Allderdice High School (PPS) has returned for their second year to Stand Together-and a devotion to finish one of their projects from last year, a dragon mural to ‘burn stigma.’ In addition, they’re hoping to do a couple other projects to reach their peers in a variety of ways.
The students at Allderdice tend to be one of our most diverse groups and it definitely brings a lot of different experiences to the table. There were also two teachers that teamed up with the group this year and are excited to join the group. They also had many returning members and they came back with the same passion and tenacity they finished the year with in 2018. Both the students and advisors were very moved by Cross the Line, breaking down the barriers and stereotypes they had for each other. Several students shared their own struggles with mental illness.
The best part of the day for me was when the students responded to the What Would You Do? scenarios. They had very thoughtful answers and had the skills to assess situations for WHAPP (withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, poor self care, and personality change) and implement SHE (support, hope, encouragement) in their responses. Student relationships and the youth voice are crucial to the success of Stand Together and over the years, groups refine their skills to provide empathy, information, and resources to their peers.
The group definitely bonded over the two days of training and are looking forward to finishing planning their projects and implementing them in the spring. Keep an eye out for that dragon!
South Park High School just completed their first year of Stand Together training! Day 1 consisted of a lot of educational pieces, but the students breezed through the material because they were already so knowledgeable about mental illness, substance abuse, and stigma! They had great responses and conversations throughout day 1 about how mental illness and substance abuse affects everyone in different ways.
Day 2 consisted of project planning! Before planning, the students reviewed the material from day 1 of training through a game of Jeopardy. I was so impressed with how much information the students had retained from the following week. Later in the day the students did an activity called Common Ground. It was hilarious to see the students rushing around to try and find an empty seat and bonus – no one broke an arm! Yay!
Once we began project planning, the students got so hyped up! They started spit balling ideas that usually a first-year school wouldn’t come up with! My team and I were extremely impressed. The students decided on introducing themselves to their student body through a donut stand during study hall periods. The slogans that the students came up with were hysterical and so clever! I cannot wait to see their projects throughout the year. South Park High School blew me away!
Good luck this year students. Your passion and creativity will make an enormous impact on your student body. Thank you for supporting the fight against stigma towards mental illness and substance abuse!!!
West Mifflin High School has been with Stand Together from the start and each year they continue to amaze us with their student’s passion and drive for ending stigma in their schools. Each year, they’ve created a sort of Breaking the Silence week or day in which they spend discussing mental health in a positive way and spreading awareness of stigma-and how to stop it. One of Stand Together’s mottos is: ‘Stigma causes shame. Shame causes silence. Silence hurts us all.’ West Mifflin is yet again breaking down barriers to decrease stigma and increase education/awareness, social inclusion, and help-seeking behaviors.
WMHS is usually our largest group and this year they had 41 students participate in the two-day workshops. Many of the students had been in the program before, but there were also a large portion that this was their first year in the program-even some seniors! Students were selected by the program by an application process that hones in on the goals of Stand Together and how participants can be effective ‘change-makers’ in their school. This group was excited, prepared, and vocal for both days of the training.
Although the school has been in the program for a long time, it was empowering to hear that some of the students felt that this was the tightest group so far. Although they were quiet at first (I had to pass around a happy sparkle stick so they’d all participate!), they bonded a great deal throughout the day and some students remarked that they had learned more than they ever had. This year, we added additional information about specific diagnoses and substances to the training, as well as scenarios that encouraged the students to assess the signs of emotional concern and determine how they would approach that individual, what they would say, and how they would use S.H.E. (support, hope, and encouragement) to reach out to that person. The students came up with very compassionate, empathetic, and supportive responses and I’m sure they would be ready if they were in a situation in which they were concerned about themselves or someone else.
The second workshop, as always, is the ‘fan favorite.’ We didn’t even get through the rest of the training, as the students were so excited and into project ideas and planning! Typically the group does a few large events and several small events each year. By the end of the day, the students had come up with concrete plans for five projects and had planned on working on a couple more throughout the year. This year, they will be bringing back the balloon release, truth booth, and an assembly. In a twist to their traditional ‘Break the Silence’ event, they will be engaging students in an activity to get to know other students that they did not know and find things they have in common. The team also want to have a concert-style event with participants from the school band, chorus, and drama departments, as well as recovery speakers and activities. It’s going to be a HUGE endeavor, but the students are incredibly dedicated to make this happen.
It was definitely emotional, exciting, and inspiring two days of training and WMHS is well on there way to having another great year-it could be their best yet!
The first school we had this year for training was Montour High School. Before we even began the training, I was so impressed with this school. They have an awesome room where students can go talk with another student peer. I could tell this school was going to have a great couple of training days.
By the end of day 1, I was so impressed with this group and how emotionally mature they are! All of the students were participating during our education section which made for some intriguing conversations. At the end of day 1, you could feel the excitement that the students had for this program.
On Day 2 we did some project planning and almost completed the “Food-4-Though” toolkit! The students worked in groups to discuss separate ideas for how they could do the project. We all came together at the end and collaborated. The students showed each other respect and listened to one another’s ideas, giving their opinions and suggestions in a kind manner. Before we knew it, the day was over!
I am so excited to see what these students will create. I really feel like they have a passion for ending the stigma within their school. Excellent job, Montour!!!
Stand Together students are having conversations about mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma all the time, but we want to take the time today to emphasize how important talking about mental health is and how much of an impact it can have on an individual’s life.
1 in 4 students are affected by a mental health condition in a given year. That means out of a group of four friends, one of them will experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or trauma that year. That’s a lot! And the data shows that this is clearly a problem:
-suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in 12-18 year olds
-90% of individuals that complete suicide have a diagnosable mental health or substance use disorder
-6 out of 10 adolescents that are experiencing mental health concerns don’t receive treatment
And these conditions not only affect an individuals mental health, but other areas as well:
-poor academic performance (aka not doing well in school)
-absenteeism (aka not going to school)
-behavior problems (fighting, outbursts, etc.)
-24-44% don’t graduate from high school
-those that don’t graduate are 12x more likely to be arrested
So after all of those sad statistics, what can we do? TALK ABOUT IT! Now is that time! Today is a great day to have a conversation about mental health.
-Ask someone how they are feeling and truly listen
-Reach out to a friend that you haven’t seen in a while and see if they want to do something.
-Don’t use stigmatizing language, such as ‘crazy,’ ‘bipolar,’ ‘freak,’ etc. and when others say those words, use it as an opportunity to educate them about mental health conditions.
-Be open, honest, and genuine; share your own experiences and respond with empathy.
-If you know someone is struggling or has a mental health condition, treat them the same; they are the same person-they are just like everyone one else, but they just happen to have a MHC. *person-first*
-Most important, justbe there and remember SHE: support, hope, and encouragement.
On December 11th, I attended West Mifflin Middle School’s 6th grade hot cocoa stand. The goal of this project was to educate their fellow peers on mental illness and substance abuse. To receive a hot cocoa, a student had to sign the Stand Together pledge and read aloud a fact related to mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many students came up to participate and were interested in what the ST group was doing.
When it came to organization, the students worked together to come up with a process that made serving the hot cocoa go smoothly. Some of the students mixed up the hot cocoa, while others put marshmallows on top, and the rest of the group helped with the signing of the pledge. It was impressive to see the 6th graders all work together and make sure that everyone was involved. Some of the students even stayed late to make hot cocoa for students who didn’t get a chance to come up and get some!
After the lunch bell rang and it was time to go, the Stand Together group helped their advisor, Ms. Roman, clean up the area which they worked in. Students wiped down the tables, packaged up supplies, and carried items back to their proper location.
All in all, the 6th grade Stand Together hot cocoa stand was a success, and even though there were a few hiccups in the road, they worked together as a team to try and end stigma in their school! Great job West Mifflin Middle School 6th graders!
“Don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama
This quote was on the wall when we entered Propel: Braddock Hills Middle School and it inspired us as we prepared for our day. Courage and hope are HUGE parts of tearing down stigma and we were ready to work to instill these values in our group!
For many of the students in this group, it was the first time they had came in contact with each other. Sure, they may have passed each other in the hall, but many of them didn’t know each other. That was definitely going to change by the end of the trainings. Students enjoyed tossing the ball around to talk about their favorite holiday memory, moving seats in Common Ground, and partnering-up to learn about the 5 Signs and empathy.
Although they’re long days, the students were eager to share their thoughts and ideas with the group and participate. Even if it got a little bit rowdy at times, we encourage the students to have fun, make new friends, and speak up when they have something to say-and they had a lot to say!
After much discussion and hard work, the students came up with and presented six exciting ideas to the group. We’re still not quite sure which one they’ll choose, but one thing is for sure: it’s going to be awesome!
SciTech (Science and Technology Academy-PPS) is one of our first-year schools and are led by Dr. Edwina Kinchington and Holly Blattler-Eidinger. Coming in to SciTech, I expected to really focus on teaching the students about what mental illness, substance abuse, and stigma is, but boy was I wrong! The Stand Together group at this school was so knowledgeable and led some amazing discussions on different topics throughout the day.
During the many activities we completed throughout the day, you could really feel the mutual respect these students had for one another, even if they had never met before. One of my favorite topics we discussed was empathy. The students colored in a shoe to describe themselves or their lives. This was to show not to judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. The creativity of these students and how they expressed their lives was terrific.
On the second day, we began our project planning! Before we even began I could hear some of the students discussing different ideas with each other. Instead of just addressing one of the Stand Together goals in their projects, they addressed all three, which include: ask-an-adult, education/awareness, and inclusion. I was excited most about the ask-an-adult piece as I find that goal the most difficult for some schools to address. After brainstorming, the students broke up into three teams to work specifically on one of the goals. When they joined back together, the ideas were shared amongst the whole group. They gave each other feedback on the different project plans and provided great insight in a positive, respectful manner.
All in all, this was a wonderful group to work with who taught me a lot about how emotionally mature high school students can be. It was a joy working and talking with each student and their advisor, Dr. Kinchington. I am so excited to see how their projects turn out! Keep on making a difference, SciTech!
Diversity is important and the student population at Arsenal is definitely not lacking in this area. There are over 26 countries represented and the students learn to acknowledge and appreciate various cultures-and we helped them acknowledge mental health and substance use disorders. Stigma doesn’t just apply to individuals with mental health concerns, but can be applied to any stereotyped group, whether it by culture, race, religion, gender identification, etc. The Stand Together team was a very multi-faceted group and they were excited to reach their students on another level.
In our trainings, we involve the students in the discussions as much as possible while blending physical and team-building activity in additional to the educational pieces. Students count off to represent the ratio of 1:4 adolescents affected by a mental health condition in a given year. They raised their hands to express that they had experienced feelings of anxiety and sadness. They jumped up and down and held their breath to understand that mental illnesses are invisible and simulate the feelings one might experience during a panic attack. Even though we have a lot of fun, we’re learning important skills throughout the day that they will share with their classmates after the workshops.
One of my favorite things is to participate in the activities with the students, especially during the ‘Walk in my shoes…‘ empathy activity. I love getting to know the members on a personal level and finding out what we have in common. The students really enjoy finding ‘Common Ground‘ with each other and we all realize that we have more in common than we have different. We are all human. We are all people-first, regardless of our background or whether or not we have a mental health condition.
Our TAs, Alex, also shared his recovery story. The students related to the discrimination he received for not only being an African American, but also having a mental illness as well. Although Cross the Line was very difficult at first, students were very moved by the activity and stunned by the results. At the end of the workshops, students displayed a great knowledge about mental health and substance use disorders and were ready to take what they learned and Speak up! and Speak out! against stigma-they just need to decide what they want to give away (sometimes that’s the hardest part!)
Stand Together, meet West Allegheny High School. This is the school’s first year in this program and I was blown away by the student’s passion for mental health and advocacy, as well as overcoming barriers to treatment. They were not afraid to voice their ideas and opinions and shared some really great knowledge and very humbling personal experiences. Bonus: multiple members of their mental health team at their school are all working together to support the group! Take a look at our workshops:
Right from the get-go it was evident that these teens knew what what up (stigma) and wanted to change it. Their responses to our ‘Mental illness is…’ and ‘Stigma is…’ activity were exceptional! I knew we were starting the day on a high note. Students also really enjoyed the empathy activity (‘Walking in My Shoes’) and had some amazing listening skills.
This group of students also tried out a new activity in the afternoon: Climate Change. Change is hard, but it’s important for our participants to be the ‘change agents’ in their school when it comes to breaking down stigma. But if you don’t know where you’re going, most road will get you there… The students started exploring what some of the positive and negative things about the current school ‘climate’ (environment) and also came up with what a ‘warm,’ inviting atmosphere would look like. Using this framework, they would brainstorm ways to promote a more socially inclusive environment in their school, especially in regards to mental health. This activity went very well and we’re definitely considering it making it an addition to our current programming next year!
The following week we returned for project planning and once again, the students really hit the ground running. They were so passionate and had many creative ideas. ‘Common Ground’ is always a favorite break activity. The students were so attentive and detail-oriented. Even though they’re doing ‘Lemonade for Change,’ their implementing their projects in three different ways, something that we’ve never seen before! I’m personally incredibly excited and hope to attend as many of them as I can! Who can turn down free Hershey kisses, gum, and cookies?! They want to focus a lot of their attention on de-stigmatizing going to see school mental health professionals! How cool is that?!
For a first year school, this group are real rock stars in the mental health revolution! Check out their projects…coming February 2018!!!
(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)