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 and Tompkins County Mental Health Department nominated The Sophie Fund for the 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.]

 

College vs. Mental Health

Arriving on campus for a new academic year can be exhilarating—and intimidating. College represents an amazing opportunity to study and explore—and party. It is also a time of transition, which can elevate life stresses and exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Don’t take this lightly.

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If you are one of the students experiencing conditions like depression and anxiety at Cornell University, Ithaca College, or Tompkins Cortland Community College, you are not alone. Not at all. It is important that you recognize when you need help, and to seek help when you need it.

As the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law puts it, “Students who seek treatment are not ‘weak’ or ‘crazy.’ Therapy is a hopeful and affirming act of caring for yourself.”

Bazelon publishes a manual called Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights. The subtitle is “A guide for students who want to seek help for mental illness or emotional distress.”

In the introduction, the manual notes:

“If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbances, delusions or hallucinations, or if you feel overwhelmed, immobilized, hopeless or irritable, there is treatment that can help. You may also benefit from therapy to address common issues such as body image or low self-esteem, to help with a crisis involving your relationship or family, or if you are in the middle of a transition, such as beginning a new school.”

Some eye-opening data about college mental health from the Bazelon manual:

Many college-age students suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns. Anxiety is the issue most often mentioned by college students who visited campus mental health services. Students also named depression as one of the top ten impediments to academic performance as well as stress, sleep difficulties, relationship and family difficulties.

In the 2016 National College Health Assessment, 38.2 percent of the 33,512 students surveyed reported they “felt so depressed it was difficult to function” during the past year, and 10.4 percent said that they had “seriously considered suicide” during the year.

More than 80 percent of all college freshman report feeling overwhelmed a great deal of the time—college women, even more (about 90 percent). In 2016, more than 19 percent of college students reported experiencing an anxiety disorder within the previous year. While anxiety disorders are common among individuals of all genders, women are twice as likely to have them as men.

Eating disorders affect 20 million women and 10 million men, with the highest rates occurring in college-age women. Ten percent of students reported experiencing an emotionally abusive relationship in the last school year.

It is not just college-age people—America at large is experiencing a serious mental health crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that 43.8 million American adults are living with mental illness in a given year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a 25.4 percent increase in the national suicide rate since 1999.

The mental health crisis hits close to home here in Ithaca.

At Cornell University, for example, the 2017 Cornell PULSE Survey of 5,001 undergraduates reported that 71.6 percent of respondents often or very often felt “overwhelmed.” Nearly 43 percent said that they had been unable to function academically for at least a week on one or more occasions due to depression, stress, or anxiety. Nearly 10 percent of respondents reported being unable to function during a week-long period on five or more occasions.

Nine percent of the respondents—about 450 students—reported “having seriously considered suicide at least once during the last year.” About 85 students reported having actually attempted suicide at least once in the last year.

In an area known to have very harmful short- and long-term effects on mental health, 9.8 percent of Cornell undergraduate female respondents reported having been the victims of rape or attempted rape since enrolling at the university, according to the 2017 Cornell Survey of Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct.

Thus, guides like the Bazelon manual are worth a good read—you may discover a need for more mental health knowledge for yourself, or for a friend.

In a section entitled “Seeking Help,” questions are discussed such as:

What are the steps for choosing a therapist? Where do I go? On campus or off?

What will happen when I call to make an appointment?

What happens if I call, and they can’t see me for two, three or four weeks?

What to do if I am in crisis and need immediate help

What should I expect at my first visit? What’s the first session like?

What are the different types of therapy?

What happens if I don’t like my therapist?

Click here to download Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights

Click here for The Sophie Fund’s Resources page for more links on mental health issues

Donate to The Sophie Fund: Our 2018 Appeal

Please consider making a donation today to support The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives aiding young people. Sophie would have turned 26 this week, and we are marking the anniversary to launch our 2018 fundraising campaign.

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Special goals for the coming year include publishing a Guidebook to College Student Mental Health, written by and for students; supporting mental health initiatives for secondary school students; fighting sexual violence; and expanding our website and social media content.

We are proud to report significant progress in our projects over the past year to benefit mental health in the Ithaca community and on the Cornell University and Ithaca College campuses. A few examples:

  • Zero Suicide Model: Less than a year after The Sophie Fund launched its Zero Suicide initiative, the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Tompkins County Legislature adopted the Zero Suicide Model for local healthcare. Seven leading healthcare providers also stepped up to become Zero Suicide Champions, including Tompkins County Mental Health Services, Cayuga Medical Center, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, and Cornell Health. New York State officials commended The Sophie Fund’s “leadership and commitment” in suicide prevention efforts.
  • Mental Health First Aid: We sponsored training conducted by the Mental Health Association for managers, chefs, servers, bartenders, baristas, and others in Ithaca’s high-stress hospitality sector. One of the trainees emailed us afterwards: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me to walk out of the training today with a tool belt filled with the ability to help recognize and provide aid to mental health issues of all sorts!”
  • Mental Health Weekend” at Cornell University: We collaborated with the student advocacy organization Cornell Minds Matter to fight stigma around mental health, and sponsored a screening of The S Word, a documentary film about suicide, for the local and campus communities. “We are deeply grateful and humbled by your support,” wrote CMM President Cooper Walter.
  • College Student Leave of Absence: The Sophie Fund teamed up with Family & Children’s Service to explore a project to support local college students considering or taking a leave of absence due to mental health struggles.

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!