Send Silence Packing @ Ithaca College

Backpacks were scattered all over Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites on Monday. No, this high-traffic space wasn’t a convenient dumping ground for students taking mid-terms or heading to the cafeteria for a meal. The backpacks were a powerful exhibition called “Send Silence Packing,” a suicide prevention initiative traveling to American college campuses. The 1,100 backpacks represent the average number of college students who die by suicide every year.

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“Send Silence Packing” is a project of Active Minds, a national organization promoting student mental health through branch chapters at colleges around the county. Ithaca College’s chapter, led by co-presidents Zoe Howland and Mikaela Vojnik, hosted Monday’s exhibition in Emerson Suites.

The display is immersive and thought provoking. Each backpack includes a personal story or a quote from someone who has lost a loved to suicide. “I feel like the visual display really invokes a certain feeling that just talking about it doesn’t necessarily do,” Howland said.

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“There were a lot of people who came through on the way to their classes and were really intrigued with all the stories that were on the backpacks,” said Active Minds member Kristin Butler. She said that the event was an opportunity for “continuing the conversation on campus, which is great.”

Junior anthropology major Paige Twinning commented: “Powerful and important. The visual representation and personal profiles of individuals really made an impact.”

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“Send Silence Packing,” which has visited almost 200 campuses and reached nearly a million people, is intended to generate discussions about suicide and provide information about suicide prevention resources.

Ithaca College’s day-long event, sponsored in part by The Sophie Fund, began at 7:30 a.m. and included an evening Speak Your Mind panel discussion on suicide prevention moderated by Active Minds member Kelly Madden. Participating in the panel were representatives from key local mental health organizations, including the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes, and the Advocacy Center. Said Kaylee McGillicuddy, a sophomore psychology major: “It’s just nice to know there are people who care.”

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Based on surveys, the Active Minds national organization reports that most people attending the “Send Silence Packing” installation are left wanting to know more about mental health, and 95 percent of attendees rate the experience as powerful.

Active Minds has chapters or other operations on more than 600 college campuses across the country. In June, a study of Active Minds published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported that student peer organizations’ activities can improve college student mental health attitudes and perceived knowledge and significantly increase helping behaviors.

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The Fall 2015 National College Health Assessment, in a survey of 19,861 students at more than 40 American schools, reported that 35.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

According to the 2017 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, data collected from 147 college counseling centers showed that 34.2 percent of 161,014 college students seeking counseling in the 2016–17 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” The rate increased for the seventh year in a row, up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. The data also showed that 10 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.

—By Margaret McKinnis

Margaret McKinnis, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in English and Honors. She is a nonfiction editor at Stillwater, a student literary magazine, and an assistant director of the New Voices Literary Festival.

[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.]

Lansing Forum on Mental Health and Bullying

Mental health and bullying continue to be important issues facing our Lansing School District. The schools as well as the Board of Education are taking them very seriously. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is being taught in health classes. A survey is being sent out to ask the students for their views on the bullying issue and ideas on how to handle it.

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Yet, it is clear that what is currently being done is not sufficient. Many feel that the problem is getting worse. We need to address these issues as a community and work toward solutions. Together, we need to do what we can to create a safer and mentally healthy school community. It takes a village.

Toward that end, a community forum, “Mental Health & Bullying” will be held on Thursday October 18 at 7 p.m. in the Lansing Town Hall. This is an opportunity for all of us to share experiences, discuss perspectives, and work on solutions.

Among the ideas we might consider is The Be Kind People Project, which offers “unique and culturally relevant youth development programs that effectively combine academics, character education, nutrition, fitness, digital citizenship, civic awareness, teacher appreciation, and family engagement.”

Another idea worth discussing is launching a student mental health club, a platform being used at hundreds of secondary schools and on college campuses across the country. Newfield High School has a very active chapter of Sources of Strength. Ithaca High School is in the process of establishing a high school chapter of Active Minds, and Ithaca College has long had a robust chapter as well. A recent study found that across 12 California colleges, student-run efforts were associated with increased awareness of mental health issues, reduced stigma, and a rise in “helping behaviors.”

—By Beth Hogan Callister

Albany Honors The Sophie Fund with Mental Health Advocacy Award

The New York State Office of Mental Health on Thursday presented The Sophie Fund with an Excellence in Suicide Prevention award for its mental health advocacy work in Tompkins County at the state’s 2018 Suicide Prevention Conference held in Albany.

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The Sophie Fund and its founders, Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, received the state’s Journey of Healing Award for “exemplary advocacy by a Suicide Attempt or Suicide Loss Survivor.”

MacLeod and Hack established The Sophie Fund to support mental health initiatives aiding young people after the 2016 death by suicide of their 23-year-old daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell University student.

“The Sophie Fund is a beautiful example of how a tragic loss can transform a community,” said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan.

“Scott and Susan took their painful loss and channeled it into a passion to save lives in Tompkins County. We thank Scott, Susan and everyone involved in The Sophie Fund for their hard work and commitment to suicide prevention.”

Said Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service (SPCS): “Scott and Susan have transformed their grief in just two years into a powerful force of influence for suicide prevention in Tompkins County.”

SPCS, the Tompkins County Mental Health Department, and Tompkins County Legislator Shawna Black nominated The Sophie Fund for a 2018 Excellence in Suicide Prevention award. State officials cited The Sophie Fund’s “tenacity” in securing the adoption of The Watershed Declaration in 2017, which called for intensified suicide prevention efforts in the county, and in advocating for the Zero Suicide Model to be adopted by local healthcare providers.

The Sophie Fund also has sponsored student mental health programming at Cornell University and Ithaca College; mental health first aid training; a series of bookstore readings by authors of books on mental health; and artists who address mental health and suicide themes. It is working on an initiative to support college students taking a health leave of absence. The Sophie Fund also sponsors the annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise mental health awareness and raise monies for local mental health nonprofits.

MacLeod and Hack thanked the Office of Mental Health and the Tompkins County nominators for Thursday’s recognition.

“In the loss of our precious Sophie in 2016, we witnessed the profound depths of mental illness and the immense tragedy of suicide,” they said in a statement released by the Office of Mental Health. “In establishing The Sophie Fund in her memory, we resolved to do everything possible to support young people battling mental disorders. Suicide is preventable, and we also resolved to do everything we could so that we do not lose one more person, young or old, to suicide in Sophie’s adopted Ithaca–Tompkins County community.”

MacLeod and Hack also paid thanks to “the countless people who have made The Sophie Fund’s work a reality”—supporters and partners in Tompkins County, friends, family, and others in the greater Ithaca area and beyond, and the New York Suicide Prevention Office.

Sophie was born in Johannesburg and spent her childhood living in South Africa, then France, and eventually Egypt. But she adopted Ithaca as her hometown, spending five summers in the violin program of the Suzuki Institutes at Ithaca College and then enrolling at Cornell in 2010. At the time of her death, she was on a health leave of absence from Cornell and working in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene.

Photo caption: Sigrid Pechenik, associate director, New York State Suicide Prevention Office; Susan Hack, co-founder, The Sophie Fund; Jay Carruthers, director, New York State Suicide Prevention Office; and Garra Lloyd-Lester, director, New York State Suicide Prevention Community Initiatives

We’re Back! Ithaca’s 3rd Annual Cupcake Contest

Love to bake? Get out the mixer, put on your oven mitts, and make a batch of your favorite cupcakes for the 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in the Commons on Saturday October 13.

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Contestants of all ages are invited to enter this year’s competition, who will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250. The contest is open to amateur bakers only.

Attention Teens and Pre-Teens: A $100 gift certificate redeemable at dozens of downtown Ithaca shops will be presented with this year’s Special Youth Award!

The contest is organized by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people.

The 3rd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by the GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro and Spa.

Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

To enter the cupcake contest, contestants are asked to bring their submissions to the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons from 10–11:30 a.m. on Saturday October 13. The winners will be announced and prizes awarded at a ceremony in the Pavilion later the same day at 3 p.m.

In conjunction with the contest, The Sophie Fund is again organizing a “Cupcake Button” fundraising campaign, with monies donated this year to the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County.

Click here for all the information on contest procedures and rules, and to download a registration form.

Why I Walk for Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Ithaca will host its seventh annual “Out of the Darkness” community walk and fundraiser on Saturday, September 15 in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The walk takes place at the Cass Park Waterfront Trail, with registration starting at 10:30 a.m.

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Ithaca’s “Out of the Darkness” walk for suicide prevention

“Out of the Darkness” walks are held all across the country to raise funds for new research, educational programs, public policy advocacy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. The walks raise awareness about suicide prevention, and support free education programs and survivor reach-out programs in our local community. Our fundraising goal for the Ithaca walk is $25,000.

I will be walking again on September 15 because I am a survivor of my dad’s suicide 12 years ago. He ended his life on November 28, 2005. I felt at the time that my world was crashing.

I was not sure how I could live without my dad, my hero, my other half. Before my father’s death, two of my cousins died by suicide. Ronnie took his own life when I was a little girl, and David died by suicide when I was a senior in high school.

Suicide and depression were never spoken about in my family. They were hushed subjects. Today, I am changing that. I am speaking out, educating, and erasing the stigma.

When my dad died, I was lost. I felt alone in the world. I could not think. My dad and many of my family members suffered and do suffer from depression. I never comprehended the impact of mental illness until the day my dad was gone. I myself went into a deep depression. I was losing my own fight. My husband and friends became worried. A few friends that insisted that I needed therapy. I fought them, but ended up going.

I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I struggled for many years with thoughts of suicide and a suicide attempt. I have learned, though, that I am not alone. I have a support network and a family within AFSP.

So here I am, today, serving as the co-chair of Ithaca’s 2018 “Out of the Darkness” walk. Every day, I am stronger. Every day, the sun is brighter. I have all my happy memories, a memory box that I go to for strength. At the walk on September 15, I will be wearing gold beads for the loss of my dad, purple beads for the loss of family and friends, green beads for my own struggle, teal beads because I have loved ones who struggle, and blue beads because I support the cause.

—By Stacy Ayres

Stacy Ayres is the board chair of the Central New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She lives in Freeville where she is mom to a 16-year-old, 13-year-old, and a 9-year-old. She operates Little Sunshine Daycare, and attends all types of concerts, and loves to cheer at her children’s sporting events.

Come along and bring your family and friends to join Ithaca’s “Out of the Darkness” community walk on Saturday, September 15, at the Cass Park Waterfront Trail. Start raising funds as an individual or as a team by registering online now (or also at the registration desk in Cass Park Pavilion on September 15). For more information, call (607) 327-3370 or email: ithacaafsp@gmail.com

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[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.]