The Cornell Health building on Campus Road.

Vas Mathur / Sun Staff Photographer

The Cornell Health building on Campus Road.

October 17, 2017

State, Campus Leaders Discuss Preventing Suicide in Health Care System

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Representatives from New York state, Cornell and Ithaca met on campus Monday to discuss an initiative whose goal is to stop suicides that occur while people are under the care of health systems, less than two years after a Cornell student killed herself while on medical leave.

The event, in support of the Zero Suicide initiative, was hosted in part by the county’s Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service and The Sophie Fund, a donor-advised fund created in honor of Sophie MacLeod ’14, who killed herself while on medical leave in March 2016.

Sophie’s father, Scott MacLeod, said the meeting was not open to The Sun because of “logistical reasons,” but members of the meeting were debating what could be done to increase prevention in the Ithaca-area with methods proposed by the Zero Suicide initiative, which is “a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems,” according to its website.

Zero Suicide, run by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, aims to reduce suicide, specifically for those who have sought care from medical professionals.

Dr. Michael Hogan ’69, former commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health and a co-founder of the Zero Suicide initiative, said the meeting was important because many health care organizations do not do enough to prevent its patients killing themselves or do not have the resources to follow up on currently or formerly-suicidal patients.

“Ironically, the time that people are at the greatest risk of suicide is just after they get out of psychiatric hospitalization,” Hogan told The Sun.

Hogan said that, at the meeting, attendees privately discussed how Tompkins County might work together to make sure that people who are coming out of the hospital get a “caring contact,” a phone call or email which he said is proven to reduce suicide attempts.

The meeting was a collaborative conversation on making health care across Tompkins County “suicide-safe,” Hogan said.

“This kind of dialogue, between colleges and universities and community leaders and community health leaders was actually a more thoughtful and a deeper discussion than I had been part of before,” Hogan said.

Dr. Kent Bullis, executive director of Cornell Health, said that although no changes have resulted from the initiative, he hopes to work with the community to explore strategies to continue to combat suicide.

“We believe that promoting mental health and preventing suicide is a shared responsibility of the campus and local community,” Bullis said.

Hogan said such collaboration would continue to be beneficial because Cornell is “very far advanced” in its efforts to prevent suicide and Cornell’s “community-wide approach” could greatly benefit Tompkins County if health care organizations also prioritize suicide prevention.

“Cornell and our community partners can reinforce the message, whether you are a student or long-term member of the community, [that] it is vital that we care for each other and reach out to those who may be struggling.” Bullis said. “Help is available and it works.”