This Summer, On Instagram!

Attention Instagram fans! Meet Sophie Jones, a rising junior at Cornell University who is interning with The Sophie Fund and taking over our Instagramming for the summer. Sophie majors in psychology, minors in visual studies, skates on the Synchronized Skating Team, and volunteers with the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. You might find her at the Firefly Music Festival, catching Bojack Horseman on Netflix, or sampling the culinary delights of Louie’s Lunch Truck. Sophie is a mental health advocate, and her Instagram posts strive to celebrate the beauty of life in Ithaca and environs. Send her your ideas for images at thesophiefund2016@gmail.com.

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Who Runs for Newfield High?

Fancy a splash of color in your life? We mean that literally! Come out and join the annual Color Run at 10 a.m. Saturday June 16 at Newfield High School. Participants in the five-kilometer trek (walkers and cheering supporters are welcome, too) are doused at eight intervals with colored, non-toxic cornstarch. All for a great cause: to support Newfield’s Sources of Strength, a school club dedicated to spreading hope, help, and strength in the community.

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Scene from Sources of Strength’s 2017 Color Run

Runners and walkers wearing white t-shirts pass through eight color stations, each one representing a “source of strength”: family support, positive friends, mentors, health activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access, and mental health.

Besides fostering community spirit, the event is a fundraiser for Sources of Strength, which promotes mental health and wellness for fellow students. The group meets regularly for rap sessions focused on promoting personal strengths and community-message brainstorming, and directs struggling students to helpful resources. It organizes de-stressor events like SOS Extravaganza, which turns the high school campus into a night-long party with movies, games, and snacks.

Click here for the sign-up form.

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Why Cornell Minds Matter

Mental Health Weekend is my last hurrah.

I joined Cornell Minds Matter, a student organization that promotes mental health at Cornell University, during the spring semester of my freshman year. My first year of college was rough. Academically, I managed fine. Mentally, I struggled to stay afloat.

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Cornell Minds Matter President Cooper Walter

The normal homesickness, imposter syndrome, and fish-out-of-water sensation that many teenagers experience when saying goodbye to their families and going away to college were hard enough. On top of this, my anxiety symptoms were worsening. The social anxiety disorder that I had been diagnosed with a few years before had been improving with cognitive behavioral therapy. But traveling across the country, from a small high school on a strip mall to a campus of almost twenty thousand, was almost too much.

I felt isolated. I didn’t go to the dining halls because sitting alone in a crowded room was unbearable. I tried supplementing my calorically insufficient diet with packages of Oreos that I would eat in one sitting, but I kept losing weight. Losing hope, I got an email about Club Fest, the big gathering of hundreds of campus clubs in Cornell’s field house. That’s where I discovered Cornell Minds Matter.

Cornell Minds Matter (CMM) is a student group that strives to promote the wellbeing of our campus, reduce the stigma of mental illness, and connect students to the many resources available. Headquartered in a room in the Dean of Students Office, Cornell Minds Matter hosts discussion series on mental health topics (such as Dining with Diverse Minds), de-stressing events (such as gratitude card writing and bamboo planting), free physical exercise activities (including yoga and Zumba), and dozens of other events.

When I approached Cornell Minds Matter’s table, the CMM members struck me with their generosity, passion, and compassion. I was immediately interested. Being pre-med, I wanted someday to help people with their health. In CMM, I could serve others and maybe, just maybe, even raise myself out of the morass I was in.

Over three years, starting out as a regular member, then becoming a program chair, then a vice president, and now, in my senior year, president of this amazing organization, I’ve tried my best to make Cornell a better place for all minds. I can’t thank Cornell Minds Matter enough for supporting me all these years as I’ve struggled—and, I’m grateful to say, largely overcome—my own mental illness.

I’m not alone in my battle. Twenty-five percent of college students experience a mental health disorder during their time at university. Yet, less than one-third seek help. Tragically, 1,100 college students die each year by suicide, making suicide one of the leading causes of death among college students and young people generally.

So, along with my incredible fellow CMM members, I’ve been organizing Cornell Minds Matter’s Mental Health Weekend to take place April 13–16. The Weekend’s main theme is suicide.

On Saturday, April 14, we’re hosting a Speak Your Mind student panel in partnership with Active Minds at Ithaca College, where students will share their personal stories about suicide.

On Saturday evening at Hotel Ithaca, the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service of Ithaca is hosting Dancing for Life, its 6th annual fundraiser for the local crisisline that provides 24/7 support for people in crisis.

On Sunday, April 15, through the support of The Sophie Fund, we are hosting a screening of the new documentary on suicide, The S Word. The film will be immediately followed by a Q&A panel discussion with director Lisa Klein, mental health activist Kelechi Ubozoh, and leader in the New York suicide prevention scene Garra Lloyd-Lester. Among the half dozen other events is a Mental Health Gala at the Johnson Museum on April 13.

We’ve put our hearts as well as our minds into Mental Health Weekend. As a graduating senior, it will be one of the last Cornell Minds Matter events I’ll help with. I hope you can make it.

—By Cooper Walter

Cooper Walter is the president of Cornell Minds Matter. A member of the Class of 2018, he studies human biology, health, and society in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University.

 

Get the Scoop on Mental Health

Throughout the past year, I developed and produced The Scoop on Mental Health, a podcast series now being shared by The Sophie Fund. In my opinion, we can never talk too much about subjects that “make us human.” Hearing true stories is one of the most effective ways of changing someone’s perspective on an issue, which is why I started this series—to help normalize talking about mental health in everyday conversations.

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I experienced first-hand the positive ripple effect that comes from talking about things that are difficult and personal. Hearing these incredible stories of resilience from complete strangers, from classmates, and even from my family members has reaffirmed the reason we need to talk about mental illness: knowing you are not alone in your struggles is key to accepting challenges and seeking help. While I cannot attest to the full effect it has on my guests and listeners, from their feedback I know it has had a positive influence on accepting their conditions.

As someone who has lived with depression and anxiety since childhood, I can say that hearing these stories helped me to accept my own condition. While it certainly doesn’t define who I am, it plays a large role in my daily life. Openly saying “I take medication” and “I go to therapy” is a recent step in my mental health journey, because like many people, I tucked my issues away in fear of being judged. Fear that I would be seen as incompetent, or weak, because I don’t fit society’s definition of “normal.”

For as long as I can remember I’ve been depressed, but high functioning, receiving on and off treatment for multiple years. However, after a head injury in June 2016 my symptoms began to worsen. At some point during that summer I slipped into a hypomanic state—I lost my appetite, was barely sleeping, my mind raced at all times, and I felt like I had lost control of my mental well-being.

One day in September, I crashed. I couldn’t get out of bed all day, and just felt completely numb. I knew something was very wrong, and that I needed help. Eventually I called my mom, and with help from her and my dad we made a plan to get proper treatment for what I learned was bipolar II disorder.

In retrospect, I should have taken time off from college, but was terrified of the repercussions of leaving with the fall semester well underway. I managed to get my feet back on the ground, but knew that getting through the semester meant discussing my situation with my friends, my boss, and my teachers. In doing so, I finally realized that being honest helped so much more than dealing with it on my own—and most of all, they were more likely to say “I’m here for you, how can I help?” than to pass judgment.

That’s the common theme you’ll hear in this podcast series—whether it’s just daily mental health care, or managing a mental illness, finding ways to exercise the mind and let people in makes the burden that much lighter.

In this first episode, you’ll meet Bridget, a friend of mine who speaks about her anxiety and depression amidst balancing work, life, and self-care. “It Was Just Something I Dealt With” tackles the misconception that high anxiety should not be taken seriously, along with what we can do to push past the stigma. I continue to admire Bridget’s grit in this fight, both in her own life, and in spearheading technology to help others keep track of their mental health.

I am honored to share these stories, and hope that it inspires you to tell your own stories in whatever way you are comfortable. More than anything, I urge you to continue the conversation however you can—for just by talking about mental illness, we can better understand one another, and work to end the stigma that harmfully keeps mental illness shrouded from sight.

—By Michayla Savitt

Michayla Savitt, a recent Ithaca College alumnus, is a news anchor and reporter at Cayuga Radio Group

1pod“It Was Just Something I Dealt With” [Episode 1] Listen

Bridget Strawn tells us about how she learned to manage her anxiety and depression, and how that experience inspired the creation of a self-care app.

The Healing Power of Storytelling

“The Path to Recovery: One Story at a Time” is the theme of this year’s Annual Depression Conference being held at the Tompkins County Public Library from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28. Open to the public, the conference includes a keynote talk, a panel discussion on mental health recovery, workshops focused on children/adolescents, adults, and older adults, and a book discussion.

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The keynote speaker is Regi Carpenter, an advocate for “narrative medicine,” a medical approach that utilizes patients’ personal stories as part of their healing. She is the author of Snap!, the story of her own severe mental illness as a teenager and her path to recovery, and a memoir, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood.

Carpenter was 16 years old when she first experienced severe mental illness and was committed to a New York State mental institution. According to the conference organizers:

“After being released she never spoke of it for over thirty years. As a professional storyteller, author and workshop leader, Regi knows the importance of telling one’s story to overcome trauma, ease anxiety, depression and shame. It wasn’t until she told her story of teenage trauma that Regi knew the healing power of stories to restore and heal the battered psyche. In this keynote you’ll hear stories of Regi’s experience as well as how stories can be used as a therapeutic tool to help clients become more resilient and resourceful.”

From Carpenter’s website bio:

“For over 20 years Regi Carpenter has been bringing songs and stories to audiences of all ages throughout the world in school, theaters, libraries, at festivals, conferences and in people’s back yards. An award winning performer, Regi has toured her solo shows and workshops in theaters, festivals and schools, nationally and internationally.

“Regi is the youngest daughter in a family that pulsates with contradictions: religious and raucous, tender but terrible, unfortunate yet irrepressible. These tales celebrate the glorious and gut-wrenching lives of four generations of Carpenter s raised on the Saint Lawrence River in Clayton, New York. Tales of underwater tea parties, drowning lessons and drives to the dump give voice to multi-generations of family life in a small river town with an undercurrent.”

Ithaca’s 24th Annual Depression Conference is sponsored by: the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County; Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services; Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca; Finger Lakes Independence Center; Ithaca College Gerontology Institute; The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; Multicultural Resource Center; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Tompkins County Mental Health Department; Tompkins County Office for the Aging; and the Tompkins County Public Library.

Photo Caption: Regi Carpenter

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