New Step Toward “Zero Suicide” in Tompkins County

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.

Zero Suicide roundtable participants, July 20

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 two-hour roundtable was moderated by Jenna Heise, director of Suicide Prevention Implementation at the Office of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

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:

Zero Suicide Organizational Self-Study

Transforming Systems for Safer Care

Quick Start Guide to Getting Started with Zero Suicide

“Vital Signs: Suicide rising across the US,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Changes in Suicide Rates United States, 2018–2019,” MMWR, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Sentinel Event Alert Issue 56: Detecting and treating suicide ideation in all settings, The Joint Commission

National Patient Safety Goal for suicide prevention, The Joint Commission

Three-Year Strategic Plan 2022-2025, Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition

Resolution 2018-155, Suicide Prevention Coalition Zero Suicide Initiative, Tompkins County Legislature

The Watershed Declaration

Mental Health Support and Crisis Services Tompkins County, The Sophie Fund

“Health Care Contacts in the Year Before Suicide Death,” Journal of General Internal Medicine, by Brian K. Ahmedani, et al.

“Suicide Prevention: An Emerging Priority For Health Care,” Health Affairs, by Michael F. Hogan and Julie Goldstein Grumet

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.

“Understanding, Identifying, and Addressing Suicide Risk: A Clinical Primer for Behavioral Health Providers,” on March 9 by The Wellness Institute

“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.

“Zero Suicide: Best Practices for Primary Care,” on June 16 by Virna Little, Co-Founder and CEO of Concert Health.

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.

Cornell Fraternity Serves the Ithaca Community

“Service” is a word bursting with meaning for the Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter Service Team, as we have learned first-hand here at The Sophie Fund.

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A little more than a year ago, we decided to organize a cupcake baking contest in the Ithaca Commons. Our idea was to raise some money for mental health initiatives, bring some cupcake joy to Ithaca, and fight the stigma around mental health and treatment. Sophie (’14) was an avid baker and loved baking cupcakes from an early age.

An APO brother came across some publicity for the contest and quickly contacted us. She said she would encourage APO Gamma brothers to bake some cupcakes, but she also wanted to know “if there was any way our brothers could help out.”

Our answer was “Yes!” The truth was that we had thrown the contest together at the last minute, and we desperately needed help with logistics on event day. APO Gamma dispatched a dozen or so brothers to the Bernie Milton Pavilion who helped with everything from registering scores of contestants, inventorying the cupcakes for panels of judges, preparing awards certificates for the winners, and mopping up the site afterwards. The flood of contestants was much more than we anticipated. The 1st Annual Cupcake Baking Contest was a big success.

APO Gamma, we couldn’t have done it without you!

In January, APO Gamma was ready to start talking about how they could support the 2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest 10 months away. In numerous meetings at Starbucks downtown and at Willard Straight Hall on campus (not to mention countless emails), APO Gamma helped us design a sequel that included a fun fundraising element—collecting donations for mental health initiatives and giving donors “cupcake buttons” in return.

Starting in late September, APO Gamma squads fanned out to Ho Plaza, GreenStar Natural Foods Market, and the Apple Harvest Festival to advocate for mental health, take donations for this year’s cause—suicide prevention—and promote the cupcake contest to be held in the Commons on October 14. APO Gamma raised more than $500, well above our expectations.

More important, the brothers’ presence on campus and in the community generated further awareness and prompted conversations that make a difference and could save a life. We know from Sophie’s experience with depression and anxiety, which led her to take a health leave of absence only six months away from graduation, how important it is to know that there is help, that people care.

At The Sophie Fund, we are overwhelmed not only by APO Gamma’s aid with fundraising and contest logistics, but by the heart that the brothers put into their service to the community. We know that APO Gamma is involved around the clock in so many other projects supporting mental health. It is truly something to admire.

We’re expecting a larger turnout for the 2017 cupcake contest. Once again, it wouldn’t happen without APO Gamma.

(Editor’s Note: This blog post written by The Sophie Fund originally appeared October 10, 2017 on the Service Blog of Alpha Phi Omega—Gamma Chapter)

Photo Caption: APO Gamma brothers volunteering for the 2016 Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest

Cornell’s Walk for Suicide Prevention

Cornell University’s Phi Sigma Pi (PSP) national honor fraternity sponsored a suicide prevention walk on April 28 to benefit The Sophie Fund of Ithaca and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Phi Sigma Pi organized this walk because we wanted to increase campus conversation about mental health,” said PSP brother Elizabeth Cavic (’18), who studies Human Development in the College of Human Ecology. “We believe that people not engaging in these critical conversations about mental health perpetuates the stigma surrounding poor mental health, which contributes to further stigmatization.”

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund, thanked Cavic, her fellow PSP brothers, and all those who participated in the walk. “We’ve had the honor of working with Phi Sigma Pi on other mental health projects, and are very grateful for the support it gives to mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts,” he said.

MacLeod and his wife Susan Hack established The Sophie Fund in 2016 to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca area. The fund is in memory of their daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod (’14), who died by suicide in Ithaca in March 2016.

PSP is a co-educational fraternity open to undergraduate students that embraces the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and fellowship. The PSP Beta Nu Chapter at Cornell was founded in 1994 and has about 80 active members in a given semester.

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

Vijay Pendakur’s Story

Vijay Pendakur, the new dean of students at Cornell University, pronounces himself an active advocate for student wellness. It’s a position that seems driven from personal experience.

pendakur

During a talk on February 2 at Cornell’s Center for Intercultural Dialogue (reported by the Cornell Daily Sun), he revealed how he and his sister were harassed and bullied growing up in Chicago as the children of immigrants from India. He spoke candidly about how he struggled socially and benefited from seven years of psychotherapy.

From the Cornell Daily Sun’s report:

He recalled moving to the north side of Chicago as “challenging” and “transformative,” because he and his sister experienced harassment and bullying as minorities in their community.

Even after moving out of Chicago, Pendakur said he continued to face microaggressions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, he said he was challenged to adjust to a predominantly white, rural student population.

Pendakur also struggled to make friends and used hypermasculinity as a coping mechanism to face his fears.

“As a man, I did not talk with anybody about how I really felt,” he said. “I was deeply scarred and troubled inside but the outside was just like chip on my shoulder all the time because that was the learned behavior for me to stay safe.”

Pendakur said his academic pursuits in American history, Africana studies and gender studies helped him contextualize his struggles. While he continued to struggle socially, he found a mentor through a job at the campus multicultural center, which eventually led him to find a vocation in social justice and diversity education.

During his career he received psychotherapeutic help for seven years—a decision he made after a low point in his late 20’s—and found that he was able to “rewrite [his] history.”

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “For me, the psychotherapeutic process allowed me to actually go back and turn the mirror inward.”

In an interview with the Cornell Chronicle published January 18, Pendakur addressed the mental health struggles of today’s college students:

Across higher education, we are seeing a rising prevalence of complex mental health concerns, stress and medical needs. Wellness is part of the fundamental investment college and university campuses need to make to enhance learning. For example, if you are not sleeping, or are dealing with a body image issue or a deep sense of isolation, your organic chemistry or calculus class becomes secondary.

Pendakur comes to Ithaca from California State University, Fullerton, where he served as associate vice president for the Division of Student Affairs. He earned a B.A. in History and East Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 2001, an M.A. in U.S. History from the University of California, San Diego, in 2005, and an Ed.D. from DePaul University in 2013.

From The Cornell Daily Sun

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The Cornell Daily Sun, April 19, 2016

Sophie MacLeod ’14 Dies After Battle With Depression

By Josh Girsky

Sophie MacLeod ’14 died the weekend of March 25 from a prescription drug overdose while on medical leave from Cornell after a long battle with depression. She was 23.

“Many of you will remember Sophie as a vibrant young artist, a talented violinist, and a young woman with a unique global background and perspective,” said Dean Kent Kleinman in an email sent to students and faculty in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. “We mark her untimely passing with sorrow.”

The daughter of American foreign correspondents, MacLeod was born in Johannesburg and lived in South Africa and France before attending high school at Cairo American College in Egypt, where she was a member of the national honor society, sang in the choir and played violin in the orchestra, according to her father Scott MacLeod.

At Cornell, MacLeod studied Fine Arts in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning and brought a unique perspective to her studies, according to the email.

In addition to her studies at Cornell, Sophie also worked at the dessert bar at Madeline’s restaurant for a year and a half and at Argos Inn, where she was affectionately known as “the chemist” for her “craft cocktail concoctions,” according to MacLeod.

Rachel Donohue, a high school friend of MacLeod remembers how passionate MacLeod was.

“One of the biggest characteristics I really loved about her was how passionate she could get in how much she loved her friends or her family or even greek yogurt,” Donohue said.

Donohue remembers specifically how much MacLeod loved baking.

“It was artwork when she baked anything. Everything looked like it should come out of a magazine,” she said.

Aliana Heffernan ’14, said that after meeting MacLeod when they lived together in Risley Hall, MacLeod’s became one of her best friends.

“She had such a creative mind, from her photography to her cooking,” Heffernan said. “Sophie just had a certain way of seeing things. She also had the weirdest sense of humor, but she could always crack me up even if I was absolutely miserable. Her creativity and her off-color humor, that’s what I’ll miss most.”

Her father added that most of her friends believed Sophie would succeed in her battle with depression.

“It was a struggle she was determined to win, and nobody around her doubted that she would do so,” he said. “She touched the hearts of everyone in her intersecting circles of friends, mentors and family members, who she loved dearly and who so dearly loved her.”

The MacLeod family has established The Sophie Fund under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, which will help support the fight against mental illness in young people, according to the fund’s website.

Her father said Sophie will be remembered for her many wonderful qualities including her “sweet smile” and her “unwavering attachment to friends.”

“Much much too short, Sophie’s was a wonderful life,” her father said.

University Resources: Members of the Cornell community seeking spport can called Gannett Health Services’ Counseling and Psychological Services (607-255-3277), the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (607-255-2673), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or find additional resources at caringcommunity.cornell.edu.