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Westfield State makes mental health awareness a priority

Westfield State makes mental health awareness a priority

WESTFIELD, Mass., March 16, 2016- Westfield State University will host its inaugural Fresh Check Day, a day of events dedicated to mental health awareness, suicide prevention, and health promotion, on Thursday, March 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Ely Campus Center. An increasing number of college students are seeking help for mental health issues, at a rate outpacing the growth in enrollment by five-fold, according to a report published in early January by the Penn State University Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

“One of the most important messages of Fresh Check Day is that the WSU community cares about students’ mental health, and understands that it is vital to their academic success in the same way physical health is,” said Julia Nedry, MSW, LISCW and outreach counselor.

Fresh Check Day is the signature program of the Jordan Porco Foundation. Created to honor Jordan Mathew Porco who committed suicide in 2011, the foundation is committed to preventing suicide in the high school, college, and college entry student population through awareness, education, and innovative programming.  Fresh Check Day strives to bring awareness of mental health resources and coping strategies to college campuses.

The day’s events are crucial because suicide remains a problem for youth. The Jason Foundation reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24 and more young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.

The Jason Foundation also reports that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs, which speaks to the importance of events like Fresh Check Day that inform students of the warning signs and encourage them to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with mental health issues.

The day will include official Fresh Check Day booths designed to cope with mental health issues.  In the “Look for the Good,” booth students write a message of gratitude, and have the option of calling the person they are grateful to and reading the message. In the “YOUnique” booth, students will write positive messages on mirrors, trash their insecurities by writing them down and putting them in a decorated trash can, or get a temporary “strength tattoo” designed personally for them and drawn on by a member of the Art Club.

Nedry said Fresh Check Day is an opportunity for students to come together.

“We want students to feel like they are not alone,” Nedry said. “I can tell you when you’re sitting across from me in counseling that there are 100 reasons to live, or that you have many beautiful qualities, or that it’s okay to open up to others about your ‘elephant in the room.’ But imagine the unique power of hearing those messages from your peers, surrounded by tons of other students who are laughing, talking, connecting to each other. It has the potential to be very impactful.”

Recently, Westfield State students have formed a campus chapter of Active Minds, , a national non-profit organization that fights to raise mental health awareness among college students and help remove the negative stigmas that are attached to mental illness. The club will participate in Fresh Check Day by running the “Elephant in the Room” booth which encourages students to talk about the issues many of them are faced with that often go unaddressed. Participants write their personal “elephant in the room” on a postcard that is then posted so others students can read them and understand that they are not alone in their mental health struggles.

Active Minds president Danny Kochanowski ’16 of West Boylston, Mass. said Fresh Check Day overlaps with his goals for the club.

“The club was founded to spread a message that everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin,” Kochanowski said. “We want to spread this message of acceptance and empathy to create a more comfortable setting at Westfield State."

In addition to the Fresh Check Day activities, there will be a health fair open to the public. The following organizations will have booths offering information, free samples, and consultations:

Adcare Hospital, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Red Cross, the American Lung Association, The AIDS Foundation of Western MA, Baystate Noble Center for Comprehensive Breast Care, Baystate Noble Dept. of Nutrition, Baystate Noble Partial Psych, Boston Medical Center Healthnet Plan, Burk Women’s Imaging Center, Costco Pharmacy, E4Health-Lifescope, Ease Bodywork Massage Therapy, Glow Spray Tanning, The Healing ZONE Massage, Healthy Pepsi Products, Hypnotherapy Smoking Cessation, Level Thrive, Lifechoice Donor Services, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, New Beginnings, Planned Parenthood, Pioneer Valley Lupus Support Group, Pure Haven Essentials, Regional Medical Reserve Corp, Tapestry Health, Western MA Intergroup (Overeaters Anonymous), Western MA Recovery Learning Community, Westfield Yoga, Women, Infants, Children (WIC), Women’s Health Partnership, Vantage Sports & Rehab, YWCA.

There will also be a number of Westfield State University groups and departments represented including: The Athletic Training department, Active Minds, the Biology Club, Buzz Off for Cancer, the Campus Activities Board, Commuter Council, the Counseling Center, Dance Team, Ely Fitness Center, Emergency Medical Services, the Exercise Club, Health and Humanities Group, Honors Program, the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) Program, Multicultural Student Association, the Psychology Club, Public Safety, Relay for Life Club, Resident Advisors and Residence Hall Association, Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault, Step Team, Student Ambassadors,  Student Athlete Advisory Council, Student Government Association.

The Health Fair is free and open to the public. Fresh Check Day booths and activities are open to students only. For more information, contact Julia Nedry at (413) 572-5790.