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!!!
This year was South Allegheny’s first year in Stand Together. Going into the training, I was already impressed with how much information these students knew! They were able to efficiently discuss how stigma is a problem in their school and what they can do about it. While brainstorming different project ideas, the students worked together in small groups to come up with a plan. After the groups shared out, we combined their ideas into one and created an awesome toolkit!
By the end of day 2, it was wonderful to see how much the students had grown in such a short amount of time. The group had a great cohesiveness that will hopefully carry out into the rest of the school. I am looking forward to seeing their projects throughout the year. Great job, South Allegheny!
Another veteran school, Steel Valley Middle School, has been with us quite some time and their projects never disappoint. From the beginning, they’ve been a Tier-3 school (the highest level we offer)-and the have some of our youngest members; Ryan’s group spans from 5th through 8th grade! Their maturity surpasses all expectations and they’ve always been a great group to work with; I’ve been lucky enough to work with them all three years I’ve been with Stand Together!
Students started off their day going over some of the most popular myths and separating them from the facts in pairs. One of Stand Together’s goals is education and oftentimes, stigma is perpetuated by the inaccurate beliefs people have surrounding mental and substance use disorders. We discuss these with the students so that they can, in turn, address some of these myths and stigmas with their peers. In addition, we spend some time teaching students about the five most common signs of a mental health concern: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, poor self-care, and personality change. To help them remember this, we have the students repeat the five signs to a partner and give each other a high-five. Did you know that physical activity increases brain activity and your member? We do…and we use it to our advantage! Besides that, it keeps things fun; Stand Together isn’t just about learning and sharing, but creating connections and enjoying the activities while doing so!
The students spend the second day designing their projects for this year. The hardest part of the day is not necessarily coming up with ideas for the projects, but voting for the ones that they want to pursue this year. They had so many great ideas, but we finally whittled it down to a do-able amount.
For the first time, SVMS has gone with a sort of theme to connect their projects. Many of the members of the group are involved in basketball or cheerleading and to increase awareness, students are going to be working with these teams, as well as the art and technology departments to market their events. The women and men’s basketball teams will be wearing green socks and the cheerleaders will be wearing green bows to symbolize the importance of mental health. (Mental health is also closely connected with physical health, so this is a win-win!) In addition, the Stand Together team will be making announcements and have a booth at the event with their spinning wheel and other activities to engage their peers and the community. They will be having mini-basketball tournaments in homerooms to encourage social inclusion. In addition, the students will have a door decorating contest in February and, to wrap-up the year and the basketball theme, the winner of the student homeroom tournaments will play staff to promote relationships with staff and encourage students to reach out to reach out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themself or someone else. (Tier-3 schools have to incorporate all three of our goals-they certainly are!) The capstone of the day was when the students received their Stand Together wristbands-it’s official!!!
The Steel Valley team has already had an opportunity to share their projects with the community. Last month, they participated in the Funder Down Under event at the Waterfront. This is an event for the community to come together and learn about the great things students and other organizations are doing. The Stand Together team printed out graphics we use with the youth during the training. They also gave away wristbands to help remember what they learned that day and ‘Lifesavers’ candies to remind others that they could be the difference in someone’s life. The students brought their spinning wheel game and frame for ‘selfies with a stranger.’ What a way to start off the year!
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!!!
October 10th was World Mental Health Day. In solidarity, people all over social media posted about their mental health experiences, spreading awareness, and working towards stopping stigma. But how do you help a person who is experiencing a mental illness? That’s where recovery comes into play.
More commonly than you would think, the definition of recovery is misconstrued. People think that recovery is a one-time event but really, recovery doesn’t have an end. Rather, recovery is the continuous process of improving one’s health. The goal is to live a healthier and more fulfilling life. The recovery journey is unique to each person. People will have achievements and setbacks in their recovery, but it’s all part of the process. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the progress that people make in their recovery.
It’s also very important to spread awareness and educate everyone about the process of recovery. That’s why we talk about recovery for not one, but two months:
The month of September focuses on substance use while October focuses more on mental health. Both substance use and mental health recovery maintain that recovery is an ongoing process, however substance use recovery emphasizes harm reduction and decreasing or eliminating substance use while mental health recovery aims to reduce or eliminate symptoms. This can be best achieved through a combination of medication, therapy, and rehabilitation. Just like any other illness, mental and substance use disorders can be reoccurring. That’s why it’s important to know that recovery is ongoing. Recovery is all about making connections, having hope, establishing a strong sense of self, finding meaning or purpose in what you’re doing, and being empowered. These tenants of recovery serve as a foundation for living a higher quality and healthier life.
The fact that September and October are so focused on recovery gives us the opportunity to start discussions about mental health and substance use. It’s a reminder that these topics need to be talked about. Staying silent doesn’t help; stigma hurts everyone. There’s so much stigma surrounding substance use and mental health. People think that people who are experiencing substance use disorders and mental illness choose to live this way. They take the person out of the equation and use stigmatizing language like “crazy” and “junkie”, not acknowledging that whatever place these people may be in their recovery journey, they are still people-first. If we can all just make one change in our lives, how about using more thoughtful language? Take stigmatizing language out of your vocabulary and instead say “person experiencing bipolar disorder” or “person experiencing a substance use disorder.”
Another important way we can help others in their recovery journey is by reaching out. If you see someone who seems socially disconnected, ask him/her how he/she is doing. These simple words can have a major impact. Isolation makes people more stressed, serving to further negatively impact people’s health. By connecting with others, we can instead help them build resiliency, the ability to cope with and adapt to challenges and change. Resilient people have a good skillset to help them deal with stress and have the motivation to begin or continue the process of recovery. Because of this, building resiliency can be the turning point in someone’s recovery.
Helping other people recover is what spreading awareness is all about. Whether someone is experiencing substance use disorder, mental illness, or a combination of the two, talking about not just the illness but about recovery can make a significant difference. So, reach out to someone you know and start a conversation about recovery today.
Suicide affects all of us. 1 in 5 teens seriously consider suicide each year. It tears a hole in our lives and communities that we can’t easily repair. That’s why preventing suicide from occurring is so important. This is especially true given that mental health is a major contributing factor in suicides.
Way too often, communities keep quiet about mental health issues. There’s a stigma about openly discussing mental health and suicide. This very stigma can discourage a community or individual from implementing suicide prevention programming or seeking help. Rather than preventing suicide from happening in the first place, communities oftentimes take action after the tragedy has already occurred. However, the best place to start is before a suicide occurs. That’s where organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program come into play.
Similarly, the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program offers youth and teen trainings, community member trainings, trainings for educators, and suicide prevention cards that encourage youth to seek help from community members when they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.
Both organizations aim to prevent suicide. This single goal is so important that it has an entire month (September) dedicated to recognizing the prevalence, need for resources, and opportunities to intervene before an event occurs. If that doesn’t speak to the importance of suicide prevention, then what does?
Each and every one of us is responsible for creating an environment where suicide is not seen as a viable option. It’s important to speak up about suicide. Stifling the conversation only serves to make suicide seem like something it’s not. Suicide is not an escape from the awful parts of life or a way to win. Suicide is a loss of what could have been and an end to what was. There is no coming back. And that’s why we place so much emphasis on prevention rather than intervention. We can’t stop what has happened, but we sure can stop it from happening in the future. So this September, talk about suicide and prevention because as long as the conversation continues, change will happen.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There are trained professionals that want to talk to you. Even when you think no one is there, there is hope. You’re not alone. We’re here for you.
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!!!
We can’t believe summer is halfway over and before we know it, Stand Together will begin again! We’re still catching up on blogs and this week, we’re featuring the Environmental Charter School. ECS has been in the program for several years. Their students are always creative, enthusiastic, and passionate and find it easy to reach out their peers to enact change in their school.
They started their projects off with a presentation of facts about mental illness and stigma. They addressed some of the myths surrounding mental illness and introduced their classmates to Stand Together.
Since their project was implement in the colder months, ECS’s had a hot chocolate stand to entice the other students to learn about mental and substance use disorders. Each cup had a fact or important phrase they wanted their peers to know. These included things like:
1 in 4 people will be affected by mental illness.
It’s okay to not be okay.
To help friends, think SHE: support, hope, encourage.
In addition, 1 in 4 cups were labelled in green to signify the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders. The students also created and displayed ‘table tents’ in the cafeteria so that students could learn more.
Their advisors were impressed with the relationships the students developed within their group and how comfortable the group was starting this difficult conversation with their peers. Team members also noticed that students were more open to talking about mental illness, ask questions, and share their stories.
We can’t wait to have ECS back next year for more fun and fellowship and-most importantly-less stigma.
This was Allderdice’s first year and they decided to bring mental health to the forefront of education: the classroom. Instead of having students casually get involved, this group had a captive audience. They worked with teachers to secure ‘training’ periods for all of the freshman classes to expose them to the concepts of mental health and stigma.
Students from the group took turns visiting various classes and giving the presentation. Students share information about mental health conditions and stigma and discussed with their peers the concepts and their relevance to the student body. The group gave examples of stigma and encouraged their peers to talk about mental health and to reach out to each other, whether it be just being there as a friend or talking to an adult when they are worried about themselves or someone else.
The team has also worked with the art department to create a dragon mural (their mascot) that will be used for a school-wide project next year.
The first year’s always the most difficult, but Allderdice’s Stand Together team definitely made an impact and are ready for next year! It’ll be here before you know it!