It’s the start of a new academic year, and colleges are brimming with exciting academic challenges and social opportunities. A dark and often hidden side of student life, however, is the prevalence of sexual assault.
According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and college women aged 18-24 are at three times greater risk of sexual violence.
Among undergraduate students, 26.4 percent of females and 6.8 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, RAINN statistics show.
“College campuses can give you a sense of security, a feeling that everyone knows each other and watches out for one another,” RAINN says. “There are perpetrators who take advantage of this feeling of safety and security to commit acts of sexual violence.”
Check out RAINN’s Staying Safe on Campus webpage for important advice that may make a world of difference in your college experience.
“As bystanders, students can learn ways of stepping in to prevent crimes like sexual assault from occurring. When it comes to personal safety, there are steps you can take as well. No tips can absolutely guarantee safety—sexual violence can happen to anyone, and it’s not the only crime that can occur on a college campus. It’s important to remember that if you are sexually assaulted on campus it is not your fault—help and support are available.”
RAINN’s college webpage includes sections on increasing on-campus safety; protecting yourself in social settings; feeling safe after an assault; and additional resources for specifically for students.
Here is contact information concerning sexual assault for students studying in Tompkins County:
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 30 on August 23 this week, and we are marking the occasion to launch our 2022 fundraising appeal.
—Funding United in Kindness community events in October for Bullying Prevention Month.
—Funding training in mental health and suicide prevention for clinicians, social workers, and community members.
—Collaborating with student organizations to campaign against sexual assault on college campuses.
—Hosting our 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise awareness about mental health (In person again this year, in the Ithaca Commons October 15.)
A few highlights of The Sophie Fund’s work since our last fundraising appeal in 2021:
Zero Suicide Initiative. We hosted a series of five presentations and trainings for Tompkins County healthcare leaders, primary care physicians, clinicians, and social workers to advance an evidence-based model of suicide care.
Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest. We hosted the sixth annual contest (virtual edition, due to Covid-19). The contest brings together college and high school students, mental health providers, local businesses, and the general public to raise awareness about mental health.
Mental Health First Aid. The Sophie Fund provided grants to Tompkins Cortland Community College and the Mental Health Foundation to provide training to clinicians, students, and community members.
Breaking Our Silence: Storytelling for Mental Health. The Sophie Fund sponsored a series of film, theater, dance, literature, music, and other activities “to increase empathy, build understanding, and help lift the shroud of shame and secrecy around mental illness.”
Delia Divided. The Sophie Fund sponsored the Civic Ensemble ReEntry Theatre Program’s premier of a play exploring the impacts of mental health, incarceration, and racism.
Ithaca College Interns. We hosted two interns from Ithaca College during the 2021-22 academic year to write about mental health for our website: Matt Minton and Jordan Mast.
For more information on The Sophie Fund’s work, please visit:
Dear Parents: Sending kids off to college is an exciting experience. 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.
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.
The Sophie Fund has updated a guide to help parents—especially those whose children are attending college in Ithaca—better understand the challenges:
Top healthcare leaders in Tompkins County have agreed to form a steering committee to drive local implementation of the Zero Suicide Model, an emerging standard designed to save lives by closing gaps in the suicide care offered by and across healthcare providers.
The move came during “Zero Suicide Roundtable: A Discussion on Best Practices in Suicide Prevention with Tompkins County Healthcare Leaders,” hosted on July 20 at the Statler Hotel by The Sophie Fund and Tompkins County Mental Health Services.
The 13 roundtable participants represented Cayuga Medical Center, Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, Tompkins County Health Department, Tompkins County Mental Health Services, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cornell University, Tompkins Cortland Community College, and The Sophie Fund.
The leaders’ agreement is a step toward fulfilling Goal 2 of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition’s 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, adopted last February, which calls for “quality improvement for suicide care in all Tompkins County healthcare and behavioral health settings.”
The strategic plan’s Objective 2.3 calls for the formation of a “Zero Suicide Work Group comprised of leading health and mental health providers to share ideas, experiences, and challenges, and lead collaborative, sustainable efforts to implement the Zero Suicide Model throughout Tompkins County.”
Harmony Ayers-Friedlander, deputy commissioner of Tompkins County Mental Health Services, introduced Heise to the gathering “as we renew our commitment to the implementation of the Zero Suicide Model in our community, within, and across, our healthcare settings.” She noted that the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition was launched exactly five years earlier with the vision of “a community where no lives are lost to suicide.”
Addressing the healthcare leaders, Ayers-Friedlander added:
“Your presence here today serves as a reminder of just how important this work is. Zero Suicide works. Because it gives us hope that we can make a difference, direction through a systems-based framework when faced with the complexity of human suffering, and real tools that help us at each step of the way. Today is a time to evaluate where we are individually as institutions and collectively as a community in preventing suicide through this model.”
Jenna Heise, director of New York State’s Suicide Prevention Implementation, moderates a Zero Suicide leadership roundtable
Heise opened the roundtable with a brief overview of the Zero Suicide Model and then walked participants through a discussion on the model’s seven elements: leadership, training, screening and assessment, care planning, treatment, transition of care, and quality improvement.
“The foundational belief of Zero Suicide is that individuals in our care, on our watch, need not die by suicide, and that suicide is actually preventable for those in care,” Heise said. “The way that happens is that suicide prevention and suicide care become a core priority for health and behavioral health. We have not done a good job of that, frankly.”
“We need to have that leadership commitment,” Heise said. Under the model, she explained, a leadership commitment creates a “just culture” for suicide care that relies on systemic use of best practices rather than leaving suicide prevention to individual health workers.
“It has to be looked at as a systems problem,” she said. “For too long, we have left it to the crisis team or to one outstanding individual clinician or social worker, and our systems, or the newest person, the greenest person straight out of school, who had no schooling in suicide.”
Citing examples of successful implementation of Zero Suicide, such as in the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, Heise added: “It is an aspirational goal but it is quite attainable. There are folks that have done this work and committed to it, and followed this framework in implementing the seven elements, and they have shown that you could significantly reduce the suicides, by rate and number, within your healthcare organization.”
Heise commended Tompkins County’s approach to creating a “safer suicide community, wrapped around health and behavioral healthcare, including partners on board like the health department, behavioral health, large health systems, universities, higher ed, and so forth. That’s where you start to really see impact, everybody speaking the same language, using the same tools, the same best practices, the same framework. This is very exciting.”
Participants shared their experiences with various aspects of suicide prevention measures within their systems. They noted the importance of cross-system coordination and integration for suicide care, the challenge of staffing, and a desire for greater suicide-specific training. Several participants noted their continuous quality improvement efforts in suicide care but said they did not follow the Zero Suicide Model per se.
The Sophie Fund provided participants with a packet of materials about the Zero Suicide Model and previous suicide prevention efforts that have been undertaken in Tompkins County. The packet included the following items:
The roundtable was the fifth and final session of a Zero Suicide initiative launched by The Sophie Fund last November. Previous events included:
“Call to Action: Suicide Prevention in Healthcare,” an expert briefing on the Zero Suicide Model for Tompkins County healthcare leaders, on November 16 by Jenna Heise, Director of Suicide Prevention Implementation at the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.
“Implementation of Zero Suicide,” a suicide prevention presentation for front line managers, on March 24 by Tammy Weppelman, State Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 (or 1-800-273-8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
The 16 trainees were taught how to connect people to appropriate resources, that there is no-one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, and about the vital role that culture plays in how people understand and recover from mental health problems.
According to Little, ongoing research provides evidence that the trainings improve people’s understanding of mental health and help combat the stigma that persists in society around these issues.
“County residents from a wide variety of backgrounds came together to learn and improve their confidence in providing support for the people in their lives,” Little said. “While learning about recognizing and responding to mental health concerns, trainees came together in lively conversation, bringing up real-life situations and learning from each others’ experiences.”
The Mental Health Association has trained 113 people in Mental Health First Aid so far in 2022, with more courses planned for the rest of the year.
For more information or to inquire about receiving training in Mental Health First Aid, contact Melanie Little, director of Education at the Mental Health Association: firstname.lastname@example.org or (607) 273 9250.