Eighth annual Fresh Check Day brings mental health awareness to campus

November 3, 2023
By: Rebecca Cross

The Student Center was abuzz with activity Oct. 25 for the university’s eighth annual Fresh Check Day. Fresh Check Day is a national mental health promotion and suicide prevention initiative started by the Jordan Porco Foundation. It has been added to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s new Best Practices Registry.

“Fresh Check Day brings together students, faculty, and staff on behalf of student well-being,” said Assistant Director of Counseling Services Julie Glovin, who organized the event. “It’s a fun day full of interactive activities and peer-to-peer messaging on the importance of emotional health. Students learn about mental health resources, coping strategies, and how to support a peer who is struggling emotionally. Ultimately, Fresh Check Day is a suicide prevention program focussed on creating a sense of belonging.”

A 2023 Healthy Minds Study showed that 79% of Worcester State students felt that emotional or mental difficulties had hurt their academic performance. A 2022 national Gallup poll showed that emotional stress has impacted college students’ ability to stay in college: nearly a third of students have considered dropping out.

This year, more than 450 students—100 more than last year—visited 15 interactive booths focused on everything from food insecurity and the benefits of exercise in improving mood to prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault and the importance of self-care. Along the way, they got a card stamped by all the booths they visited, to be entered into a raffle for a chance to win Beats headphones and other prizes.

“The wide variety of mental health topics that are represented and presented by students is really one of the most incredible things about this day,” said Laura Murphy, associate dean for Health and Wellness. “There is nothing better than students educating students and students being involved in all of the booths and really taking an active role in this really important topic.”

More than 100 students volunteered to mind booths. Psychology major Alexus Cleary found out about the opportunity through the First Year Seminar and volunteered at the Elephant in the Room booth, which focused on reducing stigma around things such as mental illness and disability. “I’ve been excited to actually be part of the community, and this has been my first opportunity to,” Cleary said. “I’ve been enjoying it.”

This was senior Drew Eid’s third year volunteering at the event. The criminal justice major helped out at the booth Mood Matters, where visitors could draw the mask they present to the world on one side of a paper and write down on the other side the emotions they were feeling. “Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad, so that’s good to see,” Eid said of the drawings students had made. “Hopefully, it continues to get better with all the help that’s available at our school.”

Students who visited the At Ease booth, which focused on support for students who serve or have served in the military, were invited to write a note for a veteran and to visualize how difficult it is to manage numerous challenges without support by trying to submerge more than a dozen ping pong balls in a bucket of water. At the Be Yourself booth, sponsored by the LGBTQ+ Alliance, visitors wrote affirmations and messages of support on colored strips of paper that would be linked together in a rainbow-colored chain.

The Younique booth invited visitors to challenge the negative messages that can lead to eating disorders and body image issues by reading a positive affirmation while looking at their reflection in a mirror or stepping on scales that, instead of numbers, had statements like “You are stunning” and “You are worthy.”

At the 100 Reasons booth, where students wrote and hung sticky notes with their reasons to stay alive, first-year Nemo Defigueiredo hung a note with the word “family” on it. “My family definitely keeps me going. I’m one of the first members of my family to go to college, so it’s definitely a motivation to go to school. My family has done so much for me to get to this point. So, I’m here for them, and I’m here for me as well.”

A popular stop was a meet and greet with MK, the therapeutic assistance dog. MK was brought on board in 2021 to provide additional support for students during the Covid-19 pandemic. MK’s handler, Kevin Fenlon, associate director of Counseling Services, said, “He can have 10 seconds with a person and change their day, so he can see a lot of students in one day.”

Fenlon, who has been at Worcester State for 15 years, said he has seen a difference in the way the campus community thinks about mental health since the university started participating in Fresh Check Day. “It’s that mental health isn’t just on the individual, that it’s a community thing,” he said. “It’s seeking help and getting support, not just from counselors or therapists, but from faculty, from staff, from peers.” The fact that students could see multiple different departments represented at the event showed them that concern about mental health is campus wide.

Akim Green, staff assistant in Residence Life and Housing, attended Fresh Check Day as a student at LaSalle University and said the event meant a lot personally. “It really helped me comprehend mental health outside of just, ‘it’s important.’ It really was, like, ‘Here’s all the ways that could impact you all the different ways to figure out who you are and figure out your own resources and what you do for yourself.’”

“It’s really interesting to see how much effort the school puts in for our health,” said senior Sylvie Bellefleur, who has attended the event every year and has volunteered at it. “You get to see so many students you wouldn’t necessarily see, and you get to reach out and get students to get to know stuff about campus that they might not necessarily know. Midterms are coming up, so this is a pretty crucial time for a lot of students. You find that they’re having a hard time, and this is a great time to check in for them. So yeah, I think it’s really special to do this.”

This was the eighth year Joshua Katz, associate director of Community Standards and Students Affairs, worked the check-out booth, students’ last stop. “I hear and see people after they’ve gone through all the booths,” he said, “and to hear them talking about booth one and two at the end, it means that it stuck with them.”

The event was sponsored by Counseling Services, Active Minds, Athletics, OSILD, Recreation and Wellness, Residence Life, and Student Accessibility, with donations from Osild, Follett bookstore, and Chartwells and special thanks to Publications and Printing Services.

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