Students advocate for mental health

By

Students at St. Michael's College discuss mental health awareness with a public safety officer on Fresh Check Day late last month. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

Students at St. Michael’s College discuss mental health awareness with a public safety officer on Fresh Check Day late last month. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

When it comes to mental health, an often-difficult topic to talk about, groups at St. Michael’s College are breaking barriers.

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, various campus groups convened in Alliot Hall for the second annual Fresh Check Day, which invites students, faculty, staff and alumni to rally around mental health in an active and engaging way.

“It’s a very open environment, one in which you’re having fun while learning about something that is a very serious and real topic,” attendee Chris Allen said.

A St. Michael’s alum, Allen helped adopt Fresh Check Day. His push for more mental health awareness on campus came after his friend, Jordan Porco, committed suicide in spring 2011. A freshman at the time, Allen knew he had to act.

The 2014 alum co-founded the college’s Active Minds group, a nonprofit that stresses peer mental health support. Active Minds teamed with the Jordan Porco Foundation to host last month’s event.

Fresh Check Day calls attention to the troubling statistic that one in 10 college students contemplate suicide, a fact the Jordan Porco Foundation uses to teach peers to learn warning signs of suicide and how to act if someone they know is struggling with mental health.

Allen said he is thankful awareness is still spreading through Fresh Check Day, despite pushback from the administration.

During Fresh Check Day, a banner was hung on a table, on which markers were dispersed, calling people to scribble their signature and pledge to be present for their peers who may need to know someone cares.

“Even though [St. Michael’s] is a small community, it’s easy to hide,” Allen said. “So knowing when to step in as a friend, as someone that cares about other people, you need to be aware of when is the right time.”

Mental health has become an increasingly talked-about topic among students on campus, especially as students continue to remember their friend and senior classmate Jerry Collins, who took his own life last September.

Local concerts were dedicated in his name, campus jam sessions have gathered in his honor, and in the past few months, a GoFundMe page has raised over $2,700 to purchase a metal pin for his classmates to wear on graduation day in May.

Outside the dining hall last week, attendees filled out a survey so the hosting organizations can understand what participants learned.

“Now that you have the resources, will you reach out to people, will you help them?” senior Mike McCarthy of Active Minds asked.

For some, the beer goggle demonstration may have been most beneficial: The campus’ public safety department had students slide on a pair of goggles and trace a circular object with a marker, showing how alcohol can impair vision.

For others, scrawling down a particularly stressful subject on a piece of paper to crumple up and shoot into a portable basketball hoop may have been just the breath they needed.

The college’s center for women and gender, the counseling center and Hope Happens Here, a student-athlete mental health advocacy group, were among the groups participating.

On a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of the second semester, the event came at a particularly overwhelming time for students.

St. Michael's alum Chris Allen, left, and senior student Mike McCarthy, pose in front of a Fresh Check Day sign late last month. The two Purple Knights are instrumental in the continuing advocacy for mental health on the Colchester campus. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

St. Michael’s alum Chris Allen, left, and senior student Mike McCarthy, pose in front of a Fresh Check Day sign late last month. The two Purple Knights are instrumental in the continuing advocacy for mental health on the Colchester campus. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

“Today is important because we often forget how vital it is to check in with ourselves to make sure that we’re doing OK, because the weeks and the days get so busy worrying about other people, our homework or whatever else,” senior Agi Chretien said.

That’s why when some students walked by, focused on getting to the dining hall to grab a quick sandwich before their third class of the day, the commotion in the lobby caught them off guard.

Students filed into the crowd, curious about the stations and the king-sized candy, durable water bottles and colorful shirts waiting at the last booth. The students also provided a make-your-own trail mix station, for which each ingredient symbolized an “ingredient” to self-care: The cashews stood for determination, the peanuts were strength, almonds were happiness and joy and M&Ms self-love.

According to McCarthy, the swag — decorated with Fresh Check Day labels — allows attendees to walk away with something tangible, reminding students mental health isn’t going anywhere; it’s a constant struggle.

“This isn’t just a one day thing. This is semester long, this is year long, this is 24/7,” McCarthy said.

Continuing the conversation about mental health is imperative, Allen said.

“Mental health affects everyone so there’s no limitation, there’s no boundary,” he added.

More information about the Jordan Porco Foundation and its programs can be found at http://www.rememberingjordan.org.