Preventing Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month (and September 10-16 is National Suicide Prevention Week). It’s a great time to learn what we can all do to save lives.

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Whether or not you have concerns about yourself or a friend or loved one, check out the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) today to watch videos and read expert advice on how to help people who may be struggling.

Click here for AFSP videos and webpages on topics such as how to start a conversion about suicide, talking about the topic with young people as well as the elderly.

Click here for a list of AFSP-recommended resources for crisis services, mental health care, and specific issues like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, stress, and suicide prevention.

Around the country, local chapters of the AFSP organize “Out of the Darkness” walks to raise money for research, educational programs, advocacy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. Coinciding with National Suicide Prevention Week, the Greater Ithaca walk takes place on Saturday, September 14 from 12 Noon to 2 p.m.

Click here to register for the Out of the Darkness Greater Ithaca Walk or to make a donation now to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the Crisisline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

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!

El Paso, Dayton, and Mental Illness

Is mental illness behind the mass shootings that occur in America—251 in the past 216 days? President Trump and leading Republicans are blaming mental illness in the aftermath of the latest killings, in El Paso and Dayton. Professional psychologists say mental illness is not the problem, guns, racism, intolerance, and bigotry are. Blaming mental illness for violence dangerously reinforces the stigma around mental illness, making it less likely that those who need treatment will receive treatment.

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March for Our Lives protest, Los Angeles, March 24, 2016

“These are people that are very, very seriously mentally ill,” Trump said of the mass shootings. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, also a Republican, said in El Paso after the Walmart massacre there: “Mental health is a large contributor to any type of violence or shooting violence.”

Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association, immediately pushed back against the blame in a statement on Sunday.

“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” she said. “Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”

More from the APA president’s statement:

“Our condolences are with the families and friends of those killed or injured in these horrific shootings and with all Americans affected every day by the twin horrors of hate and gun violence.

“As our nation tries to process the unthinkable yet again, it is clearer than ever that we are facing a public health crisis of gun violence fueled by racism, bigotry and hatred. The combination of easy access to assault weapons and hateful rhetoric is toxic. Psychological science has demonstrated that social contagion — the spread of thoughts, emotions and behaviors from person to person and among larger groups — is real, and may well be a factor, at least in the El Paso shooting.

“That shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, as it should be. Psychological science has demonstrated the damage that racism can inflict on its targets. Racism has been shown to have negative cognitive and behavioral effects on both children and adults and to increase anxiety, depression, self-defeating thoughts and avoidance behaviors.

“If we want to address the gun violence that is tearing our country apart, we must keep our focus on finding evidence-based solutions. This includes restricting access to guns for people who are at risk for violence and working with psychologists and other experts to find solutions to the intolerance that is infecting our nation and the public dialogue.”

Here are perspectives from a 2016 interview with Liza Gold, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University and editor of Gun Violence and Mental Illness:

“Most serious mental illness is only weakly associated with violence of any kind—and with gun violence in particular. Most people with serious mental illness are not violent; most people who are violent do not have serious mental illness. Individuals with mental illness are responsible for about 3 percent to 5 percent of all types of violence in the U.S.—when they do become violent, they are most likely to assault family members or commit suicide.

“Firearm violence committed by individuals with serious mental illness against strangers is one of the rarest forms of gun violence in the US. Of the approximately 33,000 firearm deaths each year, two-thirds are suicides. Less than 1 percent of all firearm deaths in the US occur in the context of mass shootings by individuals, with or without mental illness. So unless the media and politicians are talking about suicide deaths by firearms—which they never are—they are simply perpetuating negative stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness.

“The thinking goes like this: only someone who is crazy would commit such a horrible act and kill innocent people. We all know that crazy people are dangerous and violent; therefore, it must be people with mental illness who are behind these horrible acts. However, mass shootings are not invariably associated with people who have acute mental illness or a history of mental illness. Some do, but some don’t.

“Improved funding and resources for mental health systems and treatment would of course be welcomed. However, the repeated calls to “improve the mental health system” heard after mass shootings do not result in increased spending or funding. They merely serve as a politically expedient method to avoid talking about instituting sensible firearm regulation.”

Gold says the refrain to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill does a disservice to American society:

It reinforces the stigma and negative stereotypes associated with mental illness, making it less likely that those who need treatment will receive treatment.

It does not result in improved funding of or access to mental health treatment.

It allows politicians and media to avoid discussing sensible gun regulations.

Because no effective change results, the American people have come to believe that “nothing can be done” to stop the high toll of gun violence, despite the fact that we are the only country in the world with this kind of civilian gun violence problem.

The APA points to a variety of resources for people who are suffering distress in the aftermath of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton: