Posts Tagged loss

Holiday PSA: Stress, Self-Care, and Mental Health

Holiday PSA: Stress, Self-Care, and Mental Health

Danyelle sharing a part of her recovery story at When the Holidays Hurt…

For most, the holidays are a time of great joy, excitement, and family fun, but for many of us, the holidays hurt. They’re hard. They’re not ‘pretty presents wrapped up in a bow’ or feel-good festivities, but sources of pain, struggle, and/or sadness. Memories of a lost loved one, negative feelings/experiences, and expectations can make it difficult to enjoy this time of the year. I shared my experiences last night at a Human Library presentation; we’re not alone in our struggle. Some of us, myself included, also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which means that when the sun is in low supply and it’s cold and dreary, our mental health takes a nose dive. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to consume us. Whether you have a mental health condition or not, there are things you can do to de-stress and engage in acts of self-care to promote positive mental health over this season.

1.  It’s OKAY to take a break from family, especially if they challenge your mental health. You can do this respectfully by setting boundaries and limits. It’s okay to politely excuse yourself for a few moments (or longer) to collect yourself, reconnect, and reboot.


2. Back to Basics: self-care also includes eating healthy foods, exercising, and making sure you get enough sleep. Putting yourself first is not selfish; it’s necessary. It’s okay to indulge in some holiday treats-Hello! Christmas Cookies!-but we like to stick to an 80-20 rule (80% clean/healthy, 20% not so much).

REI-_OptOutside_Anthem_Film_153. Get Outside! Remember REI’s catch-phrase #optoutside? Even though sunshine is hard to come by this time of the year, getting some fresh air is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Be mindful of your surroundings: What do you smell? Hear? See? Feel? Embrace the now! Pet that dog (probably ask first). Catch a snowflake on your tongue. Take a good wiff of that bakery-it’s okay to stop in for a treat too :)

4. Do what YOU do! Make sure to engage in activities you enjoy. Read a book, watch a movie, knit, bake…whatever you like to do, make time for you! Little moments of stability can do wonders for your mood.

5. Be mindful. Savor the good times. Stay positive; surround yourself with positive people, if you can. Make time for those friends you haven’t seen in a while or spend some time with that favorite relative. Our perspective determines our reality; if we’re looking for good things, we’ll be able to find them. Practice gratitude and celebrate the small things. Imperfections are a part of the ride and they don’t define the event/who you are.

expecations6. Set realistic expectations. Society bombards us of the idea of this ‘perfect family holiday’ where everyone holds hands and sings Christmas carols around the tree, everyone laughs around a huge table of food, and everything is red and green and lit-up and glorious. Let’s face it-this isn’t real. Everyone is unique and every family is different. When we expect too much, we miss out on little things that could be great experiences. It’s easier said than done (trust me, this is a hard one!), but it’s important to remember that it will pass and to make the most of the situation as it is, not what we expect/would want it to be.


Family is messy. The holidays can be stressful, to say the least. But YOU CAN DO IT! Take care of yourself first and foremost. You are important! You deserve a HAPPY HOLIDAY.


Written by Danyelle. Project Coordinator

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Propel HS: Black-Out Stigma

Propel HS: Black-Out Stigma

Propel: Braddock Hills High School had another great year with their Black-Out Stigma week of activities. The students came up with some pretty overwhelming ideas during their brainstorming sessions, but were able to create some unforgettable projects. PBHS is known for innovation, creativity, and impact and they didn’t disappoint!

Although students at PBHS are required to wear uniforms, students were permitted to wear black on a designated day to emphasis their commitment to ‘blacking out stigma.’ Students also had the opportunity to have their photo taken with 3 of their friends (representing the 1:4) to keep as a reminder of the day. The backdrop was created by the Stand Together students with an outline of their bodies and each ‘crew’ (like homeroom) participated by adding insight to each of the sheets that made up the drop.

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Students also participated in a social inclusion activity. Students were given a green bracelet and instructed to write something that they were insecure about on it. The bracelets were collected and redistributed on Black-Out Stigma day. Individuals had insight into what their peers were struggling with and could identify with themsleves; they also realized that they are not alone and have more in common than they do different.








Students participated in various activities throughout the week that highlighted their awareness of the myths and facts of mental health and substance use disorders. Students that answered ‘correctly’ received a PBHS Black-Out Stigma t-shirt!

But wait! There’s more!~

‘Crews’ participated in a life-size board game modeled after Chutes & Ladders. Things like supporting a friend or reaching out to an adult helped you climb the ladders, whereas ignoring a friend’s mental health concerns or using stigmatizing language sent you down a ‘chute.’ Students enjoyed learning more about mental health and substance use disorders and what they could do to help.


The most meaningful activity was the ‘Thought Bubble.’ Students were encouraged to ‘Get out of your bubble! Stop Stigma!’ by participating in a moving, memorable, and very vulnerable event.

Students revealed some very powerful struggles, including losing friends and family members to suicide and overdose and experiencing bullying, mental health and substance use disorders, and trauma themselves. Students were also able to learn coping skills and share inspirational messages to encourage each other in their daily lives. Students could not only share their thoughts, but also embrace the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others in an anonymous, safe space. Everyone that participated was impacted greatly by this project.

Not only did the students educate their peers, but they also came together as a group during this project. The benefits of Stand Together spark positive changes in individuals, classrooms, and school culture are limitless! We can’t wait to see what the new group of Stand Together students comes up with next year!

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National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week 2017

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week 2017

National Drug & Alcohol Facts week occurs every year on the last full week of January. This intervention aims to links students with info to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, or from friends. It’s an opportunity for teens to shatter the myths about substance us and educate others on how drugs affect the brain, body, and behaviors. Look at the past month’s drug use among high school seniors, more than 5% misuse prescriptions drugs; more than 20% smoke marijuana, and 35% have drank alcohol. Those aren’t small numbers! And many teens aren’t aware of the short- and long-term risks associated with substance use during adolescence.

Check out this video:

Let’s Shatter the Myths below:

1-27-17 blog mj iq1. Myth: Smoking marijuana does not affect your intelligence.
Fact: Persistent cannabis users can have neuropsychological (brain power) decline.

2. Myth: Drinking at a young age doesn’t make you more prone to addiction.
Fact: 4 out of 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually end up becoming addicted.

3. Myth: Smokeless tobacco cannot cause cancer.
Fact: Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of many types of cancer, including oral cancers. Just because there’s12-17-17 blog tobacco no smoke, doesn’t mean there’s no harm!

4. Myth: Substance abuse and addiction are the same thing.
Fact: Substance abuse generally refers to the misuse of drugs while still being able to experience the euphoric effects. Substance addiction is a physical, chemical dependence on a substance to avoid withdrawal. Individuals can easily progress from abuse to addiction in the right circumstances.

1-27-17 blog substance use before 185. Myth: You can’t become addicted a substance after one try.
Fact: Some substances are so toxic that your body is permanently altered after the first time. Experimentation with substances is never a good idea; even though some things are legal, it doesn’t mean that they are safe.

6. Myth: Once someone is addicted, they can’t return to sobriety.
Fact: Recovery is ALWAYS possible! Through hard work, determination, hope, professional assistance, and community support, individuals can achieve sobriety and lead healthy lives.

7. Myth: There is a gene for addiction.
Fact: Geneticists have identified approximately 40 genes that may have some connection, but there is no simple, predictable combination. Although there is some genetic tendency toward substance use, environmental and personal choice are essential factors.

That’s just a few of the myths that exist. Join us as we shatter the myths to prevent substance use!

1-27-17 blog major risk factors

Thanks to the National Institutes of Health & on Drug Abuse for these facts and info. To learn more about NDAFW, click here.

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FYI: It's Okay to Grieve!

FYI: It's Okay to Grieve!
  • -In a poll of 1,000 high school juniors and seniors, 90% indicated that they had experienced the death of a loved one. (
  • -One out of every 20 children aged fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. These statistics don’t account for the number of children who lose a “parental figure,” such as a grandparent or other relative that provides care. (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008; 10:1)
  • -A parent’s death usually makes a severe impact on a child, research shows. After losing a parent, 85% of children exhibit such symptoms as difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, worry, depression, bed-wetting, and thumb-sucking. After a year, more regressive behaviors may fade, but other problems, such as lack of confidence and preoccupation with illness, are likely to continue.


  • Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Just like mental illness, someone that is grieving can not always be identified on the outside; just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. One of the statements we use in the Cross the Line activity regards the loss of someone close to us. This is a reality for many people and it becomes extremely difficult over the holidays, when memories of family and friends loss to due to death, overdose, suicide, and changing social dynamics remind us of an empty space that can’t be filled. When children and teenagers lose an important figure in their lives, they experience many symptoms of mental illness as a normal part of the grieving process. For some, however, the impact can be much more debilitating. Youth with grief experiences, especially those that are traumatic or sudden in nature, are more at risk for mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), separation anxiety, and substance use disorders (SUD).


What do we know about grief? The Caring Foundation notes:
1. Grief is a natural and normal response to death.
2. Every person’s grief is unique.
3. Grief is not a disease.
4. Grief is a lifelong process that changes with time.
5. Children grieve dierently than adults.
6. Children of different ages grieve differently.
7. Many adults who had lost a parent when they were young describe the death as the defining moment of their lives.
8. Grieving children and adults need support.
9. We grieve because we love.
10. Grieving children and adults don’t “just get over it” but they can learn to integrate the death (the absence of the one they love) into their lives.


So what can we do to help a friend or family member that is experiencing grief?
Do Say:
-“I’m sad to hear that your husband/wife/child died.”
-“If you want to talk about what happened, I am here to listen.”
-“Tell me about _________” (the person who died—and use their name).
-“I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”
-“I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I am here if you need a friend.”
Avoid Saying:
-“I know how you feel.”
-“I’m sorry.”
-“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
-Any cliche like: “Time heals all wounds.” ”He’s in a better place.” “You’ll be OK.” “Be Positive.” “It’s time to put it behind you.”

Remember, what you say is not as important as just being there. There is no way to make it “better” for your grieving family member or friend. What most people who are grieving need is someone to be there who will listen and will not judge them. Just the same as you would do for anyone with a mental illness.

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Stand Together wants you to know that it’s okay to talk and it’s okay to not be okay. You’re not alone. We’re here.


If you or someone you know is suffering the loss of a loved one, there are resources to help:
The Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families, provides peer support groups for grieving children. Referral services, adult telephone support, and educational programs and resources for grieving children and families are also provided. In addition, consultation services, educational presentations and resources for schools and other professionals in the community who work with children are provided, all at no charge.
Highmark Caring Place
620 Stanwix Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(888) 224-4673

Circle Camps provide free overnight camp programs for children who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. Our mission is to offer our campers the adventures and fun of living and playing together at overnight camps, while providing supportive environments in which they can share their grief.
Circle Camps for Grieving Children*
5124 Holyrood Rd
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 491-8151

As always, re:solve Crisis Network is available, toll-free, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week at 1-888-796-8226 or in-person.
re:solve Crisis Network
333 North Braddock Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15208


(Special thanks to the Caring Foundation and Highmark Caring Place for the above facts and tips. More information can be found at their website.)


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