A fresh look on mental health

Katie Langley and David Matos

Deja Banner, a junior behavioral neuroscience major, attends Fresh Check Day, which was organized by Counseling Services. (Daniel Passapera)

With the mental stability of students often put on the back burner in favor of a busy schedule, a day to learn and engage in self care is necessary as students enter the sixth week of classes.

Quinnipiac University’s Counseling Services held its annual Fresh Check Day on Oct. 5, on Bobcat Way. The event raised awareness around mental health issues and suicide prevention.

“Fresh Check Day offers students a fun, relaxing atmosphere, to learn about mental health and suicide prevention,” said Mary Pellitteri, a counselor for the university’s and the event’s organizer. “We hope to increase knowledge regarding mental health issues and introduce steps to take to improve mood and functioning.”

Fresh Check Day has been a fall semester staple at Quinnipiac since 2015. It is associated with the Jordan Porco Foundation, a Hartford-based nonprofit that aims to “challenge stigma by talking openly about mental health.” The organization was founded by the parents of Jordan Porco, a first-year student at Saint Michael’s College who killed himself in 2011.

The lively atmosphere featured interactive booths that each held an important message about mental health. A volunteer instructed students as they checked in to visit five of the 10 booths in exchange for eligibility to win some prizes.

“I think an event like this is important because you never really know what somebody’s going through,” said Abigail Federico, a first-year health science major. “If somebody is struggling in silence, and if they walked outside and see an event going on like this, they’re going to instantly have a bunch of resources and people to talk to and a ton of information about where they can get help if they need it.”

After check-in, every guest was required to attend the booth “nine out of 10,” in recognition of the statistic that one out of 10 college students contemplate suicide. Its goal is for those who do not deal with suicidal thoughts to provide support for those struggling with the far-too-common issue.

Katie Castell, a graduate biomedical sciences student, checked visitors in at the event. She said that she looks forward to Fresh Check Day every year.

“(Mental health awareness) is so important,” Castell said. “I think on college campuses it’s not talked about enough, especially people coming from far away and maybe being far away from their families for the first time, I think it’s really important to make it a not taboo topic to talk about.”

Many student organizations took part in the event’s activities including the women’s ice hockey team, the Gender Sexuality Alliance, Student Programming Board, Student Government Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Mental Health Literacy Project and Behavioral Neuroscience Club.

The “elephant in the room” booth motivated guests to anonymously write down something they struggle with and place it alongside other daily stressors.

“I think it’s really important to normalize that it’s OK to struggle mentally and to need support, you know, we live in such a society that kinda stigmatizes mental health,” said Caris Disharoon, a senior nursing major. “Needing to reach out for help and going to therapy and having these connections and having these intimate moments of needing help where I feel like something like this kind of normalizes, like, ‘hey, there’s many ways to cope with stress and other problems like this’ and it makes it a lot more normal and a lot less of an alien concept to normal people too.”

Another table spread awareness for eating disorders. Students wrote things they love about themselves on mirrors.

“One in five students struggles from either an eating disorder, habits or disordered eating in general,” said Abby Burke, a first-year elementary education major. “We want to raise awareness and give students the resources they need to thrive in college and not have to worry about that and have those anxieties.”

The organizations addressed not only the larger issue of wellness, but also factors that contribute to mental health, such as alcohol and drug use, physical activity and body image.

One habit that can help improve mental health is exercise. Gabriella Vitelli, a senior management major, tabled at the event with the women’s ice hockey team to advocate for the importance of physical activity.

“(Exercise) reduces stress and anxiety, releases endorphins, which creates feelings of happiness and improves self-confidence and increases relaxation and improves sleep patterns, increasing productivity and creativity and providing opportunities for social connectedness,” Vitelli said.

Different tables at the event, such as the non-traditional student table, stressed that mental health is for all members of the Quinnipiac community.

“We will address mental health and the unique experiences that different communities face, including sexual assault victims, LGBTQ (students), the non-traditional student and veterans,” Pellitteri said.

The GSA asked attendees to add their names to an “ally chain” of supporters of the LGBTQ community and write positive comments on a whiteboard.

“We are here to talk more about suicide awareness in LGBT communities, since it tends to be a higher rate than other students,” said Satine Berntsen, a sophomore film, television and media studies and philosophy double major.