Health & Wellness at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) held its annual Wellness Fest, an engaging mental health promotion event that aims to connect students to mental health resources on campus and beyond, on Thursday, Sept. 26.
The event took over the Hamel Recreation Center (HRC) with a number of interactive booths dedicated to various aspects of well-being, including healthy sleep habits, suicide prevention and nutrition.
“The event itself is a way to try to get college kids to learn more about all the aspects of health,” UNH senior Nick Argiro, a mental health intern at Health & Wellness, said. “Mental health, physical health, sexual health, stuff like that.”
Argiro and other mental health interns were charged with organizing Wellness Fest, working closely with the national organization “Fresh Check Day” in order to bring the event to campus. Fresh Check Day aims to “combat hopelessness with hope by providing an approachable atmosphere that’s unique to Fresh Check Day—a space that promotes compassion, help-seeking, and support,” Fresh Check Day Director of Events and Coordination Rachel Papke, told The New Hampshire in an email.
Fresh Check Day provides a catalog of booths that participating universities can choose to bring to campus through the event, including “Nine Out of Ten,” a suicide prevention booth, and “YOUnique,” which brings awareness to eating disorders and promotes body image.
Organizing the event is the main responsibility of the mental health interns, and Argiro explained the extensive organization process.
“We planned everything out, reached out to volunteers and a bunch of student orgs. We had to gather all of the supplies and we had to ask some local businesses for food donations and stuff like that,” he said, adding that he and other mental health interns created original booths to add to those provided by Fresh Check Day, including booths devoted to healthy friendships and time management.
“It was a lot of work,” he continued. “It’s been stressful and this week’s been pretty crazy.”
However, despite the hard work, Argiro assures that it was worth it.
“If you look around, all of these college students are learning something new, or multiple new things,” he said. “I’m so glad I did it. I feel so fulfilled right now.”
While the Wellness Fest is a relatively new event at UNH, it has received a positive response during its short time on campus.
“I don’t know the exact year, but I know we’ve been doing it for about 4 or 5 years, and each year has grown,” senior neuroscience major Kali Morrissett said. Morrissett, a mental health intern last year, returned to the event this year as a volunteer.
“Last year was our biggest turn out with about 405 people, so it was really big and really successful. Today, it’s started to pick up more so I’m hoping we beat it every year,” she said.
The event has grown not just in attendance over the years, but also in size. According to Morrissett, the section of the fest devoted to sleep, which last year comprised of a single booth, now takes up nearly half of the room. The area, entitled “The Sleep Expo,” included pillow testing, energizing alternatives to energy drinks that don’t prevent consumers from sleeping, and personalized sleep screenings.
In addition to the Sleep Expo, the event provided a number of other activities in order to cover as many aspects of wellbeing as possible. One booth, “De-stress Your Diet,” taught students about the nutritional benefits of foods like bananas, almonds and strawberries, providing free samples of each. Students made uplifting ornaments for children at local children’s hospitals in order to practice community outreach. Meanwhile, licensed therapy cat Tuna, also known as “Tuna the Wildcat,” visited with and performed tricks for attendees to help them de-stress.
Sophomore psychology major Michael Markham expressed appreciation for the resources provided by the event.
“Around this time of year we’re having our first tests, our first exams,” he said. “[This event] is probably pretty needed at this point.”
Markham’s typical wellness practices on campus include taking naps and drinking tea, and he adds that the Wellness Fest has helped him expand these practices.
“I’ve always wanted to try coloring books and that sort of thing as a way to calm down, and I just got a free little one!” he said, holding a miniature coloring book provided by the Fresh Check Day booth “Uplift.”
Morrissett told The New Hampshire that she appreciates the opportunity to teach fellow students about the importance of wellness.
“With students here on campus, some of our darkest days are in school when we’re away. No one wants to talk about it, but I love talking about it,” she said. “It’s just really cool to teach people about what you can actually do, because it’s so easy to not take care of yourself.”