To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Behind Fresh Check Day, the first mental health awareness promotion fair at Brandeis

On Sept. 9, the Univ. had its first Fresh Check Day in history, which was a mental health promotion and suicide prevention fair that contained 10 booths, including support from multiple departments and student organizations, peer education, free food and giveaways. More than 17 departments including the Office of Health and Wellness Promotion and Department of Student Engagement have participated in the event. The Brandeis Hoot sat down with Bella Doulas ’24, Bridge to Wellness (BTW) peer health education coordinator, and Leah Berkenwald, Director of Health Promotion and Wellness Initiatives, to get to know more behind the successful execution of Fresh Check Day.

This was the first year that Fresh Check Day happened. Why did you come up with the idea? What were the challenges you’ve had?

Doulas: Fresh Check Day isn’t a Brandeis idea, it’s based on a program called the Jordan Porco Foundation. Fresh Check Day existed at other campuses, but it was never adopted into Brandeis. This was the first year we did that, just because we felt like mental health obviously is a huge issue, and more attention is being put into it from a lot of universities. Brandeis kind of wanted to hop in on that because there are a lot of students here at Brandeis that struggle with mental health issues. The whole point of the event is just to serve as an uplifting fair, where there are many stations where kids can just learn and feel comfortable to start conversations about mental health.

Why did the committee think it was important to organize Fresh Check Day at Brandeis? What was the thought process like? Berkenwald: Mental health is a critical issue at Brandeis and beyond, yet mental health (and suicide prevention in particular) can be tough to talk about. Fresh Check Day aims to create a compassionate and uplifting environment to encourage learning and dialogue about these sensitive topics. It was important to set an approachable, accessible tone at the start of the year with respect to mental wellness and campus resources, as well as establish a Brandeis tradition that communicates our values and builds community.


What was the greatest challenge in coordinating this event? 

Doulas: I think the biggest thing, though, was coordination with the other departments, like making sure that there were enough representations from each department, because each department would have a booth …. Getting enough people to be responsible for their own booth was probably the most difficult part because it was a lot of coordination. The most difficult part was making sure that you were communicating the information in a sensitive way. And listening to some other people who were not really uncomfortable talking about it.


There was a mandatory booth that we were selected to do because we were students, [and] it’s more relatable to talk to other students about this. The booth was called Nine Out of 10. The reason why it was called that is because one out of every 10 college students contemplate suicide. The whole idea of the booth is to be one of the nine of the 10 to stand up, and be an ally to those who may be showing symptoms, which could be isolating yourself, skipping classes and giving away possessions. 


Berkenwald: Time! Early September is a busy time of year, and the summer was a busy time of planning for a number of programs for this academic year. While we felt it was important to add this new program, coordinating committee meetings, planning a large-scale event and avoiding conflicts with other programs that day all presented challenges, but we worked together as a team with our colleagues to manage time effectively and provide a great experience for students. 

What was your greatest takeaway? 

Doulas: I honestly wasn’t expecting so many people to be open about themselves. There were a lot of people that were really interested in all the booths. They asked a lot of questions and I was really surprised at how supportive people were. Definitely a handful of students came after the booth and they would be like, oh, thank you so much for doing this. This meant a lot. I felt like I really left an impact.


Berkenwald: One student/volunteer said that this was their favorite thing Brandeis has done! We saw attendance and engagement with the program from across class years and involvement experiences. The booths were staffed by student organizations and campus departments. This event was a great representation not only of our community’s values of care and support but also of how groups at Brandeis collaborate to enhance the student experience on campus. 


Are you going to do it again next year? If yes, what would you have done differently?

Doulas: Yes. I mean, the plan is to do it again next year, and we are hoping to make it an even bigger thing so we can get even more people. Maybe more people from different groups. We already have people from different departments like department chairs. It was very much a lot of adults, but [we are hoping] maybe more student leaders of clubs, so they are more connected with the student body.


Doulas wanted to thank the university for being willing to make Fresh Check Day possible, as well as the Brandeis student body for how open they were in sharing their experiences with the volunteers and other peers.

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