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

Aiming for a Student Mental Health “Gold Standard” at Cornell

The Sophie Fund’s co-founders, saying that they are encouraged by Cornell University’s launch of a comprehensive review of student mental health policies and practices, called on the review teams to set the ambitious goal of creating a gold standard for collegiate mental health.

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100-year-old statue of Cornell founder Ezra Cornell in the Arts Quad

Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, who created The Sophie Fund in 2016 as a mental health advocacy group after the suicide death of their daughter Sophie during a health leave of absence from Cornell, made the statement in a 25-page presentation on August 23 to the two review teams containing their personal perspectives and main concerns. The review is taking place during the 2019-2020 academic year.

“At times, we have expressed frustration over delays in launching Cornell’s comprehensive review,” they wrote. “But it is important now to look forward and help ensure that it brings about the greatest possible support for student mental health.” The Sophie Fund founders said they “are encouraged by Cornell Health Executive Director Kent Bullis’s commitment to creating a ‘healthier and more supportive campus environment with improved support resources and clinical services for our students.’” MacLeod and Hack wrote to President Martha E. Pollack in April 2017 asking for an independent, external-led task force of experts to assess the university’s approach to student mental health and make recommendations for improvements.

Click here to download The Sophie Fund’s “Perspectives on Student Mental Health at Cornell University: A Presentation to the Mental Health Review Committee and the External Review Team.”

Highlights:

Scope of the Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

We encourage the review teams to set the ambitious goal of producing a model package of findings and recommendations enabling Cornell to establish a gold standard for collegiate mental health.

Cornell University’s Institutional Mindset

We encourage the review teams to review prevailing attitudes toward student mental health in the university’s leadership echelons; and consider recommendations for changes in institutional mindset and leadership culture as a necessary prerequisite for effectively addressing student mental health challenges.

Campus Climate and Institutional Accountability

We encourage the review teams to review the broad cross-campus framework for supporting student mental health and wellness, and consider recommendations for strengthening accountability; streamlining policies, programs, and practices; and enlisting schools, faculty, staff, and students in a comprehensive, coordinated, results-oriented effort that prioritizes student mental health, healthy living, and unqualified support for every student’s academic success.

Cornell University Student Mental Health Policies

We encourage the review teams to inform their findings and recommendations with a review of all current Cornell policies related to or affecting student mental health.

Cornell University Budgetary Resources

We encourage the review teams to review how university resources are allocated for student mental health; to explore potential new sources of funding; and consider budgetary recommendations based on what is needed to fully implement best practices.

Student Mental Health Data

We encourage the review teams to inform their findings and recommendations with a review of key data providing insights into the prevalence of mental health challenges and the means utilized to address them.

Cornell University Student Input

We encourage the review teams to actively seek and receive maximum input from students in order to fully understand the mental health challenges students face, which include seeking and receiving psychological counseling, navigating academic pressures that exacerbate mental disorders, and taking leaves of absence due to mental health crises; and consider recommendations strongly informed by student input.

Clinical Best Practices

We encourage the review teams to review the mental health policies, programs, and practices at Cornell Health and the Counseling and Psychological Services unit, and consider recommendations that ensure alignment with current best practices.

Mental Health Leaves of Absence

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s policies, programs, and practices for mental health leaves of absence; and consider recommendations for better supporting students in the process as they consider, take, and return from leaves.

Ithaca Community Resources

We encourage the review teams to undertake a review, including substantive discussions with Ithaca community stakeholders, of the practice of referring students to community service providers; and consider recommendations that better safeguard the mental health interests of students as well as community members.

Trauma at Cornell University

We encourage the review teams to review the prevalence of student sexual assault and hazing, the mental health consequences for victims, and the practices in place to address the problems and support the victims; and consider recommendations seeking an end to the cycle of student-inflicted trauma and ensuring maximum support for victims.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s Alcohol and Other Drug policies, programs, and practices; and consider recommendations for enhancing prevention and intervention strategies, treatment, and recovery support.

Prevention and Early Intervention, and Crisis Intervention

We encourage the review teams to review the university’s policies, programs, and practices for creating a safe community; preventing student suicides; supporting at-risk populations; and aiding students in crisis; and consider recommendations for improvements.

Mental Health Education

We encourage the review teams to review policies, programs, and practices for communicating knowledge and tools on mental health and fighting stigma; and consider recommendations for improvement.

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Are you a Cornell student or a member of the Ithaca community? You may provide your comments and ideas to the review teams by emailing the Mental Health Review Committee (MHRC) at this address: mhrc@cornell.edu.

The heads of the Mental Health Review teams are:

External Review Team:

Michael Hogan, consultant at Hogan Health Associates

Mental Health Review Committee:

Marla Love, senior associate dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students, Student and Campus Life

Miranda Swanson, associate dean for Student Services in Cornell Engineering

Cornell will soon be publishing an online survey about student mental health available here.

 See also:

Launching Cornell’s Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

 

 

Donate to The Sophie Fund: Our 2019 Appeal

Please consider making a donation today to support The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities. Sophie would have turned 27 this week, and we are marking the anniversary to launch our 2019 fundraising campaign.

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Special goals for the coming year include expanding participation in the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare in Tompkins County; promoting bullying prevention initiatives for K-12; advocating for college student mental health; and expanding our website and social media content.

We are proud to report on many collaborations and initiatives throughout the past year to benefit mental health in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities and on the Cornell University and Ithaca College campuses. Highlights:

Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force: The Sophie Fund in collaboration with the Tompkins County Youth Services Department spearheaded an initiative for a collective community effort to combat youth bullying, which includes more than 30 government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts.

Suicide Prevention: The Sophie Fund sponsored training in Mental Health First Aid for managers, chefs, servers, bartenders, baristas, and others in Ithaca’s high-stress hospitality sector. We also provided a grant for training 25 Cornell students in the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention program.

Cornell University Student Mental Health Review: The Cornell administration launched a review to take place during the 2019-2020 academic year. The Sophie Fund has been a prominent local advocate for a review since writing to President Martha E. Pollack in early 2017 expressing concerns about Cornell’s policies, programs, and practices.

The Reflect Organization: The Sophie Fund awarded a grant to The Reflect Organization, which facilitates innovative, proactive programs that provide college students with a safe forum to engage in open and honest discussion around mental health. The grant will help support the new Reflect chapter at Cornell University. From Reflect President Jared Fenton: “We are proud to be a partner of The Sophie Fund and honored to be a grantee. Capacity-building support is just what we need. It will profoundly enhance our ability to best serve the most students possible.”

“Mental Health Weekend” at Cornell University: The Sophie Fund collaborated with the Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter service fraternity and other student organizations to raise $1,367.50 for the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. Said APO President Winnie Ho: The Sophie Fund has become a recognizable name on our campus as an organization that has actively engaged with college students in every conversation about local and collegiate mental health.”

“Send Silence Packing”: The Sophie Fund provided the funding to Active Minds at Ithaca College for a stigma-fighting, awareness-raising suicide prevention exhibition featuring 1,100 backpacks to represent the average number of college students who die by suicide every year. A photo of the exhibition featured in a New York Times article on student mental health.

“The Loneliness Project”: The Sophie Fund provided a grant for a long form, multi-platform series about depression produced by WRFI Community Radio, Ithaca Voice, Cornell Daily Sun, and the Park Scholars Program at Ithaca College. The series won the 2019 small market radio category Award for Outstanding Public Affairs Program or Series from the New York State Broadcasters Association.

“Readings on Mental Health”: The Sophie Fund supported the 2018 author series featuring Laura June, Courtenay Hameister, and Kelly Jensen, presented by the Mental Health Association and hosted by Buffalo Street Books.

College Student Mental Health Leave of Absence: The Sophie Fund provided a grant to the Mental Health Association of Tompkins County to develop a project to support local college students considering or taking a leave of absence due to mental health struggles.

“Brief Guides” Series: The Sophie Fund published brief guides on student mental health advocacy, bullying prevention, and the Zero Suicide Model.

Ithaca College Interns: During the 2018-2019 academic year The Sophie Fund hosted four students from Ithaca College’s writing program—Margaret McKinnis, Amber Raiken, Chanelle Ferguson, and Nicole Kramer—to write articles about local mental health champions for our website.

Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest: The Sophie Fund organized its third annual contest last October to promote mental health awareness. The contest was sponsored by GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro and Spa. Volunteers from Cornell University and Ithaca College student organizations supported the contest, as did local mental heath organizations.

New York Honors The Sophie Fund: Last September, the New York State Office of Mental Health presented The Sophie Fund with the 2018 Excellence in Suicide Prevention Award at the annual New York Suicide Prevention Conference in Albany.

To Make a Donation:

Click Here for The Sophie Fund Donation Page

For more information on The Sophie Fund’s work, please visit:

http://www.thesophiefund.org

Thank You!

Launching Cornell’s Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health

In the six years that I’ve been at Cornell University, we have seen an unprecedented growth in the need for campus mental health services. While the Cornell administration has been extremely generous in increasing our clinical resources in recent years, it remains a challenge to keep pace with the growing need for care. And we’re not alone: universities across the country are struggling with similar challenges.

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Michael Hogan, leader of External Review Team

Beginning in 2018, I was part of many campus conversations—with students, colleagues, and campus leaders, including President Martha E. Pollack and Vice President Ryan Lombardi—about the need to find new ways to engage our community in addressing the environmental factors contributing to student distress, and to seek new perspectives on the services and resources available to students on campus.

In September 2018, these conversations and others led President Pollack to commit the university to a Comprehensive Review of Student Mental Health, to begin in 2019.

The Campus Health Executive Committee (CHEC) oversaw the development of the review’s scope and planning during the Fall 2018 semester. Feedback was solicited from a wide range of student, staff, and faculty stakeholders, including members of the university-wide Coalition on Mental Health. The consensus was that the comprehensive review should focus on two themes: how to meet the growing clinical needs of students facing mental health problems, and how to improve the campus environment and culture to better support student mental health.

In Spring 2019, CHEC announced the members of the two groups charged with conducting the review: an internal university Mental Health Review Committee tasked with examining Cornell’s academic and social environment, climate, and culture related to mental health, and an External Review Team responsible for reviewing the university’s clinical services and campus-based strategies.

The internal committee, made up of 13 students, faculty, and staff, is led by Marla Love, senior associate dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students, and Miranda Swanson, associate dean for Student Services in the College of Engineering.  Love and Swanson are seasoned student affairs professionals who are relatively new to Cornell, bringing a fresh perspective to the review process. Love joined Cornell in October 2017 after serving for 15 years at various institutions across the country including Scripps College and Phillips (Andover) Academy, and most recently at Azusa Pacific University. Swanson came to Cornell in December 2017 from the University of Chicago, where she spent 16 years as dean of students in the Physical Sciences Division and working with graduate students in the Humanities Division.

Members of the internal team include Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, mental health promotion program director for Cornell Health’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives; among the four students in the group is Chelsea Kiely ‘20, of the College of Arts and Sciences, who is president of Cornell Minds Matter, a student mental health promotion organization.

The External Review Team, comprised of three highly respected leaders in the field of mental health, is led by Michael Hogan, who served as mental health commissioner in New York, Connecticut, and Ohio over a span of 25 years. He is a member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s executive committee, and was a developer of the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare. Hogan chaired President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health and has served on the board of the Joint Commission, an independent organization that accredits healthcare organizations and programs in the United States.

The other members of the external team are Karen Singleton, associate medical director and chief of Mental Health and Counseling Services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Medical; and Henry Chung, senior medical director of Behavioral Health Integration Strategy at the Care Management Organization of Montefiore Health System, and professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Listening tours and focus groups will be held through the Fall 2019 semester, and the final report of findings and recommendations will be submitted in Spring 2020. Updates about the reviewers’ process and progress—in addition to the final report—will be posted on the Mental Health Review website.

I have also asked the members of both review teams to provide ongoing feedback to Cornell’s leadership as the review proceeds, including recommendations specific to our work at Cornell Health.

It is important for the Cornell community to note that we will not be waiting for the completion of the review to begin implementing important changes to our clinical services. A new counseling appointment model—which will include brief same-day appointments, and more options for follow-up care—will begin in Fall 2019. We look forward to the opportunity to gain valuable feedback and to identify opportunities for improvement.

I am grateful to President Pollack and Vice President Lombardi for prioritizing this university-wide review in support of student campus health. And I am confident that the review will result in a healthier and more supportive campus environment with improved support resources and clinical services for our students.

—By Kent Bullis

Kent Bullis, MD, is the executive director of Cornell Health

Photo credit: Suicide Prevention Resource Center (video screenshot)

Exploring Strategies to Stop Bullying

Surveying students about the prevalence of bullying. Training teachers, coaches, parents, and young people on how to respond. Encouraging youth to be upstanders. Holding annual Bullying Prevention Day activities to spread awareness. These were a few of the ideas discussed Saturday at a two-hour Community Forum sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

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Celia Clement reviewing feedback on school bullying

The Task Force held the forum to introduce its work to the public and to solicit ideas from the community on strategies to address bullying. More than two dozen government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts formed the Task Force in March.

“A lot of these conversations and diving deep into these topics can become very personal and very painful, which we want to honor,” said Nigel Gannon, a Healthy Living Program Specialist for New York State 4-H Youth Development, who moderated the forum.

“We have to develop spaces where we can have those emotions in a positive way. Remember that we are all feeling the same [about bullying], in some way, as individuals, as loved ones, as community members. We are not happy to be here, I think we are hopeful to be here. We’re going to help the Task Force get the information they need to try to move this forward.”

Scott MacLeod of The Sophie Fund kicked off presentations by Task Force working groups by reviewing basic information about bullying in national, regional, and local contexts.

He noted the federal government’s definition of bullying, and how it should be distinguished from other behaviors such as conflict, rudeness, and meanness:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”

MacLeod explained how bullying has psychological, physical, and academic effects, and adversely affects youth who are bullied as well as those who engage in bullying. He said that youth who are perceived as different, especially LGBTQ children, are at greater risk. Persistent bullying, he added, can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior. MacLeod said that while there is no federal stature that expressly outlaws bullying, New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) came into force in 2012 to protect students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

Citing statistics, MacLeod’s report said 19 percent of American high school students are bullied, and 14.9 percent experience cyberbullying. He said that data for the 2017-2018 school year, most likely reflecting underreporting, showed that Tompkins County school districts had 109 incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bullying , and 20 incidents of cyberbullying.

Celia Clement, a retired school social worker and now an independent consultant, delivered a report on potential approaches for addressing bullying in schools. She identified five areas for attention:

  • Communication: Families are not always getting the information they need about bullying definition, prevention, intervention, education, district policies and the laws involved such as the Dignity for All Students Act.
  • Education: Families and school staff want help around recognizing signs that their youth are struggling with mental health challenges, social challenges, or bullying. Students need to be educated as well around what is bullying, recognizing the difference between peer conflict and bullying, knowing the warning signs when adults need to be informed, and ways to intervene effectively when they see bullying, harassment or cyber bullying, or suicide warning signs.
  • Prevention: The key to successful intervention models is to include students as the core drivers when building programs that promote positive school cultures. There are existing local programs that can serve as models: Friendship Assistance Brigade, Stars, Be the One, and Welcoming Allies and Mentors.
  • Intervention: There is a need to educate school teaching staff and administrators about best practice around intervention when situations of conflict, bullying, harassment and cyber bullying occur—such as restorative practices as a way to support the target and to help the aggressor make changes. There is a need to offer strategies and tools to work with families in a way that promotes outcomes where everyone feels good about the process of addressing conflict and bullying situations.
  • Assessment: Schools need to conduct surveys about bullying to inform decisions for addressing the problem.

MacLeod also delivered a working group report on potential approaches for addressing bullying outside school property. He cited numerous ideas including holding an annual community forum and student leadership summit, providing training and information workshops, and launching awareness projects such as an annual Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Day.

Beth Hogan, a member of the Task Force’s Family Advisory Group, delivered a working group report on the concerns of parents surveyed by the group. She said parents experienced a significant increase in stress over bullying, and felt that they themselves were effectively being bullied. The parents believed that bullying was causing heightened levels of anxiety and depression in children, she added.

Hogan said that schools were reactive rather than proactive, and that mental health services inside and outside schools were inadequate. Hogan’s report called for frequent communication about bullying, including about the Dignity Act, to staff, families, and students. She said youth and parent involvement in bullying prevention should be a priority, and that the work should begin in the elementary grades.

Sophie Callister, a former student in the Lansing Central School District and now a student at Ithaca College, is the coordinator of the Task Force’s Student Advisory Group. “The bullying task force is something that means a huge deal to me because from third grade all through my school career it was a huge problem,” she said. “I want kids to feel like there is somebody willing to listen and help them and that they feel safe every day. I never really felt safe in school.” She said that rather than school counselors or psychologists the only person she felt she could go to for support was a math teacher. Callister said a goal of the task force is “to get the community involved—parents, students, everybody. This is not a time to be quiet.”

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Community Forum on Bullying Prevention, Tompkins County Public Library

Forum participants provided feedback and engaged in discussion in breakout sessions. On school programs, participants argued that schools under report bullying incidents and do not create safe spaces for students. They noted that teachers and coaches themselves sometimes engage in bullying by humiliating students/athletes. Participants suggested strategies including peer mentors and giving students tools for confronting bullying.

For public action, participants proposed holding local public forums within the county’s six school districts to better encourage family participation in bullying prevention initiatives. Participants supported the idea of providing training and workshop opportunities to educate the community about bullying and prevention methods, and called for a centralized resource to provide information about the Dignity Act and how to file complaints about bullying incidents. The participants also endorsed exploring synergies with existing programs and activities, such as the “Be the One” campaign.

Participants who focused on family and student involvement emphasized the need for developing a common language to understand bullying, and the importance of student-led initiatives for success. They noted that it was essential to view those who bully as people also in need of support to address the underlying causes of their behavior.

Some participants called for greater attention to students who may be experiencing suicide ideation, noting that four young people from the Lansing community have died by suicide in just the past year. Participants highlighted opportunities for students to become involved by forming chapters of organizations such as Active Minds and Sources of Strength, and participating in activities such as Mental Health First Aid for Teens.

Click here to read Becky Mehorter’s Ithaca Voice article on the Community Forum, “Task force brings community together to address bullying in local schools.”

Click here to read Matt Steecker’s article in the Ithaca Journal on the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force, “Finding solutions to bullying: Task force to hold forum at library.”

Click here to visit The Sophie Fund’s website resource page on bullying prevention.