The sun shined though the huge glass windows in the Lounge at North Allegheny Intermediate High School in early November, welcoming students to their first training workshop. It’s NAI’s first year in the program (jumping on the bandwagon from NASH’s participation last year) and as the Fall leaves swirled around, signifying the change of the seasons, the students were eager to start changing the culture around mental health in their school.
Students shared a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun while learning and growing together. Students learned about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, and how to help their peers. They also got to know each other in fun games, such as Common Ground, that encourage them to build relationships with each other. Our teams act as ‘micro-cosms’ to their schools and the connections they make during the trainings will overflow onto their classmates as well, promoting social inclusion (one of our goals). The group left the first day with the education and experience to come back the following week to start planning projects to end stigma in their school.
Students were eager to share their ideas with the team and ‘dive right in’ the second training workshop. Students thought it was very important for their peers to know that many people (1:4!) are living with mental and/or substance use disorders and that they are not alone in their struggles. Another important focus was to share resources and encourage students to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re worried about themselves or someone else (another one of our goals).
We stress that students are not counselors and that weight is not theirs to bear, but there are things they can do to support a friend or family member, summed up in the acronym S.H.E.: provide support, hope, and encouragement. Youth can also continue to include students in daily activities, encourage their peers in their treatment and coping skills, and just be there for them. We don’t have to ‘fix’ things others are struggling with and it can be scary to sit in the silence, but sometimes, all someone needs is someone to sit with them in their struggle to remind them that they are not alone and that you are there for them.
The NAI team plans to implement a food and candy stand, host a 1:4 photo booth, and create a video to connect students to resources and adults to get help. Their slogan, ‘Tigers Talk about It!’ reminds their peers that #itsokaytonotbeokay and that #itsokaytogethelp. They want to normalize conversations about mental health in their school and help others on their journeys by uniting the student body in solidarity to end stigma.
We can’t wait to see your projects in action, stop by for some sweet treats, and learn about the changes you’ve made in your school with your passion and projects. Keep up the great work!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
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