Want to learn more about mental health and the resources available at BU and in the community to provide support? Head over to the George Sherman Union today for Fresh Check Day, a fair-like event designed to promote well-being, engage students in conversations about mental health, reduce stigma and misconceptions, and generate awareness about suicide prevention. Sponsored by Student Health Services (SHS), the BU Peer Health Exchange, Wellness & Prevention Services, the day will offer free food, entertainment, and prizes in addition to interactive booths.
“Mental health is obviously becoming a huge topic on college campuses nationwide, and BU is no different,” says Lily Helpenstell (SSW’16), coordinator of the inaugural BU Fresh Check Day. “There’s a whole spectrum of things that challenge college students today: the stress of loans, making sure you can make it to all of your college classes, academic pressure, trying to find a job when you graduate. It’s incredibly stressful to be a student these days, and that’s something we need to be addressing as we learn more about what mental health is and how impactful it is.”
In last fall’s special BU Today series Mental Health Matters, clinicians from SHS Behavioral Medicine reported that the number of BU students seeking help has more than doubled in four years—from 290 in the 2010–2011 academic year to 647 in the 2014–2015 year. They noted as well that the number of students needing medical transports for psychiatric evaluation has also risen, from 68 in the 2010–2011 academic year to 120 last year.
The goal of Fresh Check Day is “to promote a positive and productive conversation about mental health among college students,” says Helpenstell, who works at Wellness & Prevention Services.
Fresh Check Day was launched four years ago by the nonprofit Jordan Porco Foundation, which is dedicated to preventing suicide among high school and college students by using innovative programming to promote awareness and education.
Foundation communications director Rachel Papke says that’s what makes Fresh Check Day unique. “It’s not a typical suicide prevention event. There are fun social activities and approachable messaging. It promotes an atmosphere of peer-to-peer fun for students.”
Since its inception, the foundation has helped coordinate 45 Fresh Check Day events for more than 250,000 college students, mostly in New England. This year, the program has expanded nationwide. To date, BU is the largest university to participate.
“There’s so much thought behind the goals of the event and the skills that students are gaining. It’s an evidence-based program,” says Wellness & Prevention Services director Katharine Mooney (SPH’12). “Schools have held this event before and gotten feedback from students and staff members, and they see that it really does benefit the campus. There’s a reason why each of the activities are there; we’re hoping that the student experience is really fun and positive, but the educational goals behind it are very deliberate.”
Booths will be set up around Metcalf Hall, and students will be given a “passport” when they enter. After completing an interactive activity at each of the eight booths, their passport will be stamped. Once that’s done, they’ll be entered to win prizes, among them a Fitbit and an hour-long therapeutic massage at Elements Massage. There will also be free food and T-shirts, a ball pit, a Zumba class, a yoga room, giant Jenga, therapy dogs, a photo booth, and more.
Among the organizations and groups taking part are BU Student Health Ambassadors, SHS Behavioral Medicine, Active Minds at Boston University, the Fitness & Recreation Center, the Community Service Center, the School of Public Health’s LBGTQ Alliance, the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center, the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, Project Hope, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Humans United Giving Support, and Dog B.O.N.E.S Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts.
Each booth will deal with a different aspect of mental health and well-being. The Uplift booth will focus on self-care; Know Your Limit will provide information about how drugs and alcohol can negatively affect mental health; Boost, sponsored by FitRec, will focus on the importance of physical fitness in maintaining mental health. The SPH LGBTQ Alliance booth, Be Yourself, will include information regarding risk factors members of the LGBTQ+ community face regarding mental health.
“The Reader’s Digest version is that LGBTQ people are at a greater risk for suicide,” says Jessica Saenz (SPH’17), alliance president. “Four key factors that influence this risk are stigma, discrimination, harassment, and family rejection. We often talk about LGBTQ communities in terms of their vulnerabilities, but rarely do we discuss how LGBTQ people contend with these risk factors. Independently and collectively, these factors can and do impact a person’s home, work, and academic life. Fresh Check Day is bringing awareness to the BU community of available mental health resources and programs that have the potential to combat these risk factors. Tools for the tool kit, if you will.”
Members of the student-run Active Minds at BU, a group whose purpose is increasing awareness of mental helath, will staff the 9 Out of 10 booth, the only Fresh Check Day booth required by the Jordan Porco Foundation. That booth will specifically address suicide prevention.
Helpenstell says she hopes the inaugural Fresh Check Day helps foster a positive and productive conversation about mental health issues and creates a culture of caring within the BU community.
“One of the things we started talking about at Wellness & Prevention Services even before we connected with the Jordan Porco Foundation was how to make BU a place where people feel supported,” she says, “not just by their closest friends, but by the person down the hall, the administration, staff, and faculty.”
Fresh Check Day, free for BU students, is today, Monday, March 21, from 4 to 7 p.m. in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Hall, 775 Commonwealth Ave.
Those seeking free, confidential mental health counseling can contact Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine, available 24 hours for psychiatric emergencies (617-353-3569), the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation (617-353-3549), the Danielsen Institute (617-353-3047), and the Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders (617-353-9610). Faculty and staff with mental health issues can contact BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance Office (617-353-5381). The Samaritans of Boston suicide prevention hotline is 877-870-4673. The Active Minds student support group is best reached through its Facebook page. For crises related to crime and interpersonal or sexual violence, BU’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center crisis counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (617-353-SARP ). If you, or someone you know, have questions about their drug or alcohol use, Wellness & Prevention Services can help (617-358-0485). Students who require academic or other accommodations for a psychological disability can also consult with BU’s Disability Services (617-353-3658). Accommodations and services could include testing modifications, reduced course load, developing skills in self-advocating with faculty, executive functioning coaching, and more. Services are free and confidential.
Jennifer Bates can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.