Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell Health houses a variety of mental health resources, including the Counseling and Psychological Services Office.

September 29, 2020

Alumnus Aids Cornell Health With Expanded Student Mental Health Services

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Despite the range of Cornell’s mental health services, alumnus and Ithaca native Dr. Aaron Rakow ’01 has set his sights on filling gaps in the University’s treatment options. College students are especially prone to mental health concerns, and pandemic-induced stressors have only deepened these anxieties.

To meet growing demand for treatment, Rakow and his colleagues launched the MindWell Center, a mental health treatment center in Ithaca’s South Hill, offering a range of mental health services to New York residents.

On campus, Counseling and Psychological Services and primary care medical service teams within Cornell Health provide mental health support to Cornell students. Even so, some Cornell students benefit from access to additional treatment options, according to Rakow.

“Ithaca is really fortunate to have a really strong mental health treatment community composed of many exceptional providers, including CAPS and at Cornell Health,” Rakow said. “But we also realized that despite that, there remained a really significant need for evidence-based mental health care to help close that gap … and increase access to mental healthcare for all Ithacans.”

MindWell’s approach to mental health care follows the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model, a type of treatment that aims to develop a deep understanding of the causes that contribute to a patient’s psychological struggles. The model centers itself on the way that an individual’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors affect one another.

“CBT is a highly effective, time-limited, skill-based form of intervention,” Rakow said. “While it seems like anti-depressants are the most commonly used treatment for things like social anxiety disorder, new research has suggested that CBT is actually more effective. And unlike medication, it can have long lasting effects after treatment is done.”

Cornell’s and MindWell’s services, however, are mutually supportive. Some students require more specialized and intensive care than CAPS and Cornell Health can offer; these campus service providers have referred many students to MindWell to fill that gap, Rakow said. Groups that manage mental health care for Cornell faculty and staff have also referred patients to MindWell.

As a component of MindWell’s “simplified approach to mental health care,” the center offers patients in-person and virtual treatment options.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the center offered telehealth appointments to patients as a matter of convenience and comfort.

“We have always had teletherapy as a component of our model because we want to provide as many levels of convenience for the clients we serve,” Rakow said. “Some clients feel more comfortable engaging with us from the comfort of their dorm room, apartment or their home.”

The center is looking forward to welcoming new patients, especially struggling members of the Cornell community.

“Our interest is really in supporting the huge population of students we have in the region,” Rakow said.