers from Cornell University and Ithaca College student organizations supported the contest, as did local mental heath organizations.

New York Honors The Sophie Fund: Last September, the New York State Office of Mental Health presented The Sophie Fund with the 2018 Excellence in Suicide Prevention Award at the annual New York Suicide Prevention Conference in Albany.

To Make a Donation:

Click Here for The Sophie Fund Donation Page

For more information on The Sophie Fund’s work, please visit:

http://www.thesophiefund.org

Thank You!

El Paso, Dayton, and Mental Illness

Is mental illness behind the mass shootings that occur in America—251 in the past 216 days? President Trump and leading Republicans are blaming mental illness in the aftermath of the latest killings, in El Paso and Dayton. Professional psychologists say mental illness is not the problem, guns, racism, intolerance, and bigotry are. Blaming mental illness for violence dangerously reinforces the stigma around mental illness, making it less likely that those who need treatment will receive treatment.

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March for Our Lives protest, Los Angeles, March 24, 2016

“These are people that are very, very seriously mentally ill,” Trump said of the mass shootings. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, also a Republican, said in El Paso after the Walmart massacre there: “Mental health is a large contributor to any type of violence or shooting violence.”

Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association, immediately pushed back against the blame in a statement on Sunday.

“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” she said. “Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”

More from the APA president’s statement:

“Our condolences are with the families and friends of those killed or injured in these horrific shootings and with all Americans affected every day by the twin horrors of hate and gun violence.

“As our nation tries to process the unthinkable yet again, it is clearer than ever that we are facing a public health crisis of gun violence fueled by racism, bigotry and hatred. The combination of easy access to assault weapons and hateful rhetoric is toxic. Psychological science has demonstrated that social contagion — the spread of thoughts, emotions and behaviors from person to person and among larger groups — is real, and may well be a factor, at least in the El Paso shooting.

“That shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, as it should be. Psychological science has demonstrated the damage that racism can inflict on its targets. Racism has been shown to have negative cognitive and behavioral effects on both children and adults and to increase anxiety, depression, self-defeating thoughts and avoidance behaviors.

“If we want to address the gun violence that is tearing our country apart, we must keep our focus on finding evidence-based solutions. This includes restricting access to guns for people who are at risk for violence and working with psychologists and other experts to find solutions to the intolerance that is infecting our nation and the public dialogue.”

Here are perspectives from a 2016 interview with Liza Gold, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University and editor of Gun Violence and Mental Illness:

“Most serious mental illness is only weakly associated with violence of any kind—and with gun violence in particular. Most people with serious mental illness are not violent; most people who are violent do not have serious mental illness. Individuals with mental illness are responsible for about 3 percent to 5 percent of all types of violence in the U.S.—when they do become violent, they are most likely to assault family members or commit suicide.

“Firearm violence committed by individuals with serious mental illness against strangers is one of the rarest forms of gun violence in the US. Of the approximately 33,000 firearm deaths each year, two-thirds are suicides. Less than 1 percent of all firearm deaths in the US occur in the context of mass shootings by individuals, with or without mental illness. So unless the media and politicians are talking about suicide deaths by firearms—which they never are—they are simply perpetuating negative stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness.

“The thinking goes like this: only someone who is crazy would commit such a horrible act and kill innocent people. We all know that crazy people are dangerous and violent; therefore, it must be people with mental illness who are behind these horrible acts. However, mass shootings are not invariably associated with people who have acute mental illness or a history of mental illness. Some do, but some don’t.

“Improved funding and resources for mental health systems and treatment would of course be welcomed. However, the repeated calls to “improve the mental health system” heard after mass shootings do not result in increased spending or funding. They merely serve as a politically expedient method to avoid talking about instituting sensible firearm regulation.”

Gold says the refrain to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill does a disservice to American society:

It reinforces the stigma and negative stereotypes associated with mental illness, making it less likely that those who need treatment will receive treatment.

It does not result in improved funding of or access to mental health treatment.

It allows politicians and media to avoid discussing sensible gun regulations.

Because no effective change results, the American people have come to believe that “nothing can be done” to stop the high toll of gun violence, despite the fact that we are the only country in the world with this kind of civilian gun violence problem.

The APA points to a variety of resources for people who are suffering distress in the aftermath of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton:

Exploring Strategies to Stop Bullying

Surveying students about the prevalence of bullying. Training teachers, coaches, parents, and young people on how to respond. Encouraging youth to be upstanders. Holding annual Bullying Prevention Day activities to spread awareness. These were a few of the ideas discussed Saturday at a two-hour Community Forum sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

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Celia Clement reviewing feedback on school bullying

The Task Force held the forum to introduce its work to the public and to solicit ideas from the community on strategies to address bullying. More than two dozen government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts formed the Task Force in March.

“A lot of these conversations and diving deep into these topics can become very personal and very painful, which we want to honor,” said Nigel Gannon, a Healthy Living Program Specialist for New York State 4-H Youth Development, who moderated the forum.

“We have to develop spaces where we can have those emotions in a positive way. Remember that we are all feeling the same [about bullying], in some way, as individuals, as loved ones, as community members. We are not happy to be here, I think we are hopeful to be here. We’re going to help the Task Force get the information they need to try to move this forward.”

Scott MacLeod of The Sophie Fund kicked off presentations by Task Force working groups by reviewing basic information about bullying in national, regional, and local contexts.

He noted the federal government’s definition of bullying, and how it should be distinguished from other behaviors such as conflict, rudeness, and meanness:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”

MacLeod explained how bullying has psychological, physical, and academic effects, and adversely affects youth who are bullied as well as those who engage in bullying. He said that youth who are perceived as different, especially LGBTQ children, are at greater risk. Persistent bullying, he added, can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior. MacLeod said that while there is no federal stature that expressly outlaws bullying, New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) came into force in 2012 to protect students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

Citing statistics, MacLeod’s report said 19 percent of American high school students are bullied, and 14.9 percent experience cyberbullying. He said that data for the 2017-2018 school year, most likely reflecting underreporting, showed that Tompkins County school districts had 109 incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bullying , and 20 incidents of cyberbullying.

Celia Clement, a retired school social worker and now an independent consultant, delivered a report on potential approaches for addressing bullying in schools. She identified five areas for attention:

  • Communication: Families are not always getting the information they need about bullying definition, prevention, intervention, education, district policies and the laws involved such as the Dignity for All Students Act.
  • Education: Families and school staff want help around recognizing signs that their youth are struggling with mental health challenges, social challenges, or bullying. Students need to be educated as well around what is bullying, recognizing the difference between peer conflict and bullying, knowing the warning signs when adults need to be informed, and ways to intervene effectively when they see bullying, harassment or cyber bullying, or suicide warning signs.
  • Prevention: The key to successful intervention models is to include students as the core drivers when building programs that promote positive school cultures. There are existing local programs that can serve as models: Friendship Assistance Brigade, Stars, Be the One, and Welcoming Allies and Mentors.
  • Intervention: There is a need to educate school teaching staff and administrators about best practice around intervention when situations of conflict, bullying, harassment and cyber bullying occur—such as restorative practices as a way to support the target and to help the aggressor make changes. There is a need to offer strategies and tools to work with families in a way that promotes outcomes where everyone feels good about the process of addressing conflict and bullying situations.
  • Assessment: Schools need to conduct surveys about bullying to inform decisions for addressing the problem.

MacLeod also delivered a working group report on potential approaches for addressing bullying outside school property. He cited numerous ideas including holding an annual community forum and student leadership summit, providing training and information workshops, and launching awareness projects such as an annual Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Day.

Beth Hogan, a member of the Task Force’s Family Advisory Group, delivered a working group report on the concerns of parents surveyed by the group. She said parents experienced a significant increase in stress over bullying, and felt that they themselves were effectively being bullied. The parents believed that bullying was causing heightened levels of anxiety and depression in children, she added.

Hogan said that schools were reactive rather than proactive, and that mental health services inside and outside schools were inadequate. Hogan’s report called for frequent communication about bullying, including about the Dignity Act, to staff, families, and students. She said youth and parent involvement in bullying prevention should be a priority, and that the work should begin in the elementary grades.

Sophie Callister, a former student in the Lansing Central School District and now a student at Ithaca College, is the coordinator of the Task Force’s Student Advisory Group. “The bullying task force is something that means a huge deal to me because from third grade all through my school career it was a huge problem,” she said. “I want kids to feel like there is somebody willing to listen and help them and that they feel safe every day. I never really felt safe in school.” She said that rather than school counselors or psychologists the only person she felt she could go to for support was a math teacher. Callister said a goal of the task force is “to get the community involved—parents, students, everybody. This is not a time to be quiet.”

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Community Forum on Bullying Prevention, Tompkins County Public Library

Forum participants provided feedback and engaged in discussion in breakout sessions. On school programs, participants argued that schools under report bullying incidents and do not create safe spaces for students. They noted that teachers and coaches themselves sometimes engage in bullying by humiliating students/athletes. Participants suggested strategies including peer mentors and giving students tools for confronting bullying.

For public action, participants proposed holding local public forums within the county’s six school districts to better encourage family participation in bullying prevention initiatives. Participants supported the idea of providing training and workshop opportunities to educate the community about bullying and prevention methods, and called for a centralized resource to provide information about the Dignity Act and how to file complaints about bullying incidents. The participants also endorsed exploring synergies with existing programs and activities, such as the “Be the One” campaign.

Participants who focused on family and student involvement emphasized the need for developing a common language to understand bullying, and the importance of student-led initiatives for success. They noted that it was essential to view those who bully as people also in need of support to address the underlying causes of their behavior.

Some participants called for greater attention to students who may be experiencing suicide ideation, noting that four young people from the Lansing community have died by suicide in just the past year. Participants highlighted opportunities for students to become involved by forming chapters of organizations such as Active Minds and Sources of Strength, and participating in activities such as Mental Health First Aid for Teens.

Click here to read Becky Mehorter’s Ithaca Voice article on the Community Forum, “Task force brings community together to address bullying in local schools.”

Click here to read Matt Steecker’s article in the Ithaca Journal on the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force, “Finding solutions to bullying: Task force to hold forum at library.”

Click here to visit The Sophie Fund’s website resource page on bullying prevention.