Lauren Quintela

Mind Matters, a student-led mental health advocacy group, hosted the largest student mental health event in recent Yale history last Friday.

Fresh Check Day took place on Cross Campus, where student groups set up booths related to mental health and identity, and more than 500 Yale students attended.

“Widespread dialogue on mental health is superficial. Having Fresh Check Day is a way to make some small change to mental health culture and make it more acceptable to have these conversations with peers and for a friend to know what to do in a situation and know the resources they can direct them too,” said Emma Goodman ’19, the co-president of Mind Matters. “[Yale is] a very stressful and overwhelming place and there is still stigma that exists here, and it’s important that we have large events that mobilize large swaths of the student body.”

Fresh Check Day was organized by Mind Matters, with help from the Jordan Porco Foundation, a national organization that aims to encourage suicide prevention. Over 1,100 college students commit suicide each year in the United States, according to the foundation, which sponsors Fresh Check Days across college campuses nationwide.

Head of Silliman College Laurie Santos, who teaches “Psychology and the Good Life,” the most popular lecture course in Yale’s history, said the high attendance at Fresh Check Day and her class’s large enrollment demonstrate that students want to change Yale’s culture of stress and mental health issues.

“We need more resources on campus devoted to healthier practices generally, and many more resources for students seeking help for mental health issues,” Santos wrote in an email to the News. “Overall I think more conversation will help this place become healthier.”

Aadit Vyas ’20, who volunteered at Fresh Check Day, noted that the event provided students with information about the mental health resources available on campus.

In fact, in a poll sent out after Fresh Check Day that more than 100 students answered, 34.27 percent said they were much more aware of the mental health resources available to them after having attended Fresh Check Day and 51.05 percent said they were somewhat more aware of those resources.

“Fresh Check Days are important because they give really clear messages and start conversations to help decrease stigma around mental health,” said Alex Katz, the outreach coordinator for the Jordan Porco Foundation who worked with Mind Matters.

And according to an email sent out on April 18 by the Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin, Yale Health saw an increase of 10 to 11 percent in the number of Yale students seeking Mental Health and Counseling appointments in the 2016–17 academic year. By the end of this year, Mental Health and Counseling will have provided care to more than 3,400 students, representing a 15 percent increase compared with last year.

Genecin said that this uptick in students seeking help for mental health is associated with the “decreasing stigma” around mental health treatment.

Student groups at Fresh Check Day included Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Peer Wellness Champions, Mental Health Educators, Asian American Cultural Center Mental Health and Wellness Pod, Mindmap, the Yale Layer and Project LETS. Kayley Estoesta ’21 helped run the AACC’s table “Race and Mental Illness” and said Fresh Check Day also helped show the Yale community how “the colored community at Yale is one willing and ready to address issues of mental health.”

Heidi Dong ’20, who attended Fresh Check Day, said the event marks a “pivotal moment,” as students on campus and across the country make an effort to fight the stigma of mental health. Dong, vice president-elect of the Yale College Council, said she hopes to use this momentum to work with administrators to make mental health resources more accessible to students.

Goodman agreed that Yale students are paying more attention to their mental health and said the energy around the issue makes it is a “really cool time” to be doing mental health work on campus.

Genecin said in his email to the Yale community that Mental Health and Counseling will add four clinicians, including three new psychiatrists, starting in the summer of 2018. Mental Health Educators is a new student group that next fall will pilot workshops for first years to discuss mental health.

Claire Laffan ’21, who attended Fresh Check Day, said the event provides essential support to students and that such events should take place more frequently.

“Having one at the beginning of the year would also be a great way to encourage students, especially first years, to take advantage of Yale’s mental health resources and be proactive about their mental health, rather than waiting till the end of the year like I did,” Laffan said.

Fresh Check Day was an important step in the right direction, according to Fatima Chughtai ’19. Chughtai is the president of Project LETS, a student group that works to create a space by and for students with lived experience of mental illness.

“I think mental health was due its time in the spotlight as a key issue on campus, and I’m glad to see this attention being paid,” she said. “FCD is only the start of the conversation and the start of focusing on mental health at Yale.”

Chloe Glass | chloe.glass@yale.edu