Checking in: the importance of mental health on college campuses
Six weeks into the academic semester, it was time to check-in on the Quinnipiac student body.
Quinnipiac is just one of 180 campuses around the country that participates in Fresh Check Day, a signature program of the Jordan Porco Foundation.
The Jordan Porco Foundation’s mission is to prevent suicide, promote mental health and create a message of hope for young adults.
In 2011, Ernie and Marisa Porco lost their son, Jordan, to suicide when he was a freshman in college.
Within their grief they were able to learn about the high level statistics surrounding mental health and suicide in young adults.
Fresh Check Day, campus wide, includes uplifting mental health promotion and suicide prevention that provides students with interactive booths, peer-to-peer conversations and a chance to communicate with campus departments and groups.
There is a lack of dialogue about mental health, Fresh Check Day works to bridge the gap between students and mental health resources available to students on campus.
Mary Pellitteri, a university counselor, became involved with Fresh Check Day after hearing Jordan Porco’s mother speak at a conference.
In 2015, Fresh Check day was held for the first time on the Quinnipiac campus, starting slowly with a few tables and progressing later into a large event.
“Fresh Check Day is something that students look forward to every year,” said Pellitteri.
“The real main point, other than the education, is to help people feel comfortable when they speak about mental health issues, anxiety, depression or suicide because a lot of times people don't do things because they feel uncomfortable.”
Pellitteri hopes that Fresh Check Day will educate students on the Quinnipiac campus about mental health and come to an understanding that they do not stand alone.
“There is some shame people feel and we want to take that away,” said Pellitteri. “There is too much shame and that keeps people quiet. When people address it, they see what improvement can be made and it is worthwhile.”
During Quinnipiac’s fourth annual Fresh Check Day, Bobcat lawn was full of informational tables encouraging students to unwind for a moment and focus on their mental health.
The elephant in the room table, which the Psychology club ran, encouraged students to express secrets or stigmas that they carry around with them every day that others may not know about. Paper elephants were provided for students to anonymously share what was on their mind.
Angela Walker, professor of psychology, shared the importance of reminding students that they do not have to face their burdens alone.
“We are hanging the elephants up so students can see how many people have these secrets and it becomes visible that we all have burdens,” said Walker.
Among the many informational booths stood Gender Sexuality Alliance, a club on campus providing a safe space for LGBTQIA+ students.
Members of GSA, such as John Ferraro, spoke to students at Fresh Check Day about what it means to be an ally on the Quinnipiac campus.
“We are focusing on promoting positivity between all communities,” said Ferraro. “We are inviting students to write positive messages and what it means to them to be an ally on pieces of paper and linking them in a chain to show how everyone is connected in our community.”
On college campuses, there is a stigma that follows around the topic of mental health. That stigma promotes an environment of fear and shame, and groups on the Quinnipiac campus such as NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, help to combat the stigma.
Celina Carreiro, President of NAMI at Quinnipiac, works to put on events that celebrate everyone's differences and share mental health awareness on campus.
With the Porco family in mind, Quinnipiac students were invited to sign the 9 out of 10 pledge. Senior Residential Assistant, Emma Downes, tabled to encourage students to be the change and to know the warning signs of suicide on college campuses.
“Each year, one out of ten college students contemplate suicide,” said Downes. “That means nine out of ten students have the opportunity to help and learn the warning signs of suicide.”
Whether students spoke about their insecurities, stuffed bags full of supplies for the homeless or took a moment to meditate, they were spending time focusing on their personal mental health.
As Fresh Check Day drew to a close, Senior Resident Assistant Cynthia Clement emphasized why mental health awareness is so important on campus.
“People are away from home for the first time and as you progress throughout college the stress of everyday life begins to build up,” said Clement. “Fresh Check Day provides students with the education they need to realize it is important to take care of themselves and always realize that they are never alone.”
Students are encouraged to reach out to the counseling center at Quinnipiac for help managing difficult time or if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800- 273 TALK (8255)