Shaler Area High School definitely took it up a notch this year with meaningful, intimate activities that promoted awareness, social inclusion, and help-seeking behaviors. Students advertised and shared information with colorful posters, enticed individuals to participate with visuals and treats, and helped students understand and make connections to experiences of mental health conditions and stigma.
In the fall, the team kicked-off the year with a 1:4 visual that not only represented the ratio of individuals affected by mental and/or substance use disorders, but also promoted social inclusion by presenting awareness of others’ struggles and insecurities. Students were given a slip of paper and instructed to write down an insecurity they experience. One in four slips were green to create a visual of the statistic. After the activity, the slips were connected to form paper chains to signify that we are all connected despite our differences and many of us are struggling with the same insecurities. The chain was displayed on the school balcony for everyone to see.
The next event lured students into the library to participate in several activities that allowed students to experience what it may feel like to be an individual experiencing a mental health condition. At one station, students were given stacks of books to represent the stressors in one’s life and how that when they add up, they eventually become too much to bear. They also symbolized the ‘heaviness’ of each tasks that ‘weights down’ a person’s day. In another area, students were given headphones that played a wave of self-destructive thoughts while they were asked to engage with one of the team members. It was difficult for the students to hold a conversation when distracted by the voices, especially when they were very critical and antagonizing. The last station was a replication of an activity we do during the workshops in which students are asked to hold their breath until they no longer can stand it (safely). Students are reminded that the feelings of panic (rapid heart beat, fear, light-headedness, etc.) were examples of how someone might feel when experiencing a panic attack and how difficult it would be if you were having those sensations while at school or with friends. Students that participated were rewarded with candy and entered into a raffle to win one of six gift cards. This was a very impactful activity that allowed students to ‘walk in the shoes’ of someone that may be struggling with something that they don’t even know.
The team’s last activity in March was a twist on the truth booth: The Truth Tree. As the title of this blog suggests, the students were attacking stigma with leaves that participating students wrote down how stigma and mental and/or substance use disorders have affected their lives. On the front of the ‘booth’ was the elaborate tree frame with a back to display the trees and form the activity area in the back. Students were summoned to the privacy of the activity area to write down their experience (anonymously) and then stuck the leaf on the front of the backdrop for other students to view. The staff and students that participated were very open and honest and there were a lot of moving and difficult items shared on the leaves. Students revealed their personal struggles, concerns, and experiences in a safe way and the result was a feeling of support, a sense of togetherness, and a realization that we are all affected by stigma, no matter who we are. Students were given a ticket to get a brownie to thank them for their willingness to engage in a very revealing, personal activity. Students also shared information about the Student Assistance Program (SAP), mental and substance use disorder myths/facts, and Resolve Crisis cards for students to take with them in case they would ever need them for themselves or someone they knew. The school social worker was also on-hand to encourage relationships between adults and students, especially those providing mental health services at school.
We were so impressed with the creativity, vulnerability, and passion of this year’s team at SAHS. Their innovative projects and inclusive activities are sure to be creating a more safe, welcoming atmosphere for students regardless of whether or not they have mental and/or substance use challenges. Thanks, again, Shaler. You’re showing us that youth aren’t afraid to speak up and speak out about stigma and share their stories to encourage others. Kudos.
Written by Danyelle, Coordinator
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