Fresh Check Day promotes mental health awareness

October 16, 2023

A student looks into a mirror with post-it notes plastered onto it.

Important messages promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention were amplified at Quinnipiac’s ninth annual Fresh Check Day on October 10.

The free and fun event featured interactive booths providing peer-to-peer messaging and support from multiple campus offices, organizations and outside groups. Held on the Mount Carmel Campus, Fresh Check Day drew a larger crowd than last year, said event organizer Mary Pellitteri, Hartford HealthCare counselor with Quinnipiac Counseling Services.

“We hope people get a better understanding of mental health and see you can talk about mental health and don’t have to be embarrassed,” said Pellitteri. “It’s also important for students to feel more comfortable so they can get help for their friends if they have a concern.”

Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Health and Wellness Kerry Patton shared one of the most important takeaways of the day being constant, available help on campus.

“In addition to the activities that we’re doing at each booth, we’re also making sure they know that we have accessible counseling here,” said Patton.

Quinnipiac’s Counseling Services partners with Hartford HealthCare to provide a range of clinical services and mental health support at no cost to undergraduate and graduate students. The office is in the Recreation and Wellness Center on the Mount Carmel Campus.

Pellitteri said Fresh Check Day is a signature nationwide event for the non-profit Jordan Porco Foundation. Founded in 2011, the foundation’s mission is suicide prevention, mental health promotion and creating a message of hope for young adults.

“When I first heard about Fresh Check Day, there were about five colleges in Connecticut participating,” said Pellitteri. “Now, it’s in 46 states and over 200 colleges have events.”

Among activities, information and giveaways offered at over a dozen booths, Pellitteri said she hoped many students would sign the pledge at the “9 Out of 10” table.

“One out of 10 college students consider suicide, so that means 9 out of 10 can be the helpers for those people,” said Pellitteri. “If someone doesn’t seem like themselves, there are many things you can do to help.”

Student Programming Board members Paige Pezzella ’24 and Mackenzie Orlov ’25 volunteered to help students sign the pledge and fill bags with candy while discussing warning signs indicating someone may be struggling.

“We feel we have a responsibility to make sure we’re learning about this and helping to tell other students about it,” said Pezzella. “It’s making sure that we are the best allies for each other, as well as the students that we program for.”

“I think it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people to talk about and I think destigmatizing that is a really important thing for campus leaders to do,” added Orlov. “I know that’s the hope of this event today; that we can destigmatize the stigma around talking about any mental health issue, not just suicide.”

At “The Elephant in the Room” booth, student volunteer Michael Austin ’27 was doing his part to help make the subject more approachable.

“I am literally the elephant in the room,” said Austin ’27, dressed in an elephant costume provided by Pellitteri.

Austin’s elevator pitch was to ask students to write down something that may be concerning them, then clip their notes to a line strung with other students’ messages.

“When you post it, other people walking by may have a similar thing on their mind and hopefully you can see that you’re not alone,” said Austin. “I hope that has some sort of impact, even on just one person.”

Volunteering at the “Paint Your Art Out” message-stone table was a perfect fit for Kat Storey ’24. Storey is co-president of a new Quinnipiac club, Morgan’s Message, part of a national non-profit dedicated to helping students struggling with mental illness. Morgan Rodgers, a college athlete who died by suicide in 2019, is the foundation’s namesake.

“Morgan loved sports and she loved art,” said Storey. “Art is a great way to reduce stress and a great form of self-expression, so we’re asking everyone to write words of encouragement you want people to hear, or if words are hard, you can draw.”

Last year, Storey helped Quinnipiac’s Rugby Club support Morgan’s Message with fundraising.

“I’m in the rugby club, and I wanted to be able to help people because I know it’s something that I’ve struggled with, and I still struggle with it,” said Storey.

At their Fresh Check Day booth, the women’s ice hockey team spun up fresh cotton candy and supported suicide awareness and activities promoting mental health wellness.

“Our team is promoting how physical activity can boost your mental health and how that can help in your everyday life,” said Kate Villeneve ’24. “We’re also promoting our annual DIFD Suicide Awareness game on December 1 at 6 p.m. at home. It raises funds for an organization called ‘Do It for Daron.’ We try to get everybody there and wearing purple in support.”

Founded in memory of 14-year-old Daron Richardson, who died by suicide in 2010, DIFD supports mental illness education, awareness and research initiatives assisting young people through the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health in Canada.
Quinnipiac student members of the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) also promoted wellness activities and classes on campus and handed out vivid-hued “988” laptop stickers to their peers.

“988 is the new suicide prevention hotline,” said Patton. “We’ve created these stickers to have students put on their laptops as a way to make it contagious and to continue the support.”

Nursing student Analiesa Geiling ‘27, took away a 988 sticker and an idea from the NAMI table.

“I heard about the spinning and I thought that was really fun, so I think I’m going to try to sign up for some spinning classes now,” said Geiling. “I think it’s just super helpful to learn about all the resources that Quinnipiac has to offer and everything around us.”

Patton said Quinnipiac’s long-standing commitment to providing resources and support for student success and well-being also includes the new JED Campus initiative launched last year. As the nation’s leading organization dedicated to young adult mental health, JED programs seek to protect emotional health and prevent suicide.

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