Rebel with a Cause

When Charlotte Ghiorse sets out to support a cause, she doesn’t hold back.

The Ithaca-based multimedia artist, known for her filmmaking, photography, paintings, and fashion designs, has stepped up to raise funds for everything from the local library and the Epilepsy Foundation to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Recently, it was The Sophie Fund’s turn.

Ghiorse and her House of ChoCLeT clothing label put on “Collaboration: Invisible Light,” a fashion show held at the Martha Hamblin Ballroom of the Community School of Music and Arts.

The show featured 29 young people walking as models in a kaleidoscope of looks and colors. The garments included upcycled dresses, blazers, jean jackets, and other items, bearing silkscreened crowns, hearts, sports cars, and skulls and crossbones. Painted over the fabric were catchlines like “Love Bomb,” “No Hate,” Prom Queen,” “Slayer,” and “Être” (French for “to be”). Jewelry was provided by Draya Designs.

The October 1 event, in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, raised monies for The Sophie Fund and the Ithaca Fine Arts Booster Group, which supports arts and music programming in the Ithaca City School District.

“I included words on my clothing to playfully empower the teenagers, and bolster self esteem,” explained Ghiorse, whose art over the years has given voice to social justice, environmental protection, ending poverty, women’s equality, and other causes.

The mother of three, once a homeless teen, who began selling her works on the streets of New York’s SoHo after graduating from art school, Ghiorse said she was determined that the show draw the connection between creativity and mental health.

“The arts literally saved my life,” she said. “And, personally, I know that suicide does not discriminate.”

Co-founder Susan Hack said The Sophie Fund was very grateful for Ghiorse’s support, and touched by the way the fashion show intentionally involved young people in celebrating art and strengthening awareness about mental health and suicide.

“Many young people struggle with their mental health, to one degree or another,” she said. “It’s so important for them to know that things like depression or anxiety are illnesses, not weaknesses, and that it’s okay to talk about it and seek help. And, of course, art brings us insight and joy.”

Preventing Suicide through Training

The Sophie Fund is providing scholarships for healthcare professionals in Tompkins County to attend a two-day online training in youth suicide prevention featuring some of the nation’s leading experts.

The program, “Suicide Safer Care in Clinical Practice: A training designed to strengthen clinical skills to provide caring and effective services to youth at risk for suicide and their families,” takes place March 21-22.

The training, which covers identifying at-risk individuals in everyday medical appointments, best practice treatments, engaging family in suicide care, how social media impacts suicidal behaviors, and other topics, is sponsored by The Wellness Institute and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (See full program, below.)

Free registration for physicians, primary care clinicians, health and mental health clinicians, and social workers serving Tompkins County is supported by a grant from The Sophie Fund. CE credits are available for $25 at cost to registrant.

To request a registration link for free registration, healthcare professionals can email The Sophie Fund at providing their name, degree level, place of employment (or name and address of practice, if self-employed), and email address.

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, said the training is part of his organization’s initiative to advance the Zero Suicide Model with healthcare providers in Tompkins County.

Zero Suicide is an emerging standard designed to save lives by closing gaps in the suicide care offered by healthcare providers. The model provides a practical framework for system-wide quality improvement in areas including training staff in current best practices, identifying at-risk individuals through comprehensive screening and assessment, engaging at-risk patients with effective care management, evidence-based treatments, and safe care transition.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10-34. Over the past five years, Tompkins County has averaged 12 suicide deaths per year. Another 1,600 parents, children, siblings, friends, and spouses may be impacted by the resulting psychological, spiritual, and/or financial loss.

An estimated 300 people in Tompkins County may attempt suicide every year. While rates for other causes of death have remained steady or declined, the U.S. suicide rate increased 35.2% from 1999 to 2018.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen girls are confronting the highest levels of sexual violence, sadness, and hopelessness ever reported to the CDC. Three in five girls felt persistently sad and hopeless, a marker for depressive symptoms, in 2021, up nearly 60 percent from 2011, the CDC announced on February 13.

Suicide Safer Care in Clinical Practice

A training designed to strengthen clinical skills to

provide caring and effective services to youth at risk for suicide and their families

March 21, 2023, 1-4:30 p.m.

A Framework for Understanding Suicide

Jill Harkavy-Friedman, PhD

Columbia University; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Introduction to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Adolescents (DBT-A)

Alec Miller, PsyD

Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Co-Author, Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Suicidal Adolescents

Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS)

Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, PhD

The Columbia Lighthouse Project, Columbia University

Safety Planning Intervention (SPI)

Gregory K. Brown, PhD

Penn Center for the Prevention of Suicide, University of Pennsylvania; Co-Developer, CT-SP, and Suicide Safety Plan

Hope Kit and Caring Contacts

Kelly Green, PhD

Center for the Prevention of Suicide, University of Pennsylvania

Support Systems for High-Risk Individuals

Cheryl King, PhD

Youth Depression and Suicide Prevention Program, University of Michigan

Cultural Considerations in Suicide Prevention

Tami D. Benton, MD

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

March 22, 2023, 1-4:30 p.m.

988 and Innovations in Crisis Care

Richard T. McKeon, PhD, MPH

Chief, Suicide Prevention Branch, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

David Covington, LPC, MBA

RI International Behavioral Health Link Zero Suicide; Crisis Now

Engaging Family in Suicide Care: Attachment-Based Family Therapy

Guy Diamond, PhD

Drexel University; Developer, Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT)

Effects of Social Media on Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

Jacqueline Nesi, PhD

Brown University; NIMH and AFSP-funded Researcher

Jonathan B. Singer, PhD, LCSW

Loyola University Chicago; Author, Suicide in Schools

Suicide Prevention in Clinical Practice: Practical Considerations

Jill Harkavy-Friedman, PhD

Columbia University; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

David Jobes, PhD

Catholic University of America; Creator and Developer, Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS)

Learning Objectives

  • Describe a framework for understanding suicide.
  • Review how to ask about risk factors and identify warning signs of suicide.
  • Explain the fundamentals of the Biosocial Theory of Emotion Dysregulation.
  • Review the evidence base for DBT with teens and five problem areas and skills modules.
  • Describe the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS).
  • Discuss the benefits of using the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) to assess suicide risk.
  • Describe a methodology of helping at-risk individuals create their personalized safety plan for implementation during times of crisis.
  • Describe how to utilize the Hope Kit intervention and explain the evidence and process of implementing “Caring Contacts” for suicide prevention.
  • Describe ways school or social connectedness has been linked to adolescent well-being and suicide risk.
  • Describe the core components of the Youth-Nominated Support Team intervention (YST).
  • Discuss cultural disparities and considerations in caring for individuals with elevated suicide risk.
  • Describe how 988 and crisis centers can support practitioners’ work and their patients.
  • Explain the theoretical foundation of Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) and discuss the purpose of the five ABFT treatment tasks.
  • Explain the benefits and risks of social media in relation to suicidal thoughts and behavior among adolescents.
  • Identify strategies to help families manage digital media use in the context of psychiatric treatment.
  • Describe steps to take to prepare one’s practice for suicide prevention.
  • Describe how to follow up when a person states they are thinking about suicide.
  • Discuss balancing privacy with lifesaving care.

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

Cornell Students Supporting Our Mental Health

Cornell University student organizations participating in The Sophie Fund’s 2022 “Cupcake Button” fundraising campaign collected $902.57 for the Finger Lakes chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

NAMI’s Elisa Tobia and Sandra Sorensen with APO’s Sanvi Bhardwaj, PATCH’S Ashley Teal and Orell Rayhan, and Circle K’s Max Fante

The organizations taking part were Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter (APO), Cornell Circle K, and Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health (PATCH). At a luncheon at the Statler Hotel on February 8, leaders of the groups handed over a check from the campaign to NAMI-Finger Lakes Executive Director Sandra Sorensen.

“One of the goals of NAMI-Finger Lakes is to diversify who we are reaching with our services, and young adults are on our list,” said Sorensen. “Through this fundraiser we were not only able to connect with The Sophie Fund, but with several Cornell student service organizations.”

Sorensen said that she appreciated the luncheon discussion with student leaders around mental health issues, including the struggles of receiving mental health services on an elite academic campus such as Cornell and future collaborations on programming and fundraising. 

“It is very hopeful to see the changes that have occurred over years of really hard work by many people and organizations in the mental health arena surrounding stigma,” she added. “There is still so much work to be done, but our young adults are more free than previous generations were to discuss and advocate for their own mental illness and for their friends and family who are struggling.”

The Sophie Fund organizes the Cupcake Button campaign and the related Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest each fall to promote mental health awareness and raise monies for local nonprofits supporting community mental health. Donors receive a Cupcake Button featuring the image of a cupcake created by Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell art student who died by suicide in 2016 for whom The Sophie Fund is named.

Max Fante of Circle K said participating in the fundraising for NAMI-Finger Lakes along with supporting the related 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest last October was an “unforgettable experience” in “doing meaningful service through direct community engagement.”

“Circle K members were able to interact with NAMI members and learn about new ways to contribute to mental health improvement on the Cornell campus,” he said. “Overall, Circle K is glad to have played a role in destigmatizing mental illness and spreading awareness in Ithaca.”

Orell Rayhan of PATCH said that her organization works to educate its future health professionals about mental health.

“We like to provide an opportunity for our members to understand and destigmatize mental health, as it could affect them or their patients in the future,” said Rayhan. “The Sophie Fund and NAMI helped us do just that. We were able to provide our members with a story and meaning behind what these amazing organizations do, allowing them to connect on a much deeper level with the cause they worked with.”

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, expressed his appreciation for the student activism in support of mental health.

“Cornell student leaders are passionate about mental health,” he said. “These organizations do fantastic work to advocate for improvements in services and campus climate. The Sophie Fund is grateful for the chance to partner with groups like APO, Circle K, and PATCH.”

MacLeod said Cupcake Button campaigns began in 2017. Student organizations have raised a total of $5,568.88 for six local nonprofits supporting mental health: Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, the Village at Ithaca, The Learning Web, and NAMI-Finger Lakes.

Where to Get Support

The Sophie Fund has released the 2023 guide to Mental Health Support and Crisis Services in Tompkins County.

The two-pager provides quick phone numbers and web links for suicide prevention, community and campus mental health clinics, local addiction recovery services, and sexual assault and domestic violence awareness and victim support. It also includes information about family and youth mental health support groups and how to locate a local primary care physician.

Copies of the guide can be posted on community bulletin boards and in clinical waiting rooms, distributed at schools, places of worship, and public events, or given to family members and friends. The guide can be easily downloaded and saved to laptops and mobile phones (note the QR code at the bottom of the guide) and shared via emails and social media.

Inspiration for the guide came from Cayuga Health Partners, which saw the value of providing the resource to primary care patients who screened for behavioral health complaints.

The Sophie Fund developed the guide in consultation with community health organizations, including the Tompkins County Whole Health, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cayuga Health, and Guthrie Cortland.

“There continues to be a stigma around mental health and seeking help for problems like depression, substance abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence,”  said Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund.

“We hope that the guide will help people see how normal and easy it is to reach out for professional help. We also hope that the guide cuts through any confusion folks may have about the array of services available to them in the greater Ithaca community.”

DOWNLOAD Mental Health Support and Crisis Services PDF


28th Annual Tompkins County Mental Health Conference

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, was the keynote speaker at the 28th Annual Tompkins County Mental Health Conference on November 18 with a presentation titled “Zero Suicide Model in Tompkins County.”

The conference featured presentations on the new national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline system and a panel on community mental health resources. Teressa Sivers of the Finger Lakes Independence Center chaired the steering committee that organized this year’s conference.

MacLeod began his talk by describing how he and his wife Susan Hack established The Sophie Fund in 2016 immediately after the suicide death of their daughter Sophie, a Cornell University art student. He explained that they were motivated by “a determination to prevent further young people in the Ithaca community from dying by suicide.”

He outlined The Sophie Fund’s areas of work, including raising awareness, facilitating mental health training and programming, and mental health policy advocacy. He said that the nonprofit had distributed more than $35,000 in grants for training and programming through a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.

MacLeod described what he called a “mental health crisis” in the United States, citing data that 51.5 million American adults, and 7.7 million young people aged 6-17, had experienced mental illness in 2019. He said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 35.2 percent increase in the national suicide rate between 1999 and 2018.

The mental health crisis is notable among college students, MacLeod said, with nearly half participating in a 2019 survey reporting that academics had been “traumatic or very difficult to handle” and 19.8 percent feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some point in the previous 12 months. Another survey indicated that 36.9 percent of students seeking counseling in 2019-2020 had made a suicide attempt, he said.

MacLeod said that The Sophie Fund launched a “Zero Suicide Initiative” in 2017 with a presentation for Tompkins County’s top healthcare leaders by Michael Hogan, a co-developer of the Zero Suicide Model, and Sigrid Pechenik, the then-associate director of the New York State Suicide Prevention Office. In 2022, The Sophie Fund hosted a “Call to Action,” a series of five presentations and trainings on Zero Suicide for healthcare leaders, clinicians, and social workers.

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition voted to recommend the Zero Suicide Model for the county’s healthcare providers in 2018, and in 2022 included promoting the model as one of the goals of its 2022-2025 Strategic Plan. Responding to the strategic plan, healthcare leaders formed the Tompkins County Zero Suicide  Steering Committee and held their first meeting on November 10, MacLeod said.

MacLeod explained that the Zero Suicide model is partly based on research that 80 percent of people who died by suicide had healthcare visits in the 12 months prior to their deaths, indicating that such visits provide a vital setting for identifying suicidal individuals and directing them to appropriate care.  

Zero Suicide calls for treating suicidality directly rather than as a mere symptom of a mental health disorder, MacLeod explained. The model outlines a systematic clinical approach for screening patients for self harm, and then engaging at-risk individuals in care management, evidence-based treatment, and safe care transitions, he said.

MacLeod quoted the Zero Suicide developers explaining that “suicidal individuals often fall through multiple cracks in a fragmented and sometimes distracted health care system,” and that suicides can be prevented by closing those cracks.

The panel on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline featured presentations by Tiffany Bloss, Executive Director, Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; John Halaychik, Communications Center Manager, Tompkins County 911 Dispatch Center; Susan Spicer, Mobile Crisis Team, Tompkins County Mental Health Services; Nicole Roulstin, 211 Tompkins/Cortland Contact Center Manager, Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County; Larry Albro, Warm Line Representative, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; and Natalya Cowilich, Community Outreach Coordinator, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca.

The community resources panel included presentations from Sally Manning, Convener, Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition; Tiffany Bloss, SPCS; Karen Heisig, Area Director, Greater Central New York Chapter, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Melanie Little, Director of Education, Mental Health Association; and Sandra Sorensen, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI) Finger Lakes chapter.