Know Your Mental Health Resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Take the time to know what mental health support resources are available if you live in Tompkins County. Resources are helpful to those experiencing mental health disorders, as well as to their families and friends. If you are at all concerned about your mental health, or about a loved one or someone you know, stay educated about mental health and how to get help. You may even save a life.

DOWNLOAD My Mental Health Resources (Tompkins County)

Meet Ithaca’s Mr. Kindness

To paraphrase his wife Jacque, Darrell Harrington is Ithaca’s Mr. Kindness. He is certainly a man with a big heart—actually, hundreds of them. Harrington is the one who came up with Be Kind Ithaca, whose bright red “Be Kind” hearts adorn lawns and porches throughout Tompkins County and beyond.

Darrell Harrington featured in a Spectrum News 1 segment in 2021

“Spreading kindness and paying it forward,” as Harrington puts it, is Be Kind Ithaca’s mission.

It started with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the related lockdowns in March 2020. Harrington became concerned about the spike in anxiety that he was witnessing in the world around him. Jacque, a nursing student he describes as “just solid,” blew through two red lights in Ithaca one day. “There was this fear, this panic,” Harrington recalled. “The whole world was scared. Our age hasn’t been through something like this.”

Harrington, 48, a lifelong musician who is originally from Groton, has a long history with anxiety disorder. He still lives with some of the trauma he developed from being bullied as a kid with “buck teeth” and “coke-bottle eyeglasses.” After seeing a lot of stressed folks arguing on social media, Harrington did something he never imagined he could do.

He decided to publish a post about his personal experience with anxiety, and invited people to reach out to him if they wanted to talk about their own anxiety with someone. He says he was shocked to discover all the positive responses, including from people he had been afraid would “judge” him.

Harrington wanted to do more. Having recently started a small construction business, he knows his way around a tool shed. Drawing from his mother’s enjoyment of crafting, he used some scrap wood to create a red heart standing six feet high and four feet wide painted with the words “Be Kind.” Just before Easter that year, he trimmed the giant heart with colorful lights and planted it on the edge of his property along a busy road on Ithaca’s South Hill. “I’m just gonna put that there, if it can help someone decompress their stress, their anger, or just make them smile,” Harrington recalled.

Maria Salino, the owner of the nearby Dolce Delight bakery, saw Harrington’s heart and asked he if would make her one, too. Then at her request, Harrington went back to his basement work shop to saw, sand, drill, and paint away and produce 10 more hearts for her friends. He made a few extras and offered them to his own friends on social media, who scooped them up. Harrington reckons that he gave away the first few hundred hearts, but then with lumber prices rising he reluctantly started charging for them basically at cost so he wouldn’t go in the hole financially.

The orders kept coming in. With an extra hand in the work shop from his brother Dale, Harrington began offering two sizes, two by two feet and a miniature, for $27 and $14, respectively. The hearts are in plain site outside countless homes locally, but he has now shipped the Be Kind placards to nearly every state (and documented on Be Kind Ithaca’s Facebook page). Besides the hearts he constructs by hand, Harrington has created a line of Be Kind merch with everything from key chains and employee badge clips to t-shirts and fridge and car bumper magnets.

Nor has Harrington stopped at symbolic expressions of kindness. Inspired by Ronald McDonald House Charities, Be Kind Ithaca has begun donating a portion of its proceeds to the community. It has raised funds for T-Burg Takes on Pediatric Cancer, the Mickey Gallagher Memorial Scholarship Fund, the SPCA of Tompkins County, and The Lost Dogs of the Finger Lakes. Harrington has also sent donations to help victims of severe weather incidents in Texas and Kentucky.

(Full disclosure: Be Kind Ithaca recently made a donation to The Sophie Fund from its sales of Christmas ornaments, hand crafted by Harrington’s retired parents.)

Be Kind’s mission also involves undertaking random acts of kindness. For example, after hearing that many people had succumbed to Covid-19 at an Ithaca area nursing home, Harrington sprung into action by delivering gift bags to all its custodial workers to thank them for their selfless service. Partly supported by a donor, the bags were stuffed with Be Kind key chains, Dolce Delight gift cards, and New York lottery tickets.

Sometimes when Harrington encounters a total stranger who looks overwhelmed, he’ll pull out and present them with a Be Kind sticker. “You just see them smile,” he said.

To some, Harrington may seem like an unlikely ambassador of kindness. They would be wrong. For 30 years—since becoming a teenage fan of Guns N’ Roses—he has played bass guitar in heavy metal and rock bands, like Bone Jar and The New York Rock. With dreadlocks and tattoos up and down his left arm, he toured the country and played venues including CBGB in New York and Whiskey a Go Go in LA. Back home, he augmented his income bartending, and managed The Haunt, Ithaca’s largest band venue.

Through his rough and tumble music career and his mental health struggles, Harrington maintained a belief in the goodness of his fellow men and women. “For every bad person you hear about, there’re nine other amazing and kind people,” he said.

Darrell Harrington himself is one of those amazing and kind people.

NOTE: Follow Be Kind Ithaca on Facebook and Instagram, or email darrelljharrington@gmail.com, to order Be Kind products.

Ithaca College Partners with JED for Improved Student Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit college students hard. Even before the disease forced campus closures, studies showed alarming and rising rates of depression and anxiety among undergraduates. Subsequent research found that pandemic conditions caused a further spike in stressors. For example, Active Minds conducted a nationwide survey of 2,086 college students at the beginning of the pandemic. It showed that 80 percent felt Covid-19 had “negatively impacted” their mental health, and 20 percent said their mental health had “significantly worsened.”

Ithaca College, prior to the pandemic, began exploring new ways to support student mental health with the appointment in 2019 of Brian Petersen as the new head of the Center for Counseling and Psychiatric Services. The effort gained traction in 2020 when the school inked a four-year partnership with The Jed Foundation, a national nonprofit devoted to supporting mental health in young adults.

According to the foundation, the JED Campus program is a strategic partnership that guides colleges through a collaborative process of program and policy development to enhance existing work and foster systemic improvement.

Ithaca College’s participation in the JED Campus program began with a self-assessment of student mental health support based on a JED questionnaire to identify areas in need of attention.

Twelve hundred of Ithaca College’s 5,000 students then participated in the Health Minds Study, a survey examining mental health status, campus climate, utilization of support services, and related issues to inform institutional policies and practices. The survey, which has been conducted at 400 colleges and universities since 2007, is operated by the Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health based at the University of Michigan and Boston University.

“In addition to helping you identify specific improvements to make, the JED program forces you to create a structure around the whole process,” Petersen said. As head of the college’s JED Campus task force, Petersen will submit annual reports to JED about the progress being made. Another measurement will take place toward the end of the JED partnership when a follow-up Health Minds survey is conducted.

The initial Healthy Minds survey highlighted symptoms of depression and anxiety among Ithaca College students at a higher rate than the national average, Petersen said. At the same time, he added, the survey indicated that the school’s students are less affected by stigma and more open to receiving mental health services than many peers across the country.

For example, among the Ithaca College students participating in the survey, 47 percent identified with overall depression and 25 with major depression, compared to 39 percent and 21 percent nationally. Forty-one percent of Ithaca College respondents identified with anxiety disorder compared to 34 percent nationally. Only 2 percent of Ithaca College students said they “would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment,” compared to 6 percent nationally.

Petersen said that the results of the self-assessment and the Healthy Minds Study have already prompted new initiatives to improve services.

He said that the school is exploring new models for responding to after-hours mental health crises, which are currently handled by the campus Office of Public Safety and a third-party psychological counseling service.

Another goal is tightening up support relationships and lines of communication with community providers like the Cayuga Medical Center, and launching new ones such as potentially with MindWell Center LLC, an Ithaca mental health counseling service, Petersen said. Part of this, he added, entails establishing close referral relationships with community providers who are better equipped to deal with specialized conditions such as eating disorders, sexual assault trauma, and substance use addiction.

Petersen said that another possible initiative aims for a more systemic approach to campus mental health education, through regular programming that highlights issues like depression and suicide, centralized hubs for communicating mental health information, operationalizing broad campus support for student mental health, and mental health gatekeeper training for faculty, staff, and students.

“We have to have a systemic and a community wide approach,” Petersen said.

The partnership with JED came together quickly soon after Petersen’s arrival from Pace University, where the Pace Counseling Center had worked with JED to identify and implement a gatekeeper program to train faculty, staff, and students in bystander intervention and suicide prevention protocols. Senior Ithaca College administrators including then-President Shirley M. Collado favored the initiative after meeting JED representatives at a student mental health conference. A financial hurdle was overcome when the parents of a current student stepped forward to pay a JED onboarding fee.

Student Mental Health Awareness Week

Cornell Health International (CHI) is a student organization at Cornell University that raises awareness about global health issues through service efforts on a local scale.

This has included volunteering at Bridges Cornell Heights, a local assisted living facility, where CHI members came up with activity ideas and arts and crafts that would brighten the days of residents. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our members volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes (NAMI-FL) to help facilitate monthly online Family Forums.

CHI has also facilitated Zoom discussions about mental health with local Ithaca community leaders, and moderated panel discussions with special guests. CHI members recently took part in the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes 2021 Walkathon, and are currently conducting weekly virtual visits with residents of the Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing.

We sponsored Student Mental Health Awareness Week in November to engage the Cornell community on a topic of great importance to students. The program included a panel discussion featuring Sharon McMullen, Cornell’s assistant vice president of Student & Campus Life for Health and Wellbeing. She reviewed efforts being made by the Executive Accountability Committee to push forward recommendations from the university’s Mental Health Review in 2020. McMullen was joined on the panel by Catherine Thrasher-Carroll,  Mental Health Promotion Program Director at the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives.

In conjunction with Student Mental Health Awareness Week, CHI joined forces with The Sophie Fund to raise money for The Learning Web, an Ithaca nonprofit organization offering experiential learning, youth employment, and independent living programs to youth and young adults. We spread the word about the fundraiser through social media accounts, and created online bingo boards for individuals to play as they donated.

To cap off our awareness week program, CHI members created cards with motivational messages and left them around campus to provide encouragement to students as fall semester finals began.

To learn more about CHI, follow us on Instagram and Facebook (@chealthinternational) or email us at chealthinternational@gmail.com.

—By Jackie Cho, Jenny Long, and Anna Szombathy

Jackie Cho, a Health Care Policy major at Cornell University, is co-president of Cornell Health International

Jenny Long, a Human Biology, Health, and Society major at Cornell University, is service leader of Cornell Health International

Anna Szombathy, a Biological Sciences major at Cornell University, is co-president of Cornell Health International

Zero Suicide: Making Suicide a Never Event in Indian Country

Sadé Heart of the Hawk Ali, Tribal Lead and a Senior Project Associate at the Zero Suicide Institute, aims to educate healthcare providers on how to apply the tenets of the Zero Suicide Model in ways that resonate with the culture of indigenous communities.

In her presentation, “Making Suicide a Never Event – Zero Suicide in Indian Country,” to the Suicide Prevention Center of New York’s “AIM for Zero: Suicide Care is Healthcare” symposium September 28-30, Ali emphasized that suicide care must align with indigenous understandings of loss of life and taboos around language.

Ali explained that diversity of beliefs exists among the estimated 574 tribes, villages, bands, and nations recognized by the U.S. government, although universal truths are shared such as reverence for a greater power, honoring ancestors and the land, and belief in traditional medicines and healing ways.

Part 10 in a Series about the Zero Suicide Model for Healthcare

She described how indigenous communities that see high suicide rates are affected by historical and current-day trauma that impacts suicidality, ranging from genocide, war, forced relocation, missing and murdered indigenous relatives, the ongoing discovery of mass graves of schoolchildren torn from their families, destruction of food and water supplies, and cultural appropriation in the form of sports team mascots.

“If you’re working with us, one of the main things to know is that we have survived layers upon layers upon layers of trauma,” she said. “There have been many assaults on us and this really creates trauma amongst our people. We are not only talking about the trauma that is passed down generationally but there’s also modern day trauma that we’re experiencing right now.”

Noting that the Zero Suicide Model’s framework has not been validated for indigenous people, she argued for the need to “indigenize” the model’s seven elements in order to adapt it for safer suicide care in indigenous communities.

She said that this involves understanding the cultural contexts of the communities being served by the Zero Suicide Model, requiring cultural humility among mental health providers, utilizing tribal elders and indigenous community members in implementing elements of Zero Suicide, and respecting the value of traditional concepts of healing and ancestral ways.

“Western ways will be much more readily accepted by the person seeking services if they know that their traditional ways are honored as well,” Ali said.

She explained, for example, terms such as “life promotion” should be encouraged in place of suicide prevention. “Many of our languages have no word for suicide,” Ali said. “The word ‘suicide,’ or even talking about someone who took their own life, is taboo in many of our tribes.”

READ MORE: The Zero Suicide Model in Tompkins CountyIf you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.