An April Fool’s Day social media post from UNH Today concerning the campus’ Paws and Relax program a day after last week’s West Edge incident generated criticism from students and the community for its seemingly poor timing in light of renewed conversation over mental health.
In the evening of Sunday, March 31, an individual was found sleeping in their car with a gun. Police responded to the event and notified the campus of a “suicidal male” in the West Edge parking lot, which shut down for over two hours and several units in the nearby Lodges apartments were evacuated. Many of the UNH faculty and students were on edge and are still very concerned for the well-being of the individual as well as others around campus who may be dealing with their own mental health issues. Police were able to resolve the situation without anyone being harmed and the individual was taken into protective custody.
While the university was sending students live updates about the situation through the campus alert system, some students expected the school to suggest counseling to any students who may be seeking mental health support.
On April Fool’s Day, UNH Today posted an article saying the Paws & Relax program was being expanded to become campus wide and available 24/7. Paws & Relax is a coordinated effort between Health & Wellness and EdlerPet, a nonprofit based out of the Thompson School, to provide an opportunity every Wednesday afternoon for students to relax with therapy dogs and puppies. After reading through the whole article, many students were upset to find out that the post was not real and was just an April Fool’s joke.
“I think we can definitely get more involved in mental health and actually talk it about, because I feel the only thing the school really does is Paws & Relax,” first-year nutrition major Allison Pettis said in response to the post and the West Edge Lot incident, as she mentioned the April Fool’s joke responding to a different question. “Which I kind of felt was maybe not appropriate timing, especially given what happened last night, to joke about the resources about mental health. I feel that might have been in poor taste.”
Pettis also said she “really only knows” about Paws & Relax and Psychological and Counseling Services (PACS) but feels there could be more conversation about the resources.
Considering this was happening the day after a serious mental health crisis for an individual on campus, many students took to social media to express their grievances.
“I read through that whole article and then when I got to the end, I felt disappointed. Yes, it was too good to be true, but there was that small glimmer of hope that if I’m stressed and up late working on a paper, there’s a dog that can calm me down and give some therapeutic effects,” sophomore Victoria Madore said.
When asked about the post, UNH Spokesperson Erika Mantz said that, “The health and wellness of every member of our community are a top priority for the university, especially making sure our campus community is aware of the many resources offered, like the Paws & Relax program. The April Fools’ post was intended only to help raise awareness of these resources in a light-hearted way, not to offend or in any way diminish the importance of mental health. We have removed all postings.”
Paws & Relax is scheduled for every Wednesday from 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. in the Thrive Office on the second floor of the Hamel Recreation Center (HRC).