If you’re familiar with North Allegheny, you know that it’s a HUGE school district. This can seem daunting, but it gives our students the chance to impact even more youth in their community! As it was their first year, the advisors started recruitment with students from their SADD club, students that were passionate about making a difference and making their school a better place. And what a better place to start then with students that are motivated to enact change!
This year’s team implemented a visual for their peers, classroom presentations to all the physical education classes (which included pretty much every one in the school at some point), and a lemonade stand at a NA district event. The students created suspense, educated their peers, and extended their reach beyond the walls of their school to the community at large. The group also documented their activities on Twitter @NASHSADD and #stand2getherNASH.
NAHS has a very large building with several stairwells that are constantly flooded with students. The team decided to take advantage of this by placing green tape on every fourth step to represent the 1 in 4 individuals that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder in a given year. They purposely didn’t advertise or provide any explanation for the project to peak their peers interest in the seemingly random decorations on the stairs. The next day, however, posters and flyers plastered the walls and the principal made an announcement to explain the meaning behind the project.
The group presented a PowerPoint of Myths and Facts and educational pieces to share with their classmates. This presentation focused on the signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders, the definition of stigma and the impact it has on youth, and how students can support their peers and Stand Together. ‘End Mental Health Stigma’ wristbands were distributed for students to remember the event and handed out Resolve crisis services wallet cards. Students reminded the groups that although they might not take the cards seriously right then, they never know when they might need it. This was a very powerful, strong finish to the presentation.
Even more powerful was the student-produced video showed during the presentations. In this film, students and faculty members alike shared their personal experiences with mental health challenges and the stigma they’ve faced. Some of the biggest discouragers of stigma is called ‘the first person narrative,’ in which individuals are exposed to and hear from individuals that are living with or have been affected by mental and/or substance use disorders. Students realize that they are not alone in their struggles, that they have more in common than separates them, and that individuals with these disorders are ‘people-first,’ that just happen to have a mental health challenge, just like someone might have a physical challenge and shouldn’t be discriminated against. It was a very powerful demonstration of the bravery and strength of individuals in their own school that are living successfully with these conditions.
The ST team concluded the year by giving away ‘lemon-aid’ at their district-wide diversity celebration event, which included groups from many different ethnicities, different abilities, and social groups. One out of every four cups of lemonade was pink to reinforce the 1 in 4 message. Walk-ups to the table were asked questions about some of the myths surrounding mental health and stigma in order to enjoy a free cup of lemonade. The students also played their video presentation and distributed Stand Together informational handouts, including the STIGMA acronym, Words Matter!, and How to Help a Peer. Although they didn’t reach many that night, it was heartening to me see conversations between our team, parents, and their children about mental health.
For their first year, NA did an absolutely fantastic job. Faculty, staff, administration, the student body, and the ST team members were moved by their participation. One youth in the program said:
The whole experience was really eye-opening. Going through training, and then giving presentations I learned a lot of things that I would probably never have known. And since, I have been trying to make changes in my everyday life and trying to help others in an effort to end the stigma. If I could’ve participated for more years, I would have. I will take what I learned with me through the rest of my life.
Their school principal even attended our Recognition Event and was singing the praises of their students:
Our students used a creative approach while bringing recognition to stigmas related to mental health. Their approach captured the interest of our entire student body and had a significant impact on the manner our students process their perceptions of those being treated for mental health challenges.
Thank you, NA, for your passion and commitment. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next year-and bring on your Intermediate school too!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
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