The University of Rhode Island encouraged students and community members to engage in dialogue about mental health at the third annual Fresh Check Day event held on the Quadrangle yesterday.

University College, the Counseling Center, Health Services and the Psychological Consultation Center all co-sponsored the event and were in attendance. Fresh Check Day, a signature program of the Jordan Porco Foundation and a national event, aims to promote mental health awareness and suicide prevention in an uplifting, supportive manner. The event includes interactive booths, peer-to-peer messaging, prizes, food and entertainment.

Other universities such as the University of Michigan, the University of South Carolina and the University of Kansas are just a few of the other universities participating in this national event. URI’s Fresh Check Day had eight different booths that had activities to make students feel safe and comfortable with the topic of mental illness.

The signature program for Fresh Check Day, is the 9-out-of-10 program, said Sarah Miller, assistant director of experiential education. For every 10 college students, one of them seriously considers suicide, according to the Jordan Porco Foundation. Miller said, “So, that means nine out of the 10 can know the warning signs and be able to… pay attention to what those warning signs are.”
Students who came to the event had to go to the 9-out-of-10 booth, where they signed a pledge saying that they will be part of the nine out of the 10 to help support their friends, themselves and be an advocate here on campus.

One booth, called “paint your heart out,” had balloons filled with paint and tacked to a board for students to throw darts at. Brianne Neptin, a coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences and coordinator of the ‘paint your heart out’ booth said that creating something could relax people at this event.

“Having some creative expression [or] creative outlet can be relaxing and a stress reliever for people,” Neptin said. “[They can] create organically that way.”

This event was heavily run by student leaders and a lot of peer interaction, said Miller. However, she added that some booths did need professionals working at them because of the individual screenings and assessments.

One booth that required a professional, was the “tree of life” booth. Gina Maclure, coordinator of the URI Family Therapy Clinic, was giving out standard depression screeners. Maclure said, “depression screeners are given to figure out if [someone is] clinically elevated for depression with some resources on campus.”

The “tree of life” booth also gave paper leafs for students to write a reason they choose to live, a reason they get up in the morning or things that keep them going during hard times. Maclure said, “People say things like, ‘everyday brings new adventures,’ ‘you are enough,’ ‘somebody loves me,’ ‘my family.’”

When they had enough, Maclure and her graduate assistant, Rachel Kinsella, hung up the leaves around the canopy to build a tree for people to see the reasons others choose to live.

Another booth was called the “elephant in the room.” This booth allowed students to disclose whatever it is that’s weighing them down that people don’t usually talk about: their own “elephant.” Students could write their “elephant” on a note card and post it around the tent anonymously.

“The elephant in the room tent is really great because you are able to share your elephant, in terms of things we don’t really talk about,” said Miller. “It’s really eye opening to see what people share, then they are able to see that they are not alone in a lot of the issues we’re all experiencing.”

Miller said that the event as a whole is meant to be a fun, safe atmosphere to talk and learn about mental illness and break down stigmas and barriers. However, Miller said the most important aspect of this event was to make students aware of the resources that are available to them on campus.

Miller said, “That’s the important part, is knowing who those professionals are and experts and resources that you can send your friends to or go to yourself and knowing that it’s okay, and you’re not alone.”