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

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

The Ithacan on College Health Leaves of Absence

“Kids on medical leave from the three universities often fall through the cracks.” —David Shapiro, President and CEO of Family and Children’s Service.

Bianca Mestiza of The Ithacan, Ithaca College’s student newspaper, has a comprehensive piece in the latest edition on The Sophie Fund’s proposal to aid students on mental health leaves of absence.

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Excerpts from the article below, but see the whole piece at The Ithacan:

The Sophie Fund, an organization whose focus is to enhance mental health initiatives, released a proposal Aug. 21 aimed to support students who take leaves of absences for mental health reasons from local universities such as Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

The proposal seeks to create an Ithaca community–based program to help college students who on are on mental health leaves of absence. In order to have a successful transition away from college, students need help before, during and after they return from their leave to adjust back to the demand of their academic work, according to the proposal.

The program features a “life coach” who would be a professional in the community employed by a local mental health agency. The life coach would help the students stay connected by holding individual and group meetings. In addition, The Sophie Fund’s website would help the student by giving useful information about local housing options and employment opportunities.

[Scott MacLeod, Sophie’s father and co-founder of The Sophie Fund] said the proposal has been shared with local stakeholders, agencies and campus organizations such as the Active Minds chapter at the college and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services.

Deborah Harper, director of Ithaca College’s Center for Counseling and Wellness, said in an email that the proposal is a good idea because it benefits students who stay in the area while they are on leave.

MacLeod said that taking a leave of absence can be a very disrupting time for students who make that decision.

“This can be a very disruptive phase in a young person’s life when they have gone off to college … and suddenly they find themselves out a campus … so we have developed a project proposal to provide support to students who take a leave of absence,” he said.

Norbert McCloskey, executive director of the Ithaca Health Alliance, said he thinks the proposal is a good idea, and that he would like to see Cornell University and Ithaca College support it.

“I would like to see both the colleges here in town actually implement the proposal if they can find the means to do that,” McCloskey said.

David Shapiro, president and CEO of Family and Children’s Service, said via email that he is pleased with the proposal and appreciates MacLeod’s efforts to provide services to students who are having a difficult time.

“Kids on medical leave from the three universities often fall through the cracks,” Shapiro said. “I applaud Scott’s efforts to think of a solution to support these vulnerable students.

S. Makai Andrews, co-president of the Active Minds chapter at the college, said the campus should work on providing better assistance to students who take a leave of absence.

“I think that colleges should be better at facilitating the process, whether someone is on leave for their mental health, physical health or other personal reasons,” Andrews said. “The idea of a leave of absence is terrifying to most students because graduating ‘on time’ puts heavy pressure on much of the student body.”

Sophomore Jeewon Yim took a mental health leave of absence for a year after her freshman year and returned home to South Korea during her leave.

“I was mostly depressed about staying in a rural place, “Yim said. “On top of that, I was struggling to figure out what I really wanted to study… These reasons all came up to me as a really big emotional pressure, so I thought I should take a year off and see how my feelings change.”

Yim said she would like to see the campus community reach out to students more to see how they are feeling.

“I think the point is to encourage students and give them confidence that it is OK to ask for help,” she said.

Harper said that CAPS does outreach to students to let them know about their services. They meet with families of incoming students to encourage them to seek support from CAPS, if needed.

MacLeod said he hopes more organizations get involved with the proposal and that students provide input since they will be the ones who will need support.

McCloskey said the community support can help students taking leaves of absence.

“If we can help folks deal with that early on, their quality of life improves, their chances of success in college improves and their long–term success in life will improve,” McCloskey said. “I would like to see [the proposal] move forward and adopted, and I hope that does, indeed, become the case.”

 

Supporting College Students on Mental Health Leaves of Absence

The Sophie Fund released a proposal August 21 aimed at supporting students taking leaves of absence for mental health reasons from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

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The proposal calls for an Ithaca community-based program featuring a “leave of absence coach,” a community outreach worker providing practical guidance and moral support for students in transition. It also proposes a website hosting useful information about college leave policies, strategies for fruitful time off from school, local housing options, and employment opportunities.

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, said he discovered wide agreement about the need for a program among college administrators, community healthcare services, student organizations, and individual students facing mental health challenges.

“Young people facing mental health issues often suddenly find themselves on leave from school without the campus support networks they relied on as enrolled students,” said MacLeod. “This can become a period of uncertainty and even isolation for many students. With growing numbers of students taking leaves to focus on their mental health issues, we think it is vital that the community find ways to provide support. The goal of the students as well as their institutions should be to chart positive trajectories for their return to school and success in life. We hope administrators at Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College will support the idea.”

MacLeod said The Sophie Fund distributed the proposal to key stakeholders in the community, and hopes it will generate serious discussion about development and funding and lead to the implementation of an effective program by early next year. The proposal estimates as many as 400 students a year may be taking leaves from area colleges.

The proposal seeks to ensure that students on leaves have access to information on the full range of challenges they will confront during their leave period—about housing, jobs, educational opportunities, volunteer opportunities, healthcare services, etc. It seeks to provide substitutes for the campus support systems that become unavailable to students during their leaves.

According to the proposal, today’s generation of college students is experiencing a mental health crisis in line with the increasing rates of mental health disorders in the general population. College counseling centers are reporting rising numbers of students seeking support for serious depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses.

“Leaves of absence entail an often unexpected, abrupt, and painful loss of a structured environment that includes a support network of friends, professors, university staff, roommates and other fellow students, campus organizations, cultural and athletic facilities, and school medical providers,” the proposal says. “Testimonies from students on mental health leaves of absence relate how it can be a confidence-crushing experience that induces shame and guilt.”

The Sophie Fund was established in April 2016 in memory of Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell University art student who succumbed to her battle with depression in Ithaca on March 26, 2016. The focus for the fund’s work is supporting mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Click here to download a copy of the proposal.

For more information about The Sophie Fund, go to www.thesophiefund.org

TC3’s New President: Orinthia T. Montague

“Anything I can do to have students reach their goals, whatever the goals may be, that’s what really drives me.” —Orinthia T. Montague

The State University of New York Board of Trustees announced May 3 that it approved the appointment of Orinthia T. Montague to become the fourth president of Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Montague, who replaces long-serving TC3 President Carl Haynes, has served for the past seven years, most recently as vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer, at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota.

According to TC3’s press announcement, Montague has led Normandale’s efforts and partnerships with public and private secondary schools, as well as community and business collaborations; a partnership with Bloomington Public School District and Hennepin County provides direct higher educational opportunities to close the gap for underrepresented populations with a focus on homeless students, foster children, and teen parents.

Addressing Montague during a campus forum, Haynes said: “I think what’s most impressive about your credentials and what you bring to our college and to our campus is your long history of experience with student success, student life, and the commitment you have made to that in many different parts of your career. I’m truly pleased to be turning this office… No, I am downright excited about turning this office over to you as our next president.”

Montague, speaking at TC3, also emphasized her commitment to student success:

“I’m a first generation student, from the country of Jamaica. I’m an immigrant. I’ve had so many people concerned about my student success, and the little things and the big things that it takes for me to achieve and move forward with my goals. So I’m passionate about doing that for others.

“I want people to experience what I experienced with this support, within my community, external to my community, intentional, and unintentional support, structured, unstructured. Anything I can do to have students reach their goals, whatever the goals may be, that’s what really drives me.”

TC3 Board of Trustees Chairperson Elizabeth Burns praised Montague’s selection. “Dr. Montague has served in a number of important roles in institutions of higher learning, and her passion for working towards success of students of various backgrounds is a good match for this College and for the challenge of moving us forward,” she said.

Montague received a bachelor of arts degree in interpersonal communication from Truman State University; a master of arts in counseling from Lindenwood University; and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

She follows in the footsteps of three other presidents since TC3 was established: Hushang Bahar (1968–1986); Eduardo Marti (1986–1994); and Haynes (1994–2017).

Haynes has spent 48 years at TC3, joining as a member of the business faculty in 1969. He has overseen tremendous growth in his 23 years as president, including doubled enrollment, construction of a new student center, athletics facilities, and several residence halls, and creation of a solar farm. Recently TC3 opened Coltivare, an Ithaca restaurant in support of its farm-to-bistro initiative that includes degree programs in culinary arts and sustainable farming and food systems.