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Helping prevent college suicides with peer to peer guidance

The Jordan Porco Foundation is on a mission to prevent teen suicide by promoting mental health and creating a message of hope for young adults. The Hartford-based non profit was founded in 2011 by Ernie and Marisa Porco after losing their son to suicide as a freshman in college.

The foundation's signature event is Fresh Check Day, designed to engage students in dialogue about mental health through interactive booths that offer mental health and resource information in a fun, engaging setting. Since the first Fresh Check Day in 2012, the program has expanded to more than a dozen colleges and universities nationwide.

"A lot of the time, it's really that peer-to-peer guidance that they look for, so that's where this comes in," said Rachel Papke, Communications Manager for the Jordan Porco Foundation.
According to the Jordan Porco Foundation, one in 10 college students contemplates suicide, so the organization is trying to educate those other nine students to spot the warning signs in their friends before it's too late.

"Just asking someone if you're okay is a huge one because sometimes someone just wants someone to listen to them," said Papke.

The University of Hartford is one of 24 Connecticut colleges that hosts an annual Fresh Check Day. Students had the chance to pet therapy dogs, practice yoga and learn about spotting mental health issues in friends.

Dr. Nick Pinkerton runs the university's counseling center, and said students can find it challenging to find their place in college. "How do I get through these courses?" said Dr. Pinkerton. "How do I socially navigate and find friends and feel connected to this place? How do I identify myself?"

Dr. Pinkerton said hopelessness is one of the key indicators of a problem, among others. "They're not going to classes," said Dr. Pinkerton. "They're no longer going out with friends.

They're spending a lot of time inside. They're not going out and eating with them. They seem really stressed out. They're not themselves."

The Jordan Porco Foundation outlines the following as signs that someone may need help: isolation; trouble in school; changes in mood/behavior/; seeming depressed/anxious; engaging in risk taking, recklessness or self-harming behaviors, talking about suicide; issues with eating or sleeping; experiencing trauma, or giving away possessions.

According to the Jordan Porco Foundation, 1,100 college students commit suicide in the U.S. every year. One third of college students feel so depressed they have difficulty functioning, and more than half experience overwhelming anxiety.

If you see someone exhibiting any of the warning signs detailed above, please seek help for them right away. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org.