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

The Sophie Fund’s 2017 Campaign

Please consider making a donation today to advance The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives for young people in the Ithaca–Tompkins County community.

Sophie Fund Logo

We are working with state, county, and city officials, local mental health agencies, student groups, and college administrators to help our young people with mental disorders live safe and fulfilling lives.

Among our projects so far:

  • Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise awareness and funds for mental health initiatives
  • The Watershed Declaration by 18 organizations, pledging to intensify local suicide prevention efforts
  • Launch of Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition by more than 40 local leaders
  • Campaign to bring Zero Suicide Initiative to Tompkins County
  • The Sophie Fund Author Series: “Readings on Mental Health,” at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca
  • “Life Coach” initiative to provide local resources and support to college students on mental health leaves of absence

100% of donated monies go directly to local

non-profit organizations supporting mental health

To make a donation today, click here to be directed to The Sophie Fund donation page at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.

Thank You!

Bravo “Dear Evan Hansen”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a musical about teenagers in the age of social media dealing with anxiety, confusion, loneliness, hurt, and suicide. A brilliant, cathartic narrative for our times, it cries out for us to recognize human fragility and empathize with it.

 

 

That message spread far beyond Broadway on Sunday night when “Dear Evan Hansen” won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, best actor, and best score. The musical’s cast album, with songs like “You Will Be Found,” “Requiem,” and “Waving Through a Window,” debuted in the Billboard Top 10 earlier this year.

Best-actor winner Ben Platt, who is 23, reached out to vulnerable teenagers in his acceptance remarks during the nationally televised ceremony at Radio City Music Hall:

“To all young people watching at home, don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”

In the plot, anxiety-ridden teen Evan Hansen writes pep-talk letters to himself on the advice of his therapist. One of the letters ends up in the pocket of a social outcast named Connor, who then dies by suicide. The Connor connection takes Evan into a swirl of lies as he fabricates stories about a friendship with Connor and pursues the crush he has on Connor’s sister. Evan achieves temporary social media-fueled fame as a campaigner to aid other youth experiencing Connor’s mental health struggles. Evan’s charade collapses, but the ordeal brings him to a reconciliation with his single-parent mom and to healthier self-awareness.

“Dear Evan Hansen” has been praised for its sensitive handling of mental disorders and suicide. The production has openly associated itself with mental health and suicide prevention organizations like the Child Mind Institute, the Crisis Text Line, The Jed Foundation, and The Trevor Project.

The show’s songwriters, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won the Tony Award for best original score, spoke to Variety about the care they took in writing about teen suicide. As Paul put it:

“We wanted to make sure the subject was treated thoughtfully and sensitively. There was vetting of the script and of the story with mental health professionals, to make sure what we were telling felt truthful and honest, and like we weren’t trying to sugarcoat things, but that also wasn’t trying to provoke anything. There’s a small change in the show that we made between Second Stage and Broadway, the addition of two little lines toward the very, very end of the show, that we added after some feedback that we’d gotten from families of teenagers or people who had taken their own lives.”

 

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TIME’s Susanna Schrobsdorff captures the incredible impact “Dear Evan Hansen” is having on teenagers—and their parents:

Ask one of the many teenagers in the audience if the play seems authentic and they can barely get the words out. They say things like, “I’m in shock, it’s so good.” And often, right behind them, is a parent who’s also feeling undone. I lost it in the first act when the two stellar actors who play mothers of teens sing about feeling totally unqualified for the job of being a parent. “Does anybody have a map?” they cry. “Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?”

Mayor Svante Myrick: Support Suicide Prevention

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation Wednesday in support of The Watershed Declaration, a commitment by local mental health stakeholders to intensify efforts to prevent suicide in the community.

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“I call upon our citizens, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions to raise awareness of Ithaca’s mental health support services, encourage those in need to seek treatment, honor those in our community we have lost too soon, and commit to an all-out effort to prevent suicide,” Svante said in issuing the proclamation at the start of the Ithaca Common Council meeting Wednesday evening.

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting held on April 17 of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The declaration termed suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Myrick said there is strong evidence that a comprehensive public health approach is effective in preventing suicide, and called on the community’s health and behavioral health systems to prevent suicide deaths using the best available information and practices.

Moreover, Myrick said, “every member of our community can play a role in protecting their friends, family members, and colleagues from suicide. Our community needs to advance suicide prevention by fighting the stigma around mental health and seeking treatment for mental disorders.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, expressed her gratitude for “the mayor’s support for reinvigorating our community’s commitment to suicide prevention. The need has never been greater. Unfortunately, suicide rates have been increasing in the last 15 to 20 years.”

“This proclamation is highlighting the need to address suicide prevention,” said Sharon MacDougall, deputy commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County. MacDougall added that her agency is working with the New York State Office of Mental Health to create a Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “Selected key stakeholders will be invited to a planning meeting to start the Tompkins Suicide Prevention Coalition this summer,” she said. “This coalition will help coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies, providers and others to improve suicide prevention across Tompkins.”

Proclamation

The Watershed Declaration was adopted by acclamation at a meeting of 18 organizations hosted by The Sophie Fund, which was established in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to promote improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.

The Watershed Declaration stated:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Photo caption: Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, The Sophie Fund Co-Donor Advisor Scott MacLeod, and Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin

Thank You for Your Service

By David Shapiro

Thank You For Your Service, the 2016 documentary by Tom Donahue, opened my eyes to the mental trauma that our military veterans can fall victim to. Among the shocking realities highlighted by the film is that 20 veterans take their own lives every day in the United States. Thank You for Your Service goes beyond the statistics to reveal the failed mental health policies within the U.S. military.

It is a privilege for Family & Children’s Service in Ithaca to share this important movie with our community and participate in advocacy for improved mental health care for our veterans and active service men and women. The screening of Thank You For Your Service at Cinemapolis on May 17-18 is sponsored through Family & Children’s Pamela and Robert Swieringa Education Center, carrying on a tradition we began last year in using cinema as a powerful public educational platform during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Thank You for Your Service features all manner of players and experts discussing the mental health crisis in the U.S. military, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ex-CIA chief David Petraeus, and war correspondents like Sebastian Junger and Dexter Filkins. But most importantly, the film gives voice to the voiceless veterans themselves. The Hollywood Reporter aptly summarized the story in its review of Thank You for Your Service:

The interview subjects all agree that the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have not sufficiently attended to veterans’ mental health needs, and the problems they cite are numerous. Among them are bureaucratic inefficiencies, lack of funding, the overprescribing of psychotropic medications, a lack of qualified therapists, and extended tours of duty that result in soldiers serving far longer than they bargained for.

But it’s not the expert commentary, as illuminating as it is, that gives the film its power. Rather, it’s the handful of veterans who discuss their emotional struggles, both while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and after their discharge. One describes watching his best friend being burned alive, while another relates how he felt so guilty over civilians killed as a result of his actions that he attempted to find their family members to apologize. They talk about suffering from nightmares and PTSD; resorting to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain; and, in one case, playing Russian roulette.

Thank You for Your Service has won awards, but its producers are determined to achieve something else: change. They are urging movie-goers to take action in support of a proposed Behavioral Health Corps in the armed services that would focus on addressing critical mental health needs.

“If the public takes one message away from this film: reach out to your member of congress and request that they support a behavior health corps in the military,” says Daniel Rice, president of the Thayer Leader Development Group. “That will be the best action that they can take to help address the plague of suicides that our veterans are suffering.”

David Shapiro is chief executive officer of Family & Children’s Service in Ithaca

Cinemapolis Program Details:

May 17: Film at 6:30 p.m., Panel Discussion at 8:30 p.m.

May 18: Film at 7 p.m.

Also in Mental Health Awareness Month:

Family & Children’s Service Annual Celebration

Honoring:

Adga Osborn Award recipient Joan Jacobs Brumberg

Family Partner of the Year Serendipity Catering

Volunteer of the Year Bert Odom-Reed

Guest Speaker:

Karl Pillemer

Director of Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Tuesday May 16

8-9:30 a.m.

Ithaca Country Club

189 Pleasant Grove Road

Click here to purchase tickets