Posts Tagged change

TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

The Stand Together program welcomes another newcomer to our line-up of schools: Thomas Jefferson High School! Welcome!

The group had their first official ST workshops on two Tuesdays in December, however they had already been meeting as a group in preparation for the training, discussing their thoughts about mental health and brainstorming ideas to end stigma in their school. This group came together on their training days eager to get started, but a bit timid. That would quickly change!

After setting clear ‘community agreements’ to create a ‘safe space,’ the students began to ease into team-building and education. The first workshop was all formal training about mental illness, substance use disorders, and the effects of stigma. Not only did TJHS learn new information about mental health and wellness, they also learned new things about one another.

During the ‘Cross the Line’ activity, the group shared they were surprised to share some of the same struggles as their peers. Stand Together members also noticed it was a challenge to share their concerns; they care a lot about what their peers are going through and didn’t want to add any more stress onto others. Group members shared how much they feel sad when they see other peers and staff going through hard times and they want to use this program to really change the culture of their school.

Thinking about what they learned at the first workshop, the students came up with a list of very important information they wanted their peers and staff to know, including:
-taking mental and substance use disorders seriously
-knowing that #youarenotalone if you struggle with something
-don’t be afraid to #talkaboutit!
The group brain-stormed different ideas to create their anti-stigma projects. One idea was a popcorn stand during lunch periods. They wanted it to be interactive with a trivia game wheel and different colored popcorn that featured the 1:4 ratio of individuals affected by these disorders. They also discussed having a school-wide assembly to raise awareness about mental health and stigma. Not only do ST members want to get the right facts out to their peers, this group also wants their teachers and staff to feel comfortable enough to check-in on the students they interact with daily. TJHS is really tackling a lot of issues in their first year!

Empathy is a huge part of the TJHS motto and this project’s theme. With this ‘super-power’ in their toolkit, we have no doubt their first year in Stand Together will have a lasting impression on their school.

Welcome to the club! We’re happy to have you and excited to see your projects!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

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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West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West Allegheny High School is returning for its third year in the program and they continue to amaze us with their creativity, passion, and vulnerability. Half of their members returned this year, committed to continue their work to address stigma in their school. With a diverse group and a handful of staff support, this group is well on their way to another amazing year-and they’ve upped their game to Tier 3! There was no doubt in my mind they would rise to the occasion and blow us away with their ideas.

To decrease stigma, it’s important to increase education and awareness to break down the stereotypes and myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. One of the first things we stress is that these are diagnosable conditions (by a mental health professional) that occur frequently and over a long period of time. It’s not just the ups-and-downs of every day life; we all feel anxious and sad from time-to-time (we asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever felt this way in the picture above), but when it starts to affect someone’s daily life, that’s when it’s important to reach out for help.

In the HS curriculum in particular, we also discuss various diagnoses and definitions. Students learn about the eight most common mental health conditions and the similarities and differences among them. Although we don’t expect the students to memorize these disorders, we want them to be aware of the correct definitions so that they can address the stigma associated with specific ones. For example, most people use ‘OCD’ as an adjective, like it’s just about being ‘neat’ or ‘picky,’ but in reality, OCD is a disorder involving obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s not just that someone likes things a certain way, but they are following certain rules, rituals, and routines; things have to be a certain way. No matter the diagnoses, most disorders can be associated with five major signs and symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care, or WHAPP! (as we like to call it). Students recognize that when they notice these in themselves or someone else, it’s important to reach out to an adult they trust.

Students at West Allegheny also take part in an activity called Climate Change. In this activity, students think about the positive and negative characteristics of their school environment, what an ideal culture would look like, and think about how they can get there. One of Stand Together’s goals focuses on social inclusion-all students and staff are welcomed and included in the social fabric of the school. They used this idea to plan one of their projects the second day. (see below)

The team at West A has always been passionate about reaching their Freshman class as soon as they enter the building. For the past two years they have held a freshman assembly with information about mental health and Stand Together, games, and a recovery speaker. This year they’re going to take it a step further. After their assembly in the fall, this Spring, the students will be entering the health classrooms to spend three-yes, THREE!-days sharing information with their peers, engaging them in fun activities, and showing them a self-created film they will be producing that will include both students and staff sharing personal stories about their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. One of their advisors, Ms. D, is the health teacher and it was a natural connection to expand her unit with peer-to-peer instruction from Stand Together students. We always say, it’s one thing if an adult tells you something, but it’s quite another if you hear it from someone your age, someone you know…it has a much greater impact.

Students have also planned a Stop Stigma Speed Run (or Triple S Grand Prix) obstacle course for students in gym class. Participants will rotate through different activities learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma while engaging in fun activities and physical games. The team will also be painting a mural with silhouettes of the team and a pledge for their school to ‘end stigma’ by ‘creating a self and welcoming environment’ for students and staff, regardless of whether or not an individual has a mental health, substance use disorder, or any other difference or diagnosis.

We’re looking forward to see how great an impact this team makes at their school this year. We know they’re going to change the environment and even lives. See you soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS was another team that lost a large group of seniors from last year and is smaller than some of our other groups, but they definitely make up for it in passion and commitment. This group is only 10 members LARGE if you measure it by the size of their hearts!

One thing very special about this group is that they bring a wealth of personal experience to the table and aren’t afraid to #talkaboutit and be vulnerable with each other. Each individual’s experience was unique and we had some great discussions about stigma, the media, and how to combat it.

Are you ready to WHAPP?! (Rather, do you know the five signs?)

Like most teams, the Shaler HS group LOVED the buzzer games, but I’d say this was pretty intense! I’m glad we had lots of laughs playing Common Ground and thoughtful responses to the scenarios to balance it out. They had such a good time laughing and learning together and were ready to start their project planning filled with excitement and drive.

By the end of the second day, the group came up with several projects to reach their peers where they are (even if it means bathroom stalls), make connections and foster relationships with staff, and host a mental health a-WEAR-ness week to rally the whole school. They were also excited to use the LEAD/JED There’s Help All Around You posters to remind students that #itsokaytonotbeokay and #itsokaytogethelp.

We’re excited to see their projects in action this spring as they increase awareness, promote social inclusion, and start forming relationships with staff to encourage reaching out for help. 10 students, 3 goals, 3 project, and 2 advisors are ready to change their school-and the world!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

Earlier in October the Stand Together team at Oakland Catholic HS met to learn more about mental and substance use disorders, how to help, and how to stop stigma. This is OC’s second year in the program and they are ready to come back and build on the progress they’ve made with their scrunchies against stigma and cookies that crumbled away stigma by promoting education and awareness. One student remarked: ‘Some of my friends deal with mental health issues and they were more open to talk about it at school because of the projects that the club put together.’ They are definitely off to a good start!

This team has great passion and urgency to advocate for change in their schools and communities. Students asked though-provoking and introspective questions during the trainings and had such a good time engaging in the games and activities while learning about the topics and each other. By the end of the second day, the group had the education, experience, and group cohesion to start thinking about their projects.

The team had so much enthusiasm on the second day and couldn’t wait to start tossing out ideas and planning their projects. The group had so many ideas it was hard to narrow it down, but by the end of the day they decided to focus on forming relationships with staff and increasing awareness of the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders and that no one is alone in their struggles. The group wants to plan an active discussion between the team and staff/faculty and produce a video that includes students and staff sharing their own personal experiences.

The students still want to explore creating a ‘truth booth’ styled project, but had so many suggestions, they weren’t sure which way to go! We form bonds and increase social inclusion when we connect with each other and realize that we have more in common than we think. ‘Truth booth’ projects really help individuals see these concepts visually and in action.

At the end of the day, the group couldn’t wait to get started finalizing their plans and start implementing their projects in their school. They’re excited to see the changes they will be making in their school environment and culture and make strides in ‘soaring over stigma’ in their community.

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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World Mental Health Day 2019

World Mental Health Day 2019

Each year on October 10, advocates around the world promote recovery and wellness through education and awareness. It was first celebrated in 1992 at the suggestion of the World Health Organization (WHO) and has expanded to over 150 countries to bring attention to mental illness and its major effects on peoples’ lives. This day also provides an opportunity for organizations to talk about their work and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

Talking about mental health is especially important for youth and young adults. One in four people experience a mental health or substance use condition in a given year and most disorders emerge in adolescence. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. The number of middle and high schoolers with anxiety and depression has steadily increased and social media has made it difficult to escape the constant pressures of life. Anyone can develop a mental health condition, regardless of age, race, sex, gender orientation, ethnicity, or financial status.

There are so many ways to get involved, whether you have conversations about mental health, support your friends and family, or re-direct inappropriate language (i.e. ‘crazy,’ ‘psycho,’ etc.). Check out our list for How to Be Helpful to Peers and don’t forget to sign our pledge to end stigma.

We can make mental health stigma a problem of the past as we Stand Together. Be the change!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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OCHS: Celebrities, Cookies, & Scrunchies…Oh My!

OCHS: Celebrities, Cookies, & Scrunchies…Oh My!

Lions and tigers and bears…Oh my! (Wizard of Oz) Celebrities, cookies and scrunchies…Oh my! (Oakland Catholic) Those animals are definitely something to be afraid of, but the students at Oakland Catholic High School weren’t afraid to tackle stigma in their school. Although this was their first year, the team created some great projects that will be remembered fondly for years to come.

light up sign

IMG_3134The team kicked off the year with visual representations to spread awareness. Team members decorated the staircases of their two building with different colored tape to represent the one in four youth that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorders in a given year. Posters of prominent celebrities with these conditions were on the walls of the stairwells to spread awareness about the prevalence of these disorders and how they can affect anyone.DSCN1663-r Since it was their first year and first project, many of their peers were curious about the decorations and approached ST members to discuss the visuals. Many of the adults also commented that they did not know that these people lived with these disorders. This started the conversations that would be had over the course of the school year.

 

Students continued their discussion on the topic by using an activity to Crumble Away Stigma. Student participants spun a carnival wheel to select a questions about a mental health or substance use disorder. Students got to spin the wheel until they answered a question correctly. Some DSCN1688-rstudents had to get some help, but that just emphasises how much we need each other and that we’re not alone in our struggles. Participants were awarded with an infamous Ms. Judy cookie. Folks, these are¬†homemade by one of the cafeteria workers and I can tell you from first-hand experience that they are¬†amazing. No wonder this project was such a hit! Students were also encouraged to sign the Stop the Stigma pledge by means of a card on the cookie bag. The team continued promoting the 1:4 ratio with the cookies themselves: for every three Sprinkle with Kindness sugar cookies, there was a chocolate¬†Chip Away Stigma cookie. Students were more than happy to participate with such a tasty treat at stake! Many of the school’s faculty and staff, including their priest and assistant principal joined in on the fun. I was so glad I could be there for this event!

 

The group’s last activity for the year combined a video presentation with an incentive give-away. 90s trends are making a comeback and scrunchies are a BIG deal at OC. In the video, students explained the idea behind the scrunchies, but, more importantly, the clip featured students and staff sharing their experiences with mental health and the ST program. ST students and members of the student body shared how the projects have affected them. One brave teacher shared that his own sister died by suicide. This video also gave students a lot of hope and helped others realize that they are not alone in their struggles. Then, students were encouraged to reach out to a ST member and discuss something they learned from the video to receive a scrunchie. As they said, ‘Together, we can scrunch away stigma.’ Students were proud to don their scrunchies as a symbol of solidarity against stigma.

 

 

OC is well on their way to ending stigma at their school. One student remarked,

Some of my friends deal with mental health issues and they were more open to talk about it at school because of the projects that the club put together.

We love hearing about the impact our students teams are making in their schools. When we¬† Stand Together to ‘crumble’ and ‘scrunch’ away stigma, more youth can get the help they need without fear of STIGMA (stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and negative attitudes) and discrimination. Outstand job, Oakland Catholic! We can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!

 

group scrunchie throw

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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NAHS Tigers Talk about It: ‘We Stand with 1 in 4’

NAHS Tigers Talk about It: ‘We Stand with 1 in 4’

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.

 

1in4Steps.3NAHS 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 PowerPointDSCN1640-r 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.

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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.

 

DSCN1872-rThe 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.¬† DSCN1660¬† 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!

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Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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‘Dice Dragons are Slaying Stigma (with Bitmoji!)

‘Dice Dragons are Slaying Stigma (with Bitmoji!)

Pittsburgh Public’s Allderdice High School continued to use their mascot this year to engage their peers in activities to decrease the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders in their school. They had some ‘unfinished business’-a project they didn’t get to finish last year-and were excited to complete it and continue their work in the school.

 

DSCN1637This year the students combined four projects into an activity fair for the freshman students. The entire grade has to take history and the rest of the day is a chaotic time, so this turned out to be an ideal alternative to hold their events. Stand Together students even got out of class all day to make sure their fellow classmates got to learn about mental health!

 

Students entered the auditorium¬†were introduced to the team and their cause by watching a Bitmoji video the team had created. Members of the team, including one of their advisors, Mr. Matson, recorded themselves as Bitmoji’s describing the Stand Together program and its goals and the importance of addressing stigma towards mental and substance use disorders. The video also included facts (1:4, of course! and the definitions of mental illness and stigma) and a dragon head¬†that announced Allderdice’s pledge to stand against stigma. How creative is that?! Check it out:

 

 

After the film, students rotated through several stations that were set-up with activities to engage peers. At the first station, students could enjoy a cup of lemonade to encourage the students to lemon-aid each other when they are struggling. 1 in 4 cups of lemonade were pink to represent the 1 in 4 individuals that experience a mental and/or substance use condition in a given year. Another booth encouraged students to ask questions in a judgement free-zone. They passed out resources to encourage students to ‘mustache’ a question. I was impressed with the number of students that were eager and willing to talk about their own struggles or reach out for more information for a friend. At the last station, students signed a flame sticker to represent that they were going to ‘burn out stigma…’ because dragons breathe fire. Get it?! ūüôā

 

 

The students also displayed their dragon mural for the students.mural-r The group really wanted to finish this last year, but as it’s quite a large piece, it took longer than expected. This year, the group completed the mural of a¬†beautiful, immense green dragon breathing fire that reads: ‘Allderdice pledges to end stigma towards youth or adults who have a mental illness.’ This mural will be displayed in the school as a permanent fixture to remind all students to ‘slay stigma’ at their school.

 

Members of the team as well as participants and faculty were impressed and proud of their school and the event:

  • ‘I’m so glad we’re able to talk about this important issues at school.’ (ST team member)

  • ‘In our efforts to make Allderdice a more inclusive environment, our Stand Together group has played a major role in making this more of a reality. I am extremely proud of their work and I know that the fight to end stigma towards those with mental health conditions will continue to have an impact not only on our current students, but those students in years to come.’ (school principal)

  • ‘This fair was completely surprising to me. I hope to join the Stand Together group next year.’

 

The students also used this time to recruit new members for the 2019-2020 school year. They hope to make this event an annual fair and possibly incorporate outside mental health providers and additional resources. We can’t wait to see what you come up with for next year! Keep on slayin’ (stigma, that is)!

 

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Written by Danyelle, coordinator

 

 

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S. Allegheny MS Sends Stigma Spinning

S. Allegheny MS Sends Stigma Spinning

The Stand Together team at South Allegheny Middle School decided to tackle the stigma around mental health for their first year in the program. For three different days this month, team members hosted an information game table with a spinning wheel to ‘Send Stigma Spinning.’

 

 

During several lunch periods in a highly-used intersection of their school hallway, ST members encouraged their classmates to test their knowledge about mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. Participants were eager to give the wheel a spin for a chance to win some cool mental health awareness swag. Numbers on the wheel corresponded to various mental health notecards. These included true/false, short answer, and questions for the students to answer. No matter if you got the questions right or wrong, students were rewarded for their effort with a green pencil, bracelet, stress ball, or candy. Team members elaborated on correct answers and provided education when students answered a question incorrectly. No matter the participant, students learned much about mental health and stigma.

 

 

IMG_20190516_113446The table also featured a pledge poster with pens and markers for the students to sign as a sign of solidarity to ‘Stand Together’ against mental health stigma. Posters defining stigma and South Allegheny’s promise to ‘Rise by Lifting Others’ added an additional feeling of unity among the students, faculty, and staff.

 

South Allegheny’s principal¬†Katelyn Vogel and guidance counselor Kristy Roche are excited to continue the mission next year. They spoke about Stand Together t-shirts and future projects.IMG_20190516_113224¬†One activity they are really excited about is a colorful feather mural for all students to participate in, once again to display their unity as a school that stands up to stigma and will continue to rise by lifting others. This year’s team set the foundation and we can’t wait to see them in action next year. Keep those great ideas coming! Good job, South A!

 

 

 

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Written by Montaja, trainer

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