Vasudha Mathur / Sun File Photo

In an email last week, Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, outlined plans to improve mental health at Cornell. But for The Sophie Fund, a mental health advocacy group, the statement wasn't enough.

March 28, 2019

Cornell’s Plans to Reform Mental Health ‘Disappointing,’ The Sophie Fund Says

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Students weren’t the only ones left with questions after the administration sent out an email to students last week outlining plans for mental health reforms on campus. The Sophie Fund, an advocacy group focused on supporting mental health initiatives in Ithaca, called the plans “disappointing” in a posted response.

The blog post, which expressed several concerns with the initiatives, was written by The Sophie Fund co-founders Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, whose daughter Sophie Hack MacLeod ’14 died by suicide in 2016 while on medical leave from Cornell.

“When we saw the announcement from Vice President Lombardi, we were disappointed and surprised — surprised because we were looking for the hallmarks of a comprehensive review, which we don’t see in that statement,” MacLeod told The Sun.

Though MacLeod and Hack supported the reforms — which include decreased wait times and in-person initial appointments — they said that information was missing from Lombardi’s public announcement. Absent details included who will run the external review, whether they will make recommendations for reforms and what the scope of the internal review committee will be — which Lombardi said would “gather information” about the campus environment.

The Sophie Fund also took issue with the University dividing the review into two separate committees — an external team to examine mental health services and an internal committee that will evaluate campus climate, according to Lombardi’s email. The Sophie Fund said that this will prevent either committee from holistically analyzing mental health at Cornell.

Due to the “the interconnectedness and complexity of student mental health challenges,” The Sophie Fund believes a holistic external review should evaluate not only Cornell Health services, but also “university policies, administration commitment, academic culture, campus climate [and] community mental health services,” the blog post read.

“We at Cornell Health look forward to receiving the recommendations relevant to our area and will certainly take them into consideration. We are hopeful that the outcome will be beneficial to students and will help improve the campus culture around mental health,” Kent Bullis, executive director of Cornell Health told The Sun in an email.

Following the University’s announcement of a comprehensive review of its mental health policies in September 2018, MacLeod said that he expected Lombardi’s announcement to be a “a fairly detailed roll-out of the review’s scope, and mandate and goals.” Instead, he found the email “vague and unclear.”

“We are not the experts who can tell any medical providers like Cornell Health, for example, what they should be doing … We think that in the position that Cornell’s in, that it needs to be doing all that it can to address those mental health challenges. And we don’t feel that holistically that has been done,” MacLeod said, advocating for a more intensive review.

Cornell Health has also created a webpage pertaining to the review and reforms in order to keep the community updated on any changes to mental health services.

The Sophie Fund has consistently advocated for an external review of mental health on Cornell’s campus, requesting such a review in a letter to President Pollack in March 2017. Pollack denied the request in January 2018, The Sun previously reported.

“The jury is still out until we see everything that they’re going to announce. But the way they’ve rolled it out so far, and what they said so far, is not giving us a lot of encouragement,” MacLeod said.