Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Mental Health Task Force letter drop at Day Hall on November 30th, 2018.

December 4, 2018

Task Force Chairs Assess Mental Health Climate

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Following the Mental Health Task Force submission of a letter outlining potential actions to improve mental health services on campus to Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, The Sun talked to Joanna Hua ’20 and Chelsea Kiely ’20, two of the three task force co-chairs, about their roles leading the initiative.

Hua and Kieley discussed their personal experiences with mental health, experiences interacting with Cornell’s current mental health system and their time working with the Task Force over the past year.

The Mental Health Task Force was founded by senior Matthew Jirsa ’19 last year. Hua and Kiely joined after applications went out.

When Hua was a freshman, she began experiencing patterns in her mental health that she “didn’t really recognize within” herself.

Fast-forward to sophomore year and she “started to recognize again those patterns and [she] started speaking out a little bit more about mental health” in her social circles.

Hua said the first time she went to CAPS counseling it “was a horrible experience,” and, being a young woman raised in an Asian culture, felt that CAPS counselors weren’t hearing her.

As a result of her experiences, Hua joined the task force in Spring 2018 because “that’s when it really snowballed for me.”

Kiely joined the Task Force after Jirsa and Hua, but said when she joined, she was “extremely inspired and motivated by the determination of others on the Task Force and members on the campus community” in their pursuit of bettering mental health on campus.

She said the Mental Health Task Force has gotten a positive reception overall from the campus community, “which in itself is a good sign that people not only accept change but actively want it.”

Kiely believes that the letter and the Task Force itself will start “much-needed action” towards changing Cornell’s mental health climate, beyond the discussing and educating phase.

A year ago, Emery Bergmann ’21, created a video for her Introduction to Digital Media class about loneliness that went viral, the Sun previously reported. Hua and Kiely believe that this video does shed some light on loneliness and campus culture on Cornell.

“Everyone seems to be stressed all the time, involved in a million things at once, and seemingly on top of everything. However, this isn’t always the case, and the stress olympics that occur at this school is just one reason why extreme loneliness can occur,” Hua said.

In her work with the Mental Health Task Force, Hua wants to emphasize that there is still more to do with regards to mental health on Cornell’s campus, both in terms of CAPS and the conversation around mental health.

“Whether or not our recommendations end up successful or not, the climate at Cornell in terms of how students approach mental health is definitely shifting towards the better,” Hua said.

The proposed reforms outlined in the letter include hiring more CAPS counselors, increasing access to off-campus mental health networks, appointing permanent mental health advocates as liaisons between students and administrators and creating a transparent grading scheme to ease stress.

This article is part of the Loneliness Project: a multimedia collaboration between WRFI, The Ithaca Voice, The Cornell Daily Sun, and the Ithaca College Park Scholars.