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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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Demystifying Mental Health at Montour

Demystifying Mental Health at Montour

Students at Montour HS started bright and early the last two weeks, waking up their minds and bodies, getting to know each other, and starting to plan some incredible projects to educate their peers about mental and substance use disorders, decrease stigma by promoting social inclusion and increasing awareness, and encourage students to form relationships with adults to feel comfortable reaching out if/when they need help. 7:30 AM is early-but these youth were ready to go!

Team members were all-in from the get-go, but really enjoyed the physical games. Matching the diagnosis to the definition encouraged teamwork and tested their knowledge, while Sparkle assessed their understanding of key concepts. It was evident from the first day that the students felt a large part of the stigma in their school stemmed from the myths that perpetuate our society. We form our beliefs in many different ways: from our parents, our friends, past experiences, the media-but these ideas may or may not be true. Stand Together workshops spend a lot of time talking about what stigma looks like and how it affects individuals, oftentimes preventing them from getting help; student projects are all about decreasing this stigma and one of the ways Montour participants wanted to challenge this stigma was by demystifying mental health and confronting these myths head-on.

Students spent the second workshop in small groups working on a giveaway, a ‘truth booth,’ and a staff-student activity to engage their peers and address Stand Together’s three goals. A fan-favorite is always the Food4Thought toolkit, which utilizes incentives to entice students to have a conversation about mental health and stigma. Students were excited to think about the possibility of having students spin a wheel to decide whether a statement was a myth or fact to receive a cookie, or whether they would give away pins and ‘Put a Pin in Stigma.’ Other students were passionate about spreading awareness by creating a visual and making sure teachers and staff were informed and ready to assist students that might be struggling. We left the second day with concrete plans for six projects and it’s up to the group to decide which three (or four ūüôā ) projects they want to implement this year.

All in all the group had so much fun learning about mental health and each other and getting ready to work to end stigma in their school. Each student left with a clear commitment to how they were going to use their skills and talents within their service-learning projects. We can’t wait to see your projects in action soon! (And of course we’ll have a blog for you, too!)

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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Avonworth Antelopes are Attacking Stigma-One Activity at a Time

Avonworth Antelopes are Attacking Stigma-One Activity at a Time

Avonworth Senior High School leaped into its first year with Stand Together with a lot of energy, fun ideas, and passionate youth. This year’s plans included two Food 4 Thought activities and a photo booth. The Stand Together team was really excited to share their knowledge with their school to stop stigma.

 

Screenshot_20190313-135256The group kicked off the year with classroom presentations to acclimate their peers to the Stand Together group and give them an idea of what will be going on this year. Around the same time, the students implemented their first give-away activity. Students selected a random slip of paper from a large bowl and they had to determine whether the statement was a fact or myth about mental and/or substance use disorders. The ST team hoped that they would be able to eliminate the stigma created by myths and replace them with facts. Afterwards, the students received a ‘Jolly Rancher’ candy and one to put in a jar. Once the jar was full after the activity, students were encouraged to guess the number of Jolly Ranchers in the jar to win the jar. That’s a lot of candy!

 

Screenshot_20190313-135332

 

The group also had a¬†S.H.E. Cookies event. Students wereScreenshot_20190314-150744 incentivized to come up to the stand with a promise of free cookies, but first they had to talk about S.H.E. with the ST team members. It’s not only important to know how to recognize the signs/symptoms of a mental and/or substance use disorder, but also how to respond when someone you know is struggling. That’s where S.H.E. comes in: Support, Hope, and Encouragement. We’re not counselors or mental health professionals,Screenshot_20190314-150757 but we can¬†be there for our friends and family and support them with a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear, hold hope for them when they struggle to do so themselves, and encourage them to get help from a trusted adult when it’s interfering with their daily life. S.H.E. doesn’t ‘sell sea shells by the sea shore;’ S.H.E. helps others when they’re struggling.

 

photo booth crop

 

The group’s final event, which I had the pleasure of attending,props crop was their photo booth. There were three green streamers for every purple streamer, signifying the 1 in 4 individuals that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder in a given year. Also on the background were thought bubbles with their social media info. Students could also choose from various props to have fun while learning about mental health and taking a photo to remember their experience. The photos will be printed out for the students to keep and another copy will also be used to create a collage to display in the school. Mara did a great job explaining the reason for the fun:

 

 

You had a great first year, ‘lopes, and we can’t wait for next year! Keep up the good work and see you in a couple weeks at the Recognition Event! (Shameless plug: for more information on the event, click¬†here.

 

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler MS ‘Bands Together’ Against Stigma

Shaler MS ‘Bands Together’ Against Stigma

Shaler Area Middle School is joining their high school counterparts in Stand Together this year to take action against stigma. Mr. Lisowski & Ms. Coleman’s crew was large and mighty and they came up with some incredibly creative projects for this year. Students are focusing on increasing education and awareness as well as social inclusion in fun activities for their peers during lunch.

 

¬†Stand Together workshops cram a lot of information into one day and sometimes it can be difficult to absorb it all, so we review several times throughout the day, as well as provide takeaways for the students. We also engage the students in meaningful activities that help them remember the concepts while having fun, too. For example, we have all the students stand up and the trainer counts off by four. The first three students can sit while the fourth remains standing. Once we have gone around the room, the students can visualize the ratio of students that have a mental or substance use disorder (1:4). Another activity, Ships & Sailors, is a game of elimination in which students must follow directions and form groups of a specific number in order to stay in the game. Afterwards, we discuss what it was like to be ‘eliminated,’ excluded, and ‘betrayed.’ This is what stigma feels like. To remember the five most common signs of mental and substance use disorders, we have the students repeat them back to each other and give each other a ‘high-five.’ (Did you know physical action helps your brain remember things?)

 

Another important piece of our trainings is learning how toIMG_20181206_091323 respond when you recognize those signs in someone¬†you know. We emphasize that the students are not professionals, but there are still things they can do to help. That’s where the acronym S.H.E. comes in: support, hope, and encouragement. Students can be there for their friends that are struggling, hold hope for them when they cannot do so for themselves, and encourage them to talk to an adult/get professional treatment. We also realize that youth can identify concerns in family members as well. In the clip below, students review a scenario in which a student’s aunt is demonstrating signs of a mental illness. The students share how they would approach that individual, what they would say, and what they would do.

 

 

This year, the group has planned three unique projects to engage their peers. In January, students will ‘Band Together’ Against Stigma by answering questions about mental and substance use disorders and receiving a wristband to represent the 1:4 individuals that are affected by these conditions. Students are also using¬†a winter theme (and cookies!) for students to share their personal experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. Sharing our stories IMG_20181127_110112helps decrease stigma by promoting awareness and increasing social inclusion; students find that they are not alone in their struggles and they have more in common than what separates them. Lasly, the students are planning another cookie give-away to dispel the myths about these disorders and/or perform a socially inclusive act. This activity plays on the game, “Truth or Dare.” Students will have to decide whether a statement is a fact and/or do something to¬†get to know someone new.

 

We’re excited to see these projects over the course of this year-and get some cookies while we’re at it! I have to say Snickerdoodles are a pretty underrated cookie, so I’m excited to see these treats teach and encourage other students to talk about mental and substance use disorders as they ‘Band Together’ against stigma.

 

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written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Flashback Friday: Shaler HS Sticks it to Stigma!

Flashback Friday: Shaler HS Sticks it to Stigma!

This past year was Shaler Area High School’s first year and they did not disappoint-AND they’re bringing their Middle School with them this year! This team did an absolutely amazing job organizing and facilitating their projects and it’s been such a pleasure working with their dedicated advisors. Here’s a glimpse of what you missed:

 

The Semicolon Project (;):

To spark interest in the group and start the conversation about mental health, students placed green posters on every fourth locker to represent the 1 in 4 youth that are affected by a mental or substance use disorder in a given year. The posters read:

Semicolon (;) — where the author¬†could¬†have ended the sentence…but¬†didn’t.

You don’t suffer alone.

Many of their peers were familiar with the Semicolon Project, a national campaign to end suicide, and started asking them about Stand Together and what they were going to do next.

 

Take a Bite out of Stigma:

Students created an elaborate scheme to get their fellow students to learn about mental health. Students were enticed by the rows of cookies at the ST table, but quickly found out they would not come for free. Instead of coins, the Stand Together team was asking for real change-in thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. To receive a cookie, each student had to reach into a bag and grab a slip of paper.¬†On that paper was a myth and a fact about mental and substance use disorders. Students had to read the statements out loud and were then able to receive a cookie. What a great idea! (Random fact: if you read something out loud, you’re 4x more likely to remember it!)

 

You’re Not Alone-Look at the Numbers:

Although it was their first year, students decided to do a very intimate activity. Following the basic outline of a ‘truth booth,’ and Steel Valley HS’s project two years ago,¬†the team¬†set-up a stand in the cafeteria. On the table were sticky notes of various colors, each representing a different connection to mental and substance use disorders:

  • pink-personally affected by mental illness

  • yellow-personally affected by addiction

  • blue-know someone affected by mental illness

  • lime green-know someone affected by addiction

  • orange-felt excluded or disadvantaged

 

 

The participation and the impact were phenomenal. Not only were students using the sticky notes anonymously, as suggested, but some even felt comfortable enough writing the name or relationship of the person they knew that is affected. The most moving piece for me was a lime green sticky that read: Mom RIP 1.28.18, signifying that this individual had lost his mother to death by substance use. It was incredibly powerful seeing the students literally ‘stick it to stigma’ by sharing their own struggles and truly discovered that no one is alone. (On a fun note, they also gave out lollipops as ‘suckers to stop stigma.’ What a creative group! Check out the video below:

 

I’m so proud of Shaler. The passion of both their advisors and their students is phenomenal and I can’t wait to work with them again this year. I just know they’re going to have another impactful year! See you soon, SAHS team!!!

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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