The Importance of Understanding and Treating Mental Health

Mental health. It is a term that generates many different meanings and connotations in today’s society.

For Katherine Cohen-Filipic, an assistant professor of sociology at Ithaca College who specializes in mental health, “mental health is how someone is managing their mental states and how they’re managing their role in society.”

Jacob Parker Carver, a community educator at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, said that “mental health means your mind is operating in a way that allows you to live, laugh, and love.”

No matter the definition, mental health is a significant part of a person’s overall well-being, yet it is still misunderstood by many people.

“A lot of efforts are underway [to promote awareness about mental health], but the message isn’t all the way out yet,” said Cohen-Filipic. “There are a lot of people who still need to be reached.”

Mental illness is something that affects many people in the community. According to a 2010 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 673,000 adults and 204,000 children in New York state live with serious mental health conditions.

But those numbers do not tell the whole story. Carver estimates that one in five Americans are suffering from anxiety that is clinically diagnosable, although some people who are suffering might not even know it.

He also says that the vast majority of people with mental illness do not suffer from conditions, such as schizophrenia, that are what the public tends to think of when mental illness comes to mind. Rather, they are dealing with much less visible forms of mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, which are more difficult to identify.

Once a person is aware that they are suffering from a form of mental illness, however, they do not always seek the treatment they need.

Youths MH Graph
Data courtesy of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that, in New York state, 59 percent of youths who suffered a major depressive episode, and 61 percent of adults with any form of mental illness, did not receive treatment for their condition.

“It’s sad. It’s tragic,” said Carver. “Most people don’t the help that they need.”

Adults MH Graph
Data courtesy of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The biggest obstacle that prevents people from getting treatment is the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

Cohen-Filipic believes the media plays a large role in perpetuating this stigma. She said that the negative images about mental health that are put forward by the media are the most obvious form of stigma, and that those negative images get internalized by everyone, even by those within mental health providers, and prevent people from seeking the treatment that they need.

Carver knows that this stigma is very evident in today’s society, and he sees examples of it when he is out in the community promoting awareness for mental health.

“People see the words ‘mental health’ on my table and look the other way,” he said. “One time, I was tabling at an event, and I saw someone who has a daughter with whom I had worked with. I waved to her, but she ignored me. She didn’t want to be associated with mental health.”

“Stigma comes from ignorance,” Carver went on to say. “People don’t know what mental health and mental illness is, so they don’t want to be identified with it. [Getting help] shouldn’t be a weird conversation. People should get their resources without being stressed about it.”

Another problem faced by mental health providers is a lack of funding. Carver says that the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County used to be able to offer one-on-one programs for those who are suffering from mental illness, which, in his opinion, were some of the most important services that the center offered. However, they can no longer offer these programs because of budget cuts from the state.

Despite these challenges, progress towards educating the public about mental health and mental illness is being made.

Survey Graph 1
Results from the survey that Ithaca Mental Health conducted

In a survey that Ithaca Mental Health conducted, 87 percent of respondents said that mental health is “very important” to a person’s well-being, and 93 percent said that mental health and mental illness is a major issue in today’s society.

In the 2014 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 80 percent of adults and 85 percent of youths reported improved functioning from treatment received in the public mental health system in New York state.

“It’s gotten better, said Cohen-Filipic. “We need to work with everyone to understand difference and be more accepting. That will apply to understanding and accepting mental health.”

*This story is a part of a larger group project, Ithaca Mental Health, which can be found here.



Community Center Getting Much Needed New Playground

The center’s iconic “bridge between the trees” structure, which will be renovated as a part of the new playground.

The Coddington Road Community Center is finally getting the new playground that they have been waiting for thanks to a collaboration with the Habitat for Humanity club at Ithaca College.

“It’s been on the project list for a while,” said Heather Mount, Executive Director of the center. “There’s not much going on right now out there. We’ve never had a permanent playground for the kids to play on.”

The new playground will provide a great place to play and have fun for the 250 children who are members of the center, said Mount, as well as the general public, to which the playground will be open.

The new playground will be completed in two phases. The first phase, which was put into place on April 24, involved installing smaller play structures, such as a small rock-climbing wall and balance beam.

The second phase will be finished sometime in May, before the end of the spring semester at Ithaca College, and will be focused on building and installing a large play house with slides, as well as restoring the center’s iconic “bridge between the trees” structure.

This project is a departure from the norm for the Habitat for Humanity club, which usually focuses on affordable housing, and whose projects are usually outside of the Ithaca area.

The current play area at the center lacks a large permanent play structure.

“It’s nice to go right down the road and contribute something,” said Brendan Davis, the president of Ithaca College’s Habitat for Humanity club.

According to Davis, a member of the club who had volunteered at the center came up with the idea to help them build a new playground, and the center jumped at the idea.

“It’s great, they’re really excited to help us out,” Mount said about working with the club members. “It’s been a lot more work than they thought, but they’ve rolled with it and have been flexible.”

Davis also added that the center has been very accommodating to the busy schedules of college students, and that the effort to build the playground has “been a true collaboration.”

A new playground has been on the minds of people at the center for a long time, but they have been unable to put a plan into action due to various funding issues. Mount said that the center had raised the necessary money to build a new playground fifteen years ago, but then the septic system at the center broke, so all that money had to go to installing a new system.

This time around, the funding has come from a GoFundMe campaign that is currently about $6,000 short of its goal, as well as a $5,000 donation from the Habitat for Humanity club. This shortage has caused some delays in the project, but they still have been able to get something done.

The delays have caused the volunteers to have some difficulty finding time in their busy schedules to work on the project. Davis said that he wishes that they had more time, but both the club and the center have done a good job being flexible with what time they do have.

“I’m excited to see what we’re going to be able to accomplish,” said Davis.

DeWitt Middle School Technology Team Heads to National Competition

DeWitt TSA Catapult.jpg
Team members Katrina Jander (left) and Isabelle Zanen with their first place catapult design

Months of hard work paid off for the members of the Technology Student Association at DeWitt Middle School when they finished first in nine out of twelve events at the New York State Conference on March 11, qualifying them for the national conference in Nashville this summer.

During the conferences, the DeWitt team, which is made up of 26 students who had to apply to become members, competes in a variety of events, such as building a catapult, working on construction challenges, and designing their own video game. The team’s entries are scored based on the performance of their design in the competition and their written portfolio that they create throughout the design process.

Each student on the team competes in multiple events, and, in many cases, there are multiple groups from the DeWitt team competing in the same competitions. This was the case for the catapult challenge at the state conference, where groups had to design a catapult that launched as many golf balls at a target as accurately and quickly as possible, and in which groups from the DeWitt team took home first, second, and third place.

According to eighth graders Isabelle Zanen and Katrina Jander, who both were a part of the group who finished in first place, the catapult took two or three sessions of two hours each to design, and another two six hour-long sessions to build using PVC piping.

Despite their first place finish, the group is not satisfied with the design, and will look to improve the accuracy and reload time of their catapult for the national conference.

For most of the challenges, the design process is very lengthy, mainly due to the complexity of the rules that outline the requirements of the designs.

Aidan Foley, an eighth grade student, said it took him and his teammates about two months to program their entry into the video game design competition, which ultimately did not even qualify to win a prize due to a rule violation. This setback will not stop these students though, as they plan on improving their game and submitting it in the national conference in June.

David Buchner, a technology teacher at DeWitt and one of the faculty advisors for the team, loves letting the students work through the designs and improvements themselves.

“It’s great to see the kids struggle, then realize after months that they’ve not only solved the problem, but they have some level of expertise,” said Buchner.

One of the most attractive parts of being on the team for many students is the wide variety of events there are to compete in. “It’s fun how you can pick the events that you like,” said Rohil Khatkhate, an eighth grader on the team. “It gives you a lot of creative freedom.”

Then there are the conferences themselves; the culmination of months of hard work and problem solving. Although many of the students very much enjoy putting their designs to the test, nerves do tend to run high during the events.

“The competitions get so tense when you’re waiting for the results,” said Jacob Yoon, a seventh grader who is in his first year on the team.

The most important competition of them all, the national conference, takes place in Nashville from June 28 to July 2. The team relies on funds from corporate sponsors and the Ithaca School District, as well as donations to the Ithaca STEM Advocates, to afford the travel and accommodation costs for the trip. This year will mark the 17th time that the DeWitt team will go the national conference in the 25 years that Buchner has been the faculty advisor.

Although doing well at the conferences is the team’s ultimate goal, it is not the most important thing.

“The best part is developing relationships with the kids,” said Buchner. “Those last a long time.”


Ithaca Heroin Plan Stirs Up Controversy

ITHACA, NY – On Feb. 24th, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick announced the Ithaca Plan, a proposal to improve drug treatment and prevention in the city of Ithaca, which has generated much debate.

One of the more controversial parts of the plan suggests that the city open a supervised injection site, a place where a person could go to take heroin in a safe environment. This site would be the first of its kind in the United States, although there are such facilities around the world.

Mayor Myrick believes that large scale proposals such as this site are necessary because of the severity of the drug problem in Ithaca and the surrounding area.

Source: Tompkins County Health Department, via the Ithaca Plan

According to the Tompkins County health department, drug-related deaths in Tompkins County have nearly tripled from 2004 to 2014. The number of misdemeanor drug law violation arrests in Tompkins County have risen over 61 percent in the past decade as well, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Stewart Auyash, who is an associate professor and chair of the department of health promotion and physical education at Ithaca College, has studied drug use and the war on drugs extensively throughout his career, and agrees with the mayor’s plan.

“Nothing really works,” said Auyash. “I’m an advocate for doing as much as we can, so I like the mayor’s approach of doing as much as he can. I would rather have an ambitious plan and risk things falling through the cracks than have a narrow plan that doesn’t cover enough”

However, not everyone shares this optimistic sentiment. Bill Rusen, the CEO of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, has doubts about the proposal.

“The jury is still out on the ethics and usefulness of a safe injection site,” Rusen said. “Too much time and energy is being spent talking about an injection site that hasn’t been proven to work”

There are supervised injection sites around the world that have been effective. In Vancouver for example, the supervised injection site that opened in 2003 has reduced fatal overdoses in the area by 35 percent, according to a 2011 study in The Lancet, a medical journal in the United Kingdom.

“People live longer,” said Mayor Myrick at the press conference on February 24th about the effectiveness of these sites. “More people get clean. More people get treatment.”

However, Rusen also feels that the controversy surrounding the injection site is overshadowing other parts of the plan, such as a detox facility and the implementation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, also known as LEAD.

“That’s a crying shame,” said Rusen. “If you started a detox facility and implemented the LEAD program, the results a year from now would be great. You could literally start detox tomorrow if the funds were there. Not having detox in this community is like having a hospital without an emergency room.”

It is not certain that any of these proposals will actually come to fruition. Mayor Myrick acknowledged that some elements, such as the supervised injection site, may require federal approval, and that they have yet to start the site selection process.

However, the mayor remains determined to do something, because, as he said at the press conference, “If we continue to do what we’ve done for the last four years, people will continue to die.”