ITHACA, N.Y. — Loneliness has been growing as a serious public health concern and it has been especially increasing among young people. The suicide rate among teens doubled from 2007 and 2015. Over the last few months, the Ithaca Voice has teamed up with WRFI, Ithaca College Park Scholars, and the Cornell Daily Sun to dive deep into the issue of loneliness and its impact on mental health here in Tompkins County.

Some of the stories included in this project have covered how social media negatively and positively impacts mental health; how local colleges are handling students in crisis; what parents and schools are doing to curb bullying; and what local resources are available.

Read more about the launch of the collaborative project here.

As part of this collaborative project, our goal was also to empower the young journalists working with us to explore why suicide and loneliness are on the rise. Throughout the series, student and professional journalists have talked to peers and experts to break down stigmas surrounding suicide, loneliness and mental health to find better ways to combat the epidemic.

The project has been funded by Engaged Cornell and the Sophie Fund.

Thea Kozakis, a Ph.D. student at Cornell speaks at a rally Dec. 5, saying Cornell’s mental health resources often only reach people in crisis. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Stories: Exploring Loneliness in Tompkins County

As a content warning, some of these stories include mentions of suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK, or 1.800.273.8255. You can find more resources at the bottom of this page. 

» Lansing parents urge change in school district to curb bullying — The August suicide of a recent Lansing graduate spurred many parents to action, and a vocal group is insisting that staff, faculty and administrators do more to intervene and communicate with parents when bullying occurs. With about one in five students nationwide experiencing bullying at school, parents and administrators in a local school district are coming together to find ways to stop bullying and foster mental health. In Lansing, efforts are underway throughout the school district to create a safer environment for students.  (The Ithaca Voice)

» In a personal and powerful audio story, WRFI and Ithaca College Park Scholars spoke to an Ithaca College student who struggles with bipolar disorder and medical leave. Listen to the full audio story here on WRFI Community Radio News. (WRFI/Ithaca College Park Scholars)

» Cornell graduate students urge university to improve mental health services — Hundreds of graduate students at Cornell have signed a petition urging the university to improve mental health services. (The Ithaca Voice)

“While I’ve been here on campus I’ve learned there are some really valuable mental health resources here, but unfortunately in their current state, they can only really reach a few graduate students, and basically only if you’re in crisis,” — Thea Kozakis, a Ph.D. student in the department of astronomy and space sciences.

» 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 two of the three task force co-chairs, about their roles leading the initiative. Read more here. (The Cornell Daily Sun)

“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,” — Joanna Hua.

» How does our new world of constant connectedness impact the mental health of young people today? Social media is one of the first things people bring up when they think about loneliness. In this audio story that aired on WRFI, reporters spoke to experts and student mental health leaders to understand how Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and other social media impact young people and what they can do to lessen the effects. Listen here. (WRFI/Ithaca College Park Scholars) On this topic, The Cornell Daily Sun also dives into the pros and cons of social media.

“On one hand we have very high loneliness and higher rates of mental health challenges than we’ve ever had before in the college population, and on the other hand we have more opportunities for connection than have ever been possible,” — Janis Whitlock.

» In 2017, then-freshman Emery Bergmann’s video on her college transition and loneliness went viral. The Cornell Daily Sun caught up with her to talk about what it was like to go viral and hear from students and adults around the country who could relate to her experience. (The Cornell Daily Sun)

» An Ithaca College student’s encounter with public safety raised questions about how mental health calls are handled on campus. This episode unpacks what happened when a student experienced a severe depressive episode on campus. Her experience with public safety left her “deeply distressed and hurt,” the story opens. Public Safety, also interviewed for this story, said because of the increase in mental health calls, officers are beginning to re-evaluate their practices regarding mental health intervention. Listen to the full story here. (WRFI/Ithaca College Park Scholars)

» According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at least one in five youth aged 9 to 17 currently has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Though several stories in this series highlight college-aged students, for many, mental illness and loneliness start much sooner. In this story reported by WRFI, an Ithaca College student discusses the mental health challenges she faced long before heading to college, starting in about eighth grade. (WRFI/Ithaca College Park Scholars)

» Learning how to respond to physical injuries and illnesses, from minor scrapes to heart attacks, is a typical part of school and job training curriculums. But what about how to respond to mental health problems? Mental Health First Aid training, which is offered multiple times a year in Ithaca, aims to fill in that gap. (The Ithaca Voice)

“Not knowing how to respond to mental health problems often prevents people from responding at all,” — Melanie Little, director of youth services at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County and a certified instructor of the Mental Health First Aid USA program.

Illustration by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice

Find Help: Local and National Resources

Loneliness and mental health are not topics that will be going away anytime soon and there are resources and there are steps anyone can take if they have a friend or loved one who is struggling.

  • If an emergency is life-threatening, call 911.
  • During business hours, the county Mental Health Services Department has an Emergency Outreach Services team available to help during crises. EOS can be reached at 607-274-6200.
  • The Crisisline at Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services can be reached 24 hours a day at 607-272-1616. The same number can be used to request help from a mobile crisis team after business hours.
  • Those who prefer to seek help from someone who is not local can call the national Crisisline at 800-273-8255 (but note that if you dial from a phone with a 607 area code you will be directed to the local line).
  • For longer-term treatment after a crisis is mitigated, a range of professionals are available to help, including primary care doctors, clinical social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and peer support specialists. A directory of local services is available on the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County’s website.
  • For more national resources, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ resource page here.

For writers and journalists

Download the latest suicide reporting recommendations from the American Association of Suicidology.

In Ithaca this fall, experts and mental health advocates came together to talk about responsible reporting on mental health. The media training was a valuable tool for student and professional journalists. The full training was recorded and is available below.

Video and illustrations by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.