Fairfield University hosted Mental Health Awareness Week throughout campus, running events from Sunday, Oct. 6 to the following Sunday. Students, faculty and guests filled each day with useful lessons and resources that the Fairfield community can utilize.
The project did not come alive on its own, as the intention for Mental Health Awareness Week from the start has been to make it a collabatory event. Mark Celano, Ph.D. and Alana Coscia, Psy.D. from Counseling & Psychological Services spearheaded those efforts by connecting with the Health Center, Campus Ministry, Fairfield University Student’s Association, Active Minds and the Stag Peer Support Group.
Celano and Coscia stated via email, “Representatives from all collaborating departments met as a group in mid-September to brainstorm ideas for the week.”
In recent years prior, Counseling & Psychological Services has coordinated outreach, prevention and educational events for Mental Health Awareness Week on campus, but typically restricted to one day events.
To ensure that a larger number of campus-community members could have the opportunity to participate and be exposed to the department’s message, C&PS worked diligently to spread out the events. They were spaced throughout the whole week, at various times of day and locations on campus, Celano and Coscia explained.
Although reformed, the goal has remained the same: to raise awareness about mental health issues, including the reduction of stigma around mental illness and seeking help.
A Sunday evening mass at Egan Chapel came first. The mass remembered those who struggle with mental illness and those who have lost their lives to suicide. Campus Ministry teamed up with Active Minds in an attempt to hand out 11,000 sticky notes. Each note was to represent the estimated 11,000 college students who pass every year to suicide.
The two organizations urged students to write positive messages on the notes to either be handed to peers or stuck around campus in order to spread the messages for those in need. The mass was followed by a multi-location informational tabling event, where Active Minds and Campus Ministry were also in attendance.
Active Minds, a new club to Fairfield’s campus, is one chapter of many that are recognized nationally.
First year Megan Falvey, a member of Active Minds, stated, “Everybody is affected by mental health,” and spoke on her clubs initiative to help those affected by suicde in any way, shape or form. You can visit their website to learn more about the organizations mission.
The multi-location informational tabling event kicked off the school week on Tuesday. Students picked up flyers and pamphlets at the tables represented by various different organization members and leaders who were apart of this influential week. From pocket-sized “Anxiety Coping Cards” to pamphlets titled, “Getting The Right Start: Student Guide to Mental Health”, the resources were endless.
A table run by the Collegiate Health Service Corps resided in the John A. Barone Campus Center by The Daniel and Grace Tully Dining Commons. By providing information on the flu, in addition to the other resources, CHSC showed the importance at not only looking at mental health, but physical health as well.
Students were eager to greet one of the many service dogs on campus, Dakota. Dakota was a reminder that the dogs weren’t just present for Mental Health Awareness Week, but are around often. Fairfield holds “Woof Wednesdays” each week in Campus Ministry, to help students destress and feel at home.
Highly anticipated and nationally recognized public speaker Jordan Burnham opened up to students and faculty Wednesday night, Oct. 9, in The Oak Room. Burnham has been featured in People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, has appeared on ESPN’s E:60 and Outside The Lines, CNN, Good Morning America. He has brought his message to Capitol Hill during a congressional briefing and has been hosted at the White House by former President Obama and Vice President Biden for the National Conference On Mental Health. Burnham is not new to speaking as he has been doing so for about 11 years all over the country.
The room was packed with those ambitious to listen to the mental health advocate, and suicide attempt survivor. Burnham’s talk titled, “Life after a Suicide Attempt: Lessons of Hope, Resilience, and Recovery” allowed the listeners to learn of Burnham’s raw experiences but most importantly his resilience and recovery that came with his most challenging times.
Burnham is part of the non-profit organization called “Minding Your Mind,”which works towards ending the stigma of mental illness and promoting positive mental health through prevention and education programs just like the one presented. As their slogan states, the organization allows young adults to present, “Enlightening attitudes toward mental health.”
What Burnham emphasized the most was his healthy coping mechanisms, such as staying sober, exercising and writing. He explained that by practicing these to this day, it aids in the process to be his best self, tools that students can take with them too.
The speaker’s charisma and humor allowed students to feel comfortable opening up during a Q&A that concluded the night. Burnham’s talk was funded by the Julia Ryder Sill Fund. Sill, class of 2013, took her life on campus during her sophomore year, according to Life@Fairfield.
As Burnham noted, one of four college students will develop a mental health disorder in any given year. “Twenty-five percent is a large percentage of our student body, so we know mental health issues are relevant to many students on our campus,” Celano and Coscia from C&PS disclose via email. “Our hope is that consistent messaging around the de-stigmatization of mental health issues and the availability of counseling services on campus will help promote greater participation in these events and ultimately in a larger percentage of students who need support in seeking out counseling services” Celano and Cosica, C&PS also express via email.
The event counted as a first year experience thrive event that urged first-year students to step out of their comfort zones to listen to a story they would never forget. First-year Alex Ford stated, “When I walk into a Thrive event, sometimes I have a mindset that I’m coming just because im required to be here, but I always find myself leaving with useful information that was also very meaningful.”
To wrap up the packed week, over the course of the weekend the DiMenna-Nyselius Library displayed fiction books related to the topics of mental illness, recovery and resilience. The university also offered Question, Persuade and Refer Training. Just as people train in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver to help save thousands of lives each year, those same individuals are trained in QPR. Trainees of QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help. To learn the warning signs of this crisis and more, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.
As provided by Life@Fairfield, “If you are struggling with mental health issues, please seek help. If you are concerned about a friend, care enough to get that student help. Tell them you’re there for them and connect them to resources provided on campus. Both Counseling & Psychological Services and Campus Ministry are confidential and no charge to students.”
Counseling & Psychological Services is located at 120 John C. Dolan Hall, ground floor, next to the Health Center and is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Call 203-254-4000 x2146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
In the event of an emergency and/or after hours, call 911 or dial 203-254-4090 for the Department of Public Safety.