Linking Together for Mental Health Awareness

A carabiner that says #Linked4Life
A team from UConn Hartford and the School of Social Work is participating in the "Linked 4 Life" event to raise awareness for suicide prevention and the importance of mental health (Courtesy of Linked 4 Life)

On Saturday, October 10 — World Mental Health Day — a team from UConn Hartford including the School of Social Work will participate in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and suicide prevention.

The Linked 4 Life event, sponsored by the Jordan Porco Foundation and Bear’s Restaurant Group, kicks off a campaign to elevate the conversation about mental health. More than 20 teams will create the longest-ever chain of climbing carabiners, linking together 11,000 of them to break the previous record of 8,622 carabiners.

“Our mission is to link together one pledge, one person, one carabiner at a time,” says Rachel Papke, director of events and communications for the Jordan Porco Foundation, “inviting people to speak openly about mental health issues while encouraging listening without judgement, to create safe spaces across the country, connecting with a message of hope to those who need help the most.”

In addition to raising money for the Foundation’s suicide prevention and mental health programs, Linked 4 Life encourages people to take a pledge to speak up about, and help those struggling with, mental illness.

The Foundation was established by Marisa Giarnella-Porco ‘91 MSW and Ernie Porco after their son, Jordan, died by suicide in 2011.

“The most important message here is that suicide is preventable, there is help available, and people are not struggling alone, even if it looks like everyone else has it all figured out,” says Giarnella-Porco. “Taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of your physical health. Everyone can play a role in supporting the mental well-being of their classmates, friends, and family by reaching out and becoming familiar with the warning signs.”

The organizers chose 11,000 not only to break the record but also to show solidarity for the 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year, says Cheryl Antoncic, co-owner of Bear’s Restaurant Group, who envisioned the event.

“The carabiner, a clip used to tether together climbers, is a visual reminder that we’re linked together, and that it’s OK to ask for help,” Antoncic says. “We’re each other’s safe space, creating a message of hope, one link at a time. Our pledge to be linked for life will break through the stigma that leaves too many people struggling in silence.”

The event was a great fit for the School of Social Work, which is heavily involved in serving the community and conducts distinctive research and fieldwork related to mental health, says Milagros Marrero-Johnson, director of strategic programming for the School.

“Raising awareness about mental health and suicide prevention is the key piece of this event for us,” Marrero-Johnson says. “College-aged students, specifically, are impacted significantly. We want to get the word out that mental health is real and it’s OK to speak up.”

Marrero-Johnson encourages members of the UConn community to post their #Linked4Life pledges to social media. The pledge is available at linkedforlife.org.

“I appreciate the support of future social workers engaging in this movement,” Giarnella-Porco says. “It is my hope that UConn social work students will bring this awareness to their future work setting. I believe that their voices will change the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and help reduce the rates of suicide across our country.”

To donate to the UConn Hartford Linked 4 Life team, visit give.classy.org/linked4lifeuconnhartford. A carabiner will be added to the team chain for every $3 raised. The Guinness World Records event will be live-streamed from Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, October 10, on the Linked 4 Life Facebook and YouTube pages.

The UConn Hartford Student Health and Wellness Mental Health Resource Center (MHRC) is available to support students’ mental health concerns. Email tracy.gruber@uconn.edu for an appointment. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call UConn Police at 860.486.4800 or 911.