Albany Lauds Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Steps

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition on Tuesday took concrete steps toward the adoption of the Zero Suicide Model for local suicide prevention, including the formation of a committee to coordinate future planning. Meanwhile, New York state officials hailed the “extraordinary progress” recently achieved in the county’s suicide prevention efforts.

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Sharon MacDougall leads a subgroup of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition

The coalition, holding its third meeting since the body was established last July, also made further progress on the development of a strategic plan to guide suicide prevention policies and practices in the community.

Sharon MacDougall, deputy mental health commissioner and coalition convener, announced the coalition’s decision to establish a five-member committee to coordinate discussion, collaboration, and possible implementation of the Zero Suicide Model. She also reported the coalition’s agreement to host a briefing on the model for the Tompkins County community at large in June.

The committee members are: Lee-Ellen Marvin and Sheila McCue, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Bev Chin, program director, Health Planning Council; Helen Kaplan, clinical director, Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County; and Sharon MacDougall, deputy mental health commissioner.

Scott MacLeod of The Sophie Fund presented a report to the coalition on the organization’s initiative to promote the Zero Suicide Model. MacLeod noted that The Sophie Fund, along with Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, organized a four-hour expert briefing on Zero Suicide for Tompkins County’s senior healthcare leadership in October 2017 at The Statler Hotel.

MacLeod said that The Sophie Fund was encouraged by the generally positive responses it has received from all the Statler participants about committing their organizations to implementing the Zero Suicide Model and conducting an annual self-assessment study monitoring implementation.

According to MacLeod, David Evelyn, vice president for medical affairs at Cayuga Medical Center, stated to The Sophie Fund: “Cayuga Medical Center is committed to Zero Suicide and is currently studying what resources we need to implement. We are pursuing the self-assessment.”

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, MacDougall asked the coalition to observe a minute of silence in memory of Sophie Hack MacLeod, who died by suicide in Ithaca on March 26, 2016. Sophie was a fine arts student on a medical leave of absence from Cornell University at the time of her death. Her parents, Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, established The Sophie Fund in 2016 to advocate for improved mental health for young people in Tompkins County.

In a related development, Jay Carruthers, director of the New York State Suicide Prevention Office, and Sigrid Pechenik, director of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York, applauded the “extraordinary progress” in suicide prevention in Tompkins County. They singled out several milestones, including the adoption of The Watershed Declaration, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s proclamation in support of suicide prevention, and the Tompkins County legislature’s designation of September as suicide prevention month.

The state officials also thanked The Sophie Fund and the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service for their “leadership and commitment to make Tompkins County a suicide safer care community.”

In a letter to The Sophie Fund and the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, they added: “We consider Tompkins County and its newly formed Suicide Prevention Coalition an exemplary testament to vision, dedication and mobilization of community stakeholders. Thank you for your work, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

The Zero Suicide Model, sometimes called the Suicide Safer Care Model, holds that suicides can be prevented by closing cracks in healthcare systems—that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.

Zero Suicide means making suicide prevention a core responsibility of healthcare. Specifically, this entails a systematic clinical approach in healthcare systems—training staff, screening for suicide ideation, utilizing evidence-based interventions, mandating continuous quality improvement, treating suicidality as a presenting problem—and not simply relying on the heroic efforts of crisis staff and individual clinicians.

Thank You, GreenStar Family

The Sophie Fund is proud to be a recipient in GreenStar Natural Food Market’s “Bring Your Own Bag, Use it for Good” donations program. Last week, GreenStar delivered a check to The Sophie Fund for $290.10—the result of $0.05 donations by 5,802 GreenStar customers.

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GreenStar’s support for The Sophie Fund’s work for improved youth mental health in the Ithaca community doesn’t stop there. The coop is the prime sponsor of the Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund each October. GreenStar also welcomed Cornell University and Ithaca College students into its stores last fall to collect donations supporting mental health in Tompkins County. The students raised a total of $829.50, which was presented to the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service last month.

Established in 2014, the Bring Your Own Bag, Use it For Good program has raised more than $10,000 for local nonprofits ranging from the SPCA of Tompkins County to the Cayuga Nature Center. The program, which gives customers a 5-cent donation token for providing their own grocery bags, has also spared the environment some 230,000 carrier sacks.

Thank you, GreenStar family!

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Cupcake Buttons: Supporting Suicide Prevention

The Sophie Fund presented a donation check for $829.50 on Wednesday evening to the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service (SPCS) of Ithaca. Cornell University’s Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter and Active Minds at Ithaca College raised the funds in The Sophie Fund’s “cupcake button” campaign last fall.

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Alpha Phi Omega President Winnie Ho hands a check to Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin

Both student organizations set up fundraising tables on their campuses as well as at GreenStar Natural Food Market’s stores in the West End and Collegetown. Alpha Phi Omega also raised funds in the Ithaca Commons during the Apple Harvest Festival. The Sophie Fund selected SPCS to be the recipient of monies collected in the 2017 cupcake button campaign.

“We sincerely thank Alpha Phi Omega and Active Minds, as well as all the many people who made generous donations, for supporting the cause of suicide prevention in Tompkins County,” said Scott MacLeod, an officer of The Sophie Fund.

“The student organizations not only collected money, but they engaged meaningful conversations within their own circles and with the campus and Ithaca communities about mental health. The commitment of these organizations is nothing less than amazing. Hats off to GreenStar for allowing us to raise funds at their locations and for their tremendous support for mental health and well-being in the community.”

Alpha Phi Omega President Winnie Ho handed over the donation check in a brief ceremony to SPCS Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin. Ho was joined by Alpha Phi Omega members Joanna Hua, Trisha Ray, and Ashley Kim.

“As college students who have the privilege to interact with so many different organizations across our campus and in our local community, we have had the chance to see how critical it is that mental health and wellness is supported on every level,” said Ho.

“The partnership between Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter and The Sophie Fund is the result of a dedication to improving mental health on collegiate campuses. We are thrilled to be working with incredible organizations such as Ithaca Suicide Prevention & Crisis Services who have done so much for students and community members. There is important work still left to be done to support our peers, but we are optimistic about the future of this collaboration.”

S. Makai Andrews, co-president of Ithaca College’s Active Minds chapter, and an intern at SPCS and The Sophie Fund, led the Active Minds effort. “We wanted to participate in the button selling as a means to increase mental health visibility in the Ithaca area and reduce the stigma surrounding these situations,” said Andrews. “We were happy to serve as examples of college-aged students who have struggled with our mental health and spoke with many interesting people in the community about what changes they would like to see in how we talk about mental health.”

“Gifts like these always give us a lift, helping us continue the work we do by reminding us that the community cares,” said Marvin. “The staff, board, and volunteers of Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service are grateful for this donation because we know that it represents a big effort by student members of Alpha Phi Omega at Cornell and Active Minds at Ithaca College.”

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Peri Margolies and S. Makai Andrews of Active Minds at GreenStar Natural Foods Market during the cupcake button campaign

SPRC operates Crisisline, offering free and confidential crisis counseling, staffed 365 days a year by trained volunteers who respond to calls from Tompkins County and across the 607 area code. It also provides “The Chat,” an Internet chat service for young people who are reluctant to talk on the telephone.

The Crisisline is a member of the National Suicide Lifeline system and is accredited by the American Association of Suicidology. It is also a founding member of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition established last July.

The overall mission of SPCS is to promote constructive responses to crisis and trauma and to prevent violence to self and others through direct support and community education.

SPRC’s Education Program provides suicide prevention and mental health programs to youth and adults in public schools, colleges, and universities, and community-based settings.

Another program is After-Trauma Services, which provides free short-term counseling and support groups to those who have lost a loved one to suicide or unexpected death.

SPCS traces its history back to 1968, when Ithacans lobbied for a 24-hour crisis line following a series of suicides in the community. Reverend Jack Lewis took the first call in 1969, from a young man who felt so upset that he had decided the only solution was to kill himself. With the help of SPCS’s first volunteer counselor, the young man renewed his hope and sense of possibility.

“We’re so thankful for the essential work that SPCS does to educate the public and provide support for people struggling with mental disorders and suicidal thoughts,” said MacLeod. “Calling the Crisisline, if you or somebody you know is experiencing difficulties, can literally save a life.”

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the Crisisline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

It’s Watershed Declaration Month

The Tompkins County Legislature on Tuesday proclaimed September 2017 to be “The Watershed Declaration Month” in support of intensified suicide prevention efforts in the community.

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In a proclamation read out in the name of legislature Chair Michael E. Lane, Legislator Anna Kelles said:

“I call upon our citizens, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions to raise awareness of Ithaca’s mental health support services, encourage those in need to seek treatment, honor those in our community we have lost too soon, commit to an all-out effort to prevent suicide, and support the efforts of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.”

The proclamation came at the start of national Suicide Prevention Month and six weeks after the launch of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition by 32 local mental health organizations. The Watershed Declaration was adopted at a meeting of mental health stakeholders in Ithaca on April 17. The organizations declared suicide to be a serious public health concern and pledged to “intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

In receiving the proclamation, Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund, established to support mental health initiatives for young people in the community, thanked Kelles and the legislature for their support. He also commended the initiative of Tompkins County Mental Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa and Deputy Commissioner Sharon MacDougall to establish the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition.

“We learned the hard way that suicide is a terrible tragedy, and we learned the hard way that suicide is preventable,” said MacLeod, whose daughter Sophie, a 23-year-old Cornell University student on a mental health leave of absence, died by suicide in March 2016. “We are convinced that promoting greater awareness of risk factors and warning signs—and with the role that healthcare systems can play in closing the gaps—can really save a lot of lives. One life is too many to lose, and we are losing too many.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, lauded the legislature’s designation of The Watershed Declaration Month. “It’s exciting to see people from all different sectors, the government and the non-profit community, coming together to re-enlist effort and energy in suicide prevention,” she said. “If we are going to make change in how suicide is understood and treated, and if we are going to register it as a public health crisis, we need governmental bodies to stand behind us.”

Kelles, chair of the county legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said The Sophie Fund’s push for The Watershed Declaration and Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition “were both critical first steps in our community engagement to reduce deaths from suicide.”

“These are first steps on a long road to a very attainable goal that needs engagement from everyone in the community,” Kelles added. “We have a very fast paced lifestyle as a society where productivity is the key to survival. In some ways this is beautiful but in other ways it has contributed to a breakdown in nurturing quality time within families and within the larger community. The ultimate impact is steadily increasing isolation from each other and increasing rates of depression. Part of the work of the coalition and The Sophie Fund is to help us regain that sense of community through collective care and attention for each other’s well-being. To create comprehensive systems of mental health support for if and when any one of us feels buried under the weight of our lives is to build a resilient and vibrant community.”

Photo caption: Lee Ellen Marvin, executive director, Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service; Scott MacLeod, donor advisor, The Sophie Fund; Anna Kelles, Tompkins County legislator (District 2, City of Ithaca)

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Tompkins County Legislature Proclamation

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The Watershed Declaration

Meet the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition

More than 40 local mental health leaders launched the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition at a day-long working meeting held in Ithaca Monday.

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“It’s inspiring to see the breath of the organizations and individuals represented,” said Frank Kruppa, director of the Tompkins County Health Department. “It’s one of the things that makes Tompkins County special: when we have these types of issues, we are able to get folks in the room and talk about how we are going to tackle them.”

Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Services Sharon MacDougall, the coalition’s organizer, said that the county seeks to foster greater collaboration in suicide prevention among the array of agencies and groups who deal with the issue.

“A coalition brings together all the experts that are in your county already,” she explained. “You have so many different perspectives, so many resources, so many different knowledge bases, and pulling them together gives you that focused lens on a community problem. We can help make that bigger effort to reducing suicide. If it is one death, it is one too many for Tompkins County. Zero suicide sounds like a lofty goal, but I think it has to be the goal.”

Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, briefed the participants on steps toward creating a successful suicide prevention coalition and presided over a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis.

“Things are off to a great start,” said Lloyd-Lester, who described the participants as “a diverse group of stakeholders, a cross section of people who are really invested in suicide prevention for the community.” But he warned that the coalition faced the critical challenge of sustaining momentum.

“At the meeting today, there was a lot of real energy, a lot of people all saying, ‘This is important work, we need to do it,’” Lloyd-Lester said. “How do you sustain that over the long haul? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A coalition has to be built on more than just those individual champions. It’s got to be a culture, a way of doing things in the community. It takes recognition that no one entity can be responsible for suicide prevention in the community.”

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Garra Lloyd-Lester, Suicide Prevention Center New York

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, told the gathering that while Tompkins County’s suicide rate last year was seven deaths per 100,000, the actual number of suicide deaths jumped from four in 2014 and five in 2015 to 11 in 2016. “We can’t be complacent about suicide loss,” she said.

Marvin, whose agency has spearheaded suicide prevention in the area since 1969 by staffing a crisis hotline, after-trauma services, and education programs, listed two goals she hoped the coalition would help advance. The first is better understanding of people at risk in certain communities and how to reach them—such as financially struggling young adults, middle-aged men, gun owners, drug users. The second is adoption of the Zero Suicide Initiative, a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems.

“What we need to communicate is that there is hope, there is help, and that there is absolutely no shame in getting help,” she concluded.

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Sharon MacDougall, Garra Lloyd-Lester, Lee-Ellen Marvin

Agencies and organizations represented at Monday’s meeting of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition included:

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes

Care Compass Network

The Sophie Fund

Human Services Coalition

Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County

Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services

Tompkins Community Action

Planned Parenthood Southern Finger Lakes

Franziska Racker Centers

Cayuga Medical Center

The Advocacy Center

Ithaca Free Clinic

Lakeview Mental Health Services

Cornell Health

Ithaca College Office of Counseling and Wellness

Ithaca College Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management

Empire State College

Ithaca City School District

Groton Central School District

Tompkins County Legislature

Tompkins County Health Department

Tompkins County Mental Health Department

Tompkins County Office for the Aging

Tompkins County Youth Services Department

Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response

Suicide Prevention Center New York

Broome County Suicide Awareness for Families and Educators

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