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.

A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health

Sending kids off to college is an exciting experience for many parents. Naturally, our focus is on the wonderful opportunities they will have, as we look with pride upon their promising passage into adulthood. But these stressful times require parents to also fully grasp the serious mental health challenges their students may face, and be equipped to provide support.

DOWNLOAD: A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health (PDF)

What do parents need to know?

Though some may hide or downplay it, rates of depression and anxiety are high among college students. Many students carry suicidal thoughts. Sexual assault is prevalent among college students. Hazing violence as an initiation rite at fraternities and some student organizations is a serious problem. All of these conditions pose greater risks for students who arrive on campus already with a mental health disorder. College psychological counseling centers are typically overwhelmed by demands for appointments, and navigating community mental health services and insurance coverage can exacerbate the stress.

In short, student mental health can be a complicated matter, and failing to deal with it adequately can lead to serious consequences.

“Mental health problems can affect many areas of students’ lives, reducing their quality of life, academic achievement, physical health, and satisfaction with the college experience, and negatively impacting relationships with friends and family members,” says the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). “These issues can also have long-term consequences for students, affecting their future employment, earning potential, and overall health.”

Making matters worse, research is finding that Covid-19 pandemic conditions have caused a spike in stressors among college students. A survey of 2,086 college students conducted at the beginning of the pandemic by Active Minds showed that 80 percent felt Covid-19 had “negatively impacted” their mental health, and 20 percent said their mental health had “significantly worsened.”

A study in Spring 2020 showed a moderate-to-severe level of depression in 48.14 percent of survey participants, a moderate-to-severe level of anxiety in 38.48 percent, and 18.04 percent with suicidal thoughts. More than 70 percent indicated that their stress/anxiety levels had increased during the pandemic.

Another study in mid-2020 found that the prevalence of moderate-severe anxiety increased from 18.1 percent of first-year students before the pandemic to 25.3 percent within four months after the pandemic began; and the prevalence of moderate-severe depression increased from 21.5 percent to 31.7 percent.

Additional specific data to know:

  • 52.7 percent of college students surveyed reported that academics have been “traumatic or very difficult to handle,” and 19.8 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function” in the past 12 months, according to the Spring 2019 National College Health Assessment; 9.3 percent seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and 1.6 percent had attempted suicide.
  • 36.9 percent of surveyed college students seeking counseling in the 2019-2020 academic year had experienced “serious suicidal ideation,” (up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year who “seriously considered attempting suicide”), according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2020 Annual Report; 10.9 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.
  • 15.6 percent of female seniors (or higher) participating in the Association of American Universities 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct reported being raped (“completed penetration using physical force or the victim was unable to consent or stop what was happening”) since enrolling in college.
  • In the past month, 23.9 percent of college students used illicit drugs, and 33 percent engaged in binge alcohol drinking, according to a 2019 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

When parents do fully grasp the scope of the challenges, then they need to understand the risk factors and warning signs for a mental health crisis, and how to support their students if they should exhibit cause for concern. Help can range from staying connected with moral support and positive encouragement to evaluating and navigating mental health treatment options at the college counseling center, in the community, or back home during a health leave of absence.

McLean Hospital, a psychiatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, provides these basic tips for parents:

  • Prepare Your Child for the Unexpected
  • The Importance of Staying in Touch and Validation
  • Encourage Healthy Habits
  • Make Room for Mistakes
  • Have a Plan Focused on Student Mental Health
  • Learn About College Mental Health Services
  • If a Student Is Struggling, Get Help Immediately

List of helpful resources curated by The Sophie Fund for supporting your Ithaca-based college student’s mental health:

Mental Health

Risk Factors, Protective Factors, and Warning Signs, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Mental Health Conditions, National Alliance on Mental Illness

Parents

Parent and Family Guide: Supporting Your College Student Through Mental Health Challenges, Forefront Suicide Prevention

Set to Go: For Families, The JED Foundation

Set to Go: The Transition, The JED Foundation

A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health, McLean Hospital

Mental Health in College, National Alliance on Mental Illness

Life on Campus, Mental Health America

What Parents Need to Know: #GoodforMEdia’s Guide to Social Media, Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing, Stanford University

College Depression: What Parents Need to Know, Mayo Clinic

Cornell University and Ithaca College

Cornell University: Families of New Students

Cornell University: How to Support Your Student

Cornell University: Family Guide 2021-2022

Ithaca College: Guiding a First-Year College Student

College Mental Health Reports

Mental Health Review Final Report April 2020, Cornell University

“Commending Cornell’s Mental Health Recommendations,” The Sophie Fund

“Recommendations for Improved Student Mental Health at Cornell University,” The Sophie Fund

“Aiming for a Student Mental Health Gold Standard at Cornell University,” The Sophie Fund

Report of the Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health July 2020, Harvard University

Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-being, Office of the Provost, February 2018, Johns Hopkins University

The Healthy Minds Study

Depression, Anxiety, Loneliness Are Peaking in College Students, The Brink, Boston University

Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2020 Annual Report

The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey 2018

National College Health Assessment Spring 2019, American College Health Association

Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Students on College Campuses, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Mental Health on College Campuses: Investments, Accommodations Needed to Address Student Needs, National Council on Disability

Behavioral Health Among College Students, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Suicide

Suicide among College and University Students in the United States, Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Consequences of Student Mental Health Issues, Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Sexual Assault

2020 Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, Association of American Universities

Campus Sexual Violence, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Hazing

Hazing in View: College Students at Risk, National Study of Student Hazing 2008

Substance Use

College Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Substance Abuse In College Students: Statistics & Addiction Treatment, American Addiction Centers

Recent Media Articles

“Did Covid Break Students’ Mental Health?,” October 14, 2021, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“College students struggle with mental health as pandemic drags on,” Washington Post, October 14, 2021

“A ‘Breaking Point’ in Campus Mental Health,”  July 15, The Chronicle of Higher Education

DOWNLOAD: A Parent’s Guide to College Student Mental Health (PDF)

Know the Suicide Warning Signs

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. PLEASE. Take a moment to review the warning signs for suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Be sure to get help for yourself or others if you see the signs. Truly, you may save a life.

If 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.

Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Warning sign: Talk

If a person talks about:

Killing themselves

Feeling hopeless

Having no reason to live

Being a burden to others

Feeling trapped

Unbearable pain

Warning sign: Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

Increased use of alcohol or drugs

Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods

Withdrawing from activities

Isolating from family and friends

Sleeping too much or too little

Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Giving away prized possessions

Aggression

Fatigue

Warning sign: Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

Depression

Anxiety

Loss of interest

Irritability

Humiliation/Shame

Agitation/Anger

Relief/Sudden Improvement

For local, state, and national resources, visit The Sophie Fund’s suicide prevention page.