Recommendations for Improved Student Mental Health at Cornell University

The Sophie Fund, briefing the Cornell University Mental Health Review teams this week, issued 22 recommendations for improving the institution’s student mental health conditions and services.

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Entrance to Cornell Health, Cornell University

Highlights of the recommendations include: aim for a student mental health “gold standard”; avoid excessive academic and social stress levels; upgrade clinical psychological counseling services; rationalize referrals to overburdened community mental health providers; effectively fight sexual assault and hazing; implement a student-centered health leave of absence policy; print the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number on student ID cards; create an ombuds for student mental health; and establish a Standing Committee on Student Mental Health to regularly review Cornell’s practices.

“Cornell, in common with probably all institutions of higher education, is confronted by a student mental health crisis,” said Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, speaking in a video conference call with the heads of the Mental Health Review Committee and External Review Team. “In our increasingly complicated world, college students are dealing with immense pressures during a transitional time in their lives and at an age when they are vulnerable to the onset of mental illness.”

“Much more needs to be done by institutions of higher education—including Cornell—to address those challenges. We need to better support the legions of students who are struggling with anxiety and depression and other disorders so that their mental health experiences do not break their trajectory toward successful and fulfilling lives.”

MacLeod added that “leadership is the ultimate key to successfully addressing the crisis, especially given the complexities around mental health and the complexities of managing an extremely large institution. Leadership will make all the difference in whether Cornell achieves real progress in better supporting student mental health, or tinkers around the margins with no tangible and sustainable improvement.”

Cornell’s “comprehensive review of student mental health,” announced in 2018 by President Martha E. Pollack, is taking place throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. According to Cornell’s website, the internal Mental Health Review Committee “is tasked with examining the Cornell campus context, including issues pertaining to the academic and social environment, climate, and culture related to mental health.” The External Review Team “is charged with a comprehensive review of clinical services and campus-based strategies.”

Click here to read or download The Sophie Fund’s “Recommendations on Student Mental Health at Cornell University,” presented to the review teams on January 15.

Click here to read or download The Sophie Fund’s “Perspectives on Student Mental Health at Cornell University,” presented to the review teams on August 23, 2019.

Detailed highlights of The Sophie Fund’s recommendations:

  • Cornell leadership should humbly acknowledge the existence of the crisis and the systemic challenges that must be overcome, and commit to working vigorously and transparently with all stakeholders to address the crisis.

 

  • Cornell leadership should aim for a student mental health gold standard, sparing no effort or expense in finding ways to successfully address the student mental health crisis. The crisis demands a gold standard, not a band aid.

 

  • Cornell leadership should provide and be held accountable for student mental health resources that are commensurate with the challenges, sufficient to support best practices, and in proportion with spending on other institutional priorities.

 

  • Cornell leadership should implement a cross-campus framework for supporting student mental health and wellness, with the aim of strengthening accountability, streamlining policies, programs, and practices, and enlisting schools, faculty, staff, and students in a comprehensive, coordinated, results-oriented effort that prioritizes student mental health, healthy living, and unqualified support for every student’s academic success.

 

  • Administrators, deans, and department chairs must be fully engaged in avoiding excessive academic and social stress levels; providing reasonable accommodations for mental health and other disabilities; encouraging help-seeking behaviors; offering meaningful mentoring, advising, and tutoring; providing healthy residence life conditions; promoting resilience and coping skills; and in generally creating the “caring community” that Cornell aspires to be.

 

  • All faculty and staff should be provided with a “Gold Folder”—a one-page chart on recognizing signs of distress related to mental health or sexual assault, how to engage students in distress, and how to guide them to professional help.

 

  • Deans should be responsible for knowing the identities of Students of Concern and closely following their cases.

 

  • Administrators, deans, and department chairs must be engaged in identifying and supporting at-risk students.

 

  • Psychological clinical services must be upgraded to ensure that every student who needs help gets the best possible support, and that no student falls through the cracks of an overburdened and distracted healthcare system.

 

  • Cornell leadership should cease the practice of outsourcing student mental health treatment based on overburdened campus services. If more campus services are needed, then they should be provided.

 

  • Cornell should ensure that referrals to community providers are made solely on the basis of student preference, and are made to providers who are capable of accepting new clients and have been fully vetted.

 

  • Cornell leadership should develop and publish a comprehensive suicide prevention policy incorporating current and anticipated best practices, including the Zero Suicide Model in healthcare, and mandatory training in suicide prevention tools for gatekeepers including RAs, deans, department heads, and academic advisors.

 

  • Cornell leadership should develop new and effective strategies to combat the serious problems of sexual assault and hazing within its student body.

 

  • Cornell leadership should develop new and effective strategies for addiction prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support.

 

  • Cornell leadership should institute a mandatory online education module prior to freshman registration that provides students with information about mental health risk factors and warning signs, Cornell data related to student mental health, and resources for receiving support.

 

  • Cornell leadership should create and implement a leave of absence policy that prioritizes the interests of the student over those of the institution, and is designed to fully safeguard students’ health, academic, financial interests, and successful life trajectory. Cornell leadership must fully support students throughout the leave process—i.e., before, during, and after leaves are taken.

 

  • Cornell leadership should create an ombuds position to serve as an independent campus advocate for student mental health rights and to provide practical assistance to students navigating the university’s healthcare system and academic accommodations.

 

  • Cornell leadership should provide an effective factual presentation about student mental health risks and responses to parents of all incoming students before or during freshman orientation.

 

  • Psychological counselors and academic advisors should encourage struggling students to consult their parents and include them in discussions related to important decisions such as health leaves of absence.

 

  • Cornell leadership should leverage online platforms including Internet websites and social media accounts to deliver effective mental health education, effectively fight stigma and encourage help-seeking behavior, and most importantly, effectively provide resources for addressing mental health crises.

 

  • Cornell should print the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on student ID cards.

 

  • Cornell leadership should establish a Standing Committee on Student Mental Health including a range of key campus stakeholders to regularly review Cornell’s policies and practices and issue annual reports on identified needs for continued quality improvement.

“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: