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World Mental Health Day 2019

World Mental Health Day 2019

Each year on October 10, advocates around the world promote recovery and wellness through education and awareness. It was first celebrated in 1992 at the suggestion of the World Health Organization (WHO) and has expanded to over 150 countries to bring attention to mental illness and its major effects on peoples’ lives. This day also provides an opportunity for organizations to talk about their work and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

Talking about mental health is especially important for youth and young adults. One in four people experience a mental health or substance use condition in a given year and most disorders emerge in adolescence. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. The number of middle and high schoolers with anxiety and depression has steadily increased and social media has made it difficult to escape the constant pressures of life. Anyone can develop a mental health condition, regardless of age, race, sex, gender orientation, ethnicity, or financial status.

There are so many ways to get involved, whether you have conversations about mental health, support your friends and family, or re-direct inappropriate language (i.e. ‘crazy,’ ‘psycho,’ etc.). Check out our list for How to Be Helpful to Peers and don’t forget to sign our pledge to end stigma.

We can make mental health stigma a problem of the past as we Stand Together. Be the change!

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.

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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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‘Dice Dragons are Slaying Stigma (with Bitmoji!)

‘Dice Dragons are Slaying Stigma (with Bitmoji!)

Pittsburgh Public’s Allderdice High School continued to use their mascot this year to engage their peers in activities to decrease the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders in their school. They had some ‘unfinished business’-a project they didn’t get to finish last year-and were excited to complete it and continue their work in the school.

 

DSCN1637This year the students combined four projects into an activity fair for the freshman students. The entire grade has to take history and the rest of the day is a chaotic time, so this turned out to be an ideal alternative to hold their events. Stand Together students even got out of class all day to make sure their fellow classmates got to learn about mental health!

 

Students entered the auditorium were introduced to the team and their cause by watching a Bitmoji video the team had created. Members of the team, including one of their advisors, Mr. Matson, recorded themselves as Bitmoji’s describing the Stand Together program and its goals and the importance of addressing stigma towards mental and substance use disorders. The video also included facts (1:4, of course! and the definitions of mental illness and stigma) and a dragon head that announced Allderdice’s pledge to stand against stigma. How creative is that?! Check it out:

 

 

After the film, students rotated through several stations that were set-up with activities to engage peers. At the first station, students could enjoy a cup of lemonade to encourage the students to lemon-aid each other when they are struggling. 1 in 4 cups of lemonade were pink to represent the 1 in 4 individuals that experience a mental and/or substance use condition in a given year. Another booth encouraged students to ask questions in a judgement free-zone. They passed out resources to encourage students to ‘mustache’ a question. I was impressed with the number of students that were eager and willing to talk about their own struggles or reach out for more information for a friend. At the last station, students signed a flame sticker to represent that they were going to ‘burn out stigma…’ because dragons breathe fire. Get it?! 🙂

 

 

The students also displayed their dragon mural for the students.mural-r The group really wanted to finish this last year, but as it’s quite a large piece, it took longer than expected. This year, the group completed the mural of a beautiful, immense green dragon breathing fire that reads: ‘Allderdice pledges to end stigma towards youth or adults who have a mental illness.’ This mural will be displayed in the school as a permanent fixture to remind all students to ‘slay stigma’ at their school.

 

Members of the team as well as participants and faculty were impressed and proud of their school and the event:

  • ‘I’m so glad we’re able to talk about this important issues at school.’ (ST team member)

  • ‘In our efforts to make Allderdice a more inclusive environment, our Stand Together group has played a major role in making this more of a reality. I am extremely proud of their work and I know that the fight to end stigma towards those with mental health conditions will continue to have an impact not only on our current students, but those students in years to come.’ (school principal)

  • ‘This fair was completely surprising to me. I hope to join the Stand Together group next year.’

 

The students also used this time to recruit new members for the 2019-2020 school year. They hope to make this event an annual fair and possibly incorporate outside mental health providers and additional resources. We can’t wait to see what you come up with for next year! Keep on slayin’ (stigma, that is)!

 

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Written by Danyelle, coordinator

 

 

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S. Allegheny MS Sends Stigma Spinning

S. Allegheny MS Sends Stigma Spinning

The Stand Together team at South Allegheny Middle School decided to tackle the stigma around mental health for their first year in the program. For three different days this month, team members hosted an information game table with a spinning wheel to ‘Send Stigma Spinning.’

 

 

During several lunch periods in a highly-used intersection of their school hallway, ST members encouraged their classmates to test their knowledge about mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. Participants were eager to give the wheel a spin for a chance to win some cool mental health awareness swag. Numbers on the wheel corresponded to various mental health notecards. These included true/false, short answer, and questions for the students to answer. No matter if you got the questions right or wrong, students were rewarded for their effort with a green pencil, bracelet, stress ball, or candy. Team members elaborated on correct answers and provided education when students answered a question incorrectly. No matter the participant, students learned much about mental health and stigma.

 

 

IMG_20190516_113446The table also featured a pledge poster with pens and markers for the students to sign as a sign of solidarity to ‘Stand Together’ against mental health stigma. Posters defining stigma and South Allegheny’s promise to ‘Rise by Lifting Others’ added an additional feeling of unity among the students, faculty, and staff.

 

South Allegheny’s principal Katelyn Vogel and guidance counselor Kristy Roche are excited to continue the mission next year. They spoke about Stand Together t-shirts and future projects.IMG_20190516_113224 One activity they are really excited about is a colorful feather mural for all students to participate in, once again to display their unity as a school that stands up to stigma and will continue to rise by lifting others. This year’s team set the foundation and we can’t wait to see them in action next year. Keep those great ideas coming! Good job, South A!

 

 

 

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Written by Montaja, trainer

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It’s Time to Recognize! ST Teams 2019

It’s Time to Recognize! ST Teams 2019

Every year this is always the most difficult blog to write because I don’t know where to begin to describe the talent and passion of the youth that I am so blessed to work with. I usually only try to speak for myself, but I can say with 100% certainty that Montaja, Mike, all our TAs, and I are so incredibly proud of each and every one of you. This week’s Recognition Event was an absolutely magical experience and if you missed it, we can’t wait to share it with you!

 

featureA little bit about Stand Together/this year: ST has been in schools for the past six years, expanding each year to reach more and more middle and high school youth through student-driven anti-stigma projects that are increasing education and awareness, promoting social inclusion, and encouraging help-seeking behaviors. This year, ST trained 18 schools, 16 of which completed projects, and 14 were able to participate in this year’s event. The Heinz History Center was packed with youth and adult advocates that are enthusiastic about ending the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders. This was our biggest year yet, with around 300 in attendance!

 

Our schools designed and implemented so many uniqueOC table-r and innovative projects for their peers. The tried & true food and beverage stands are always a hit. Mental health fairs and presentations are making a come-back. Several schools decorated 1 in 4 stairs and their stairwells, while others created murals and plastered pledges on the walls. Some of our most creative projects for this year included Propel BHHS’s ‘Shine a Light on Mental Health’ paper lantern activity, WMHS’s ‘Toilet Talk’ booth, Shaler HS’s ‘Truth Tree,’ and SVMS’s ‘March Madness’ basketball tournament. Each year the students’ projects amaze us more and more, but the most important piece is the impact the students share about the changes that are taking place in their school culture. Take a look:

 

WMHS presenters

WMHS presenters

Student presenters shared that students are more comfortable talking about mental health and are more apt to reach out to ask questions and seek help. Students are using less stigmatizing language and aware and respectful of the invisible challenges they may be facing. The school culture is more accepting, encouraging, and supportive. Teachers and staff are forming relationships with students and challenging their own assumptions and stigmas. Lives are being changed daily thanks to the work of these students and advisors and we couldn’t be more proud.

 

Stigma is not gone, but little by little, our teams

N. Allegheny students at the photo booth

N. Allegheny students at the photo booth

are ‘chipping’ (cookie joke) away to break stigma and create better mental health environments in schools and even their communities. Events like these help the students see that they are part of something bigger than the projects in their individual schools-they can and are making a difference. As our keynote speaker remarked, ‘You may never know the ripple effects of your work,’ but we can already see the changes that are taking place-and we look forward to an even ‘brighter’ (lantern pun) future for mental and substance use disorders.

 

We can’t thank you enough for all the time, talent, and commitment you’ve contributed to this cause. We’re lucky enough to be able to lay the foundation-and then you run with your ideas and plans and turn this into something marvelous and meaningful. To our all teams, congratulations on another amazing year stopping stigma, one project at a time.

 

 

Special thanks to our school teams:

 

ST TY poster-r

 

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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CAPA’s got ‘The Real Tea’ about Mental & Substance Use Disorders

CAPA’s got ‘The Real Tea’ about Mental & Substance Use Disorders

The Stand Together team at CAPA high school hosted their second event after kicking off the year with in-class student presentations. If you haven’t guessed what this activity entailed…it has to do with tea. Using this clever pop culture reference, students from the Stand Together group hosted a tea station in the main hallway right off their school’s cafeteria, a hotspot for student traffic!

 

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DSCN1548Stand Together students took turns at each lunch period operating the table and sharing facts- “the real tea”- about mental illness and substance use disorders. During down time students approached their fellow classmates, encouraging them to grab a drink.

 

Students were more than happy to learn about stigma and sign the anti-stigma pledge poster to stop the stigma against mental illness and substance use disorders, in exchange for a cup of tea of their choice. CAPA students enjoyed the theme of the table and what it stood for. Some studentsDSCN1543 knew about the facts on the cup while others were surprised to hear them. A few students even mentioned the presentation the Stand Together team held around the school. Not only did students sign the pledge; even school security guards and teachers signed the pledge poster and enjoyed a cup of tea as well!

 

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Stand Together students were excited to see the turnout of participation amongst their peers, and even more excited to witness their classmates learn about the facts and sign the pledge. It’s clear to see that hot tea and hot facts unite people! Stopping stigma one steep at a time.

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Friday, April 29, they also did our Stick it to Stigma activity outside of the cafeteria. Students posted sticky notes to create a visual of how many lives have been impacted by mental illness and substance abuse. It was very cool—lots of students wrote nice little notes on them. For participating they also got a lollipop (1 in 4 marked with tape to represent 1 in 4).

 

Awesome job, CAPA-see you next week! Can’t wait to recognize you for your efforts!

 

 

Written by Montaja, trainer

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Shaler MS ‘Bands Together’ Against Stigma

Shaler MS ‘Bands Together’ Against Stigma

You know how much we like our puns! And we know that fun slogans get students interested and help them remember the activities our teams do. We love it when students come up with their own creative ways to increase the impact of their projects and Shaler Area Middle School was no different. The first project they implemented this year encouraged students to ‘band together’ against stigma, a fun play-on-words (‘Band Together’||Stand Together).

 

The Stand Together team set-up tables outside of the lunchroom, which was a great idea since every student had to walk past them to get into the cafeteria. In addition, students announced the event on the PA system to encourage students to visit the booths. At quiet times, students even recruited friends and other students from the lunch room to participate in the activities! The team was excited to involve their peers and provide education and awareness to stop stigma.

 

 

t2 redoOnce students reached the tables, they were greeted by Stand Together team members. The student then spun a wheel to determine which question about mental health and/or stigma they would answer to get a prize, in this case, either a green or red/blue wristband to symbolize the 1:4 youth that are affected by mental and/or substance use disorders in a given year. That’s a lot! Not only could students see the visual in the basket of bracelets, but they will be able to continue to see it as they walk through the school and see all the students wearing their bracelets. Students received a wristband whether or not they answered the question correctly. The point wasn’t necessarily to ‘test’ their knowledge, but to act as an opportunity to educate the students in a casual way.

 

After the students answered a question, they were encouragedDSCN1501 to sign the anti-stigma pledge. Cards with the pledge and Stand Together logo and graphics were given to the students to sign and date as an official commitment of their conscious efforts to decrease stigma. The students then plastered the walls with these pledges as a reminder to the entire student body of how they were going to ‘stand together’ to address stigma and change the culture of their school.

 

 

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DSCN1514There’s was plenty of handouts and information on hand and the students were willing and eager to answer any questions their schoolmates may have about the topic. I overheard some really great discussion and a lot of students were very invested in talking about mental health and stopping stigma-which is great, because that’s Stand Together is all about! Ms. Coleman, one of the advisors and a guidance counselor, even got a local policeman to participate in the discussion. He candidly shared how he deals with stigma every day on the force, especially towards individuals with mental and/or substance use disorders and how he attempts to combat this at any opportunity he gets. It’s such a wonderful thing to hear that this is happening in the community as well as the school environment. Change is a continual process and take a lot of time, energy, and people, but we can stop stigma, one person at a time.

 

Shaler MS also has a Snowflakes and Snickerdoodles Against Stigma activity and give-away planned as well as another cookie event to encourage their peers to ‘Take a Bite Out of Stigma.’ We’re impressed with the passion and creativity of these students in their first year and can’t wait to hear about their other projects at our Recognition Event in the Spring! (Innocent plug, if you’re interested in attending, mark your calendar for April 10 from 10-12:30 at the Heinz History Center!)

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Montour HS ‘Pops’ Stigma: Using Popcorn to Start the Conversation

Montour HS ‘Pops’ Stigma: Using Popcorn to Start the Conversation

popcorn machineMontour High School didn’t let the polar vortex freeze away their enthusiasm! Monday morning, the halls and cafeteria were filled with the buttery smells of a classic snack, popcorn! The Stand Together team and their advisor, Ms. Hester, wore black Montour t-shirts with #standtogether written in green letters on the backs of the shirts to represent mental health awareness. For three separate lunch periods, the team held a ‘Pop’ Stigma Stand and bravely engaged their fellow students in conversations about mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma.

 

Some of the team members helped topopcorn bags keep the table running smoothly, others helped bag popcorn, and some asked their peers myths and facts and asked them to sign the anti-stigma pledge. One Stand Together member explained the difference between mental illness and intellectual disorders to a group of her fellow peers at a lunch table. Other members had conversations to debunk myths and learn facts about mental illness. Students that participated in the activity were rewarded with a bag of freshly popped popcorn-all in an effort to ‘pop’ stigma. Students and staff were seen gathering at the table signing pledges, listening to their peers explaining the information, and enjoying their treats. The turnout was great! Stand Together members also discussed how to display the student pledges in their school as a reminder of the event and their commitment to change.

 

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It was clear that Montour is serious about ‘popping’ stigma at their school. They are looking forward to bigger and better ways to do so in the next few months and in the coming years. Congratulations to Montour on your first Stand Together event. We can’t wait to see what’s next!

 

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written by Montaja, trainer

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Throwback Thursday: SVMS: Lots of projects, lots of impact!

Throwback Thursday: SVMS: Lots of projects, lots of impact!

Steel Valley Middle School has been in our program for several years and their advisor Ryan always works with the students to come up with new and exciting ways to educate their peers. If you remember, last year they had a mental illness dodgeball tournament. Teams named after specific disorders had to research that specific disorder, create a poster with the information they found, and then got to participate in a glow-in-the-dark dodgeball tournament. Talk about creative and fun! This year, SVMS continued their amazing work with several larger projects and many smaller ones.

The biggest hit of the year was their photo booths. The students used several holidays and fun props to attract students to their booth and talk to them about mental and substance use disorders and stigma. This activity also promoted social inclusion by encouraging students to take photos with students they didn’t know. They created mottos for each theme to help the students remember:

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  • Don’t be a grinch-have a heart! 1 out of 5 teens suffer from mental illness. (Christmas)

  • Poem: I can change the world with my own two hand. Make a better place with my own two hands. Make a kinder place with my own two hands. (MLK Day)

  • I wear green for someone I’m lucky to know! (St. Patrick’s Day)

The team also did several larger events. One was a ‘No One Eats Alone’ challenge, where students were encouraged tosigning the pledge (2) reach out to peers that were sitting by themselves at lunch or sit with someone new (see below). In addition, one of our TA’s, Jordan, came in to spoke to the school about her experiences with anxiety and to share some coping skills before their PSSA tests. The most moving project, entitled ‘I wish you knew…’ Students were given post-it notes and were instructed to right something personal that others might not know about them that has affected their lives. Some students shared mental health and substance use disorders, others shared trauma, and many students talked about feeling peer pressure and feeling alone. This was very impact for the students to see and realize that they were not alone in their struggles and they have more in common than separates them.

 

The students also gave away bracelets to help the students remember what they had learned at all of the events and had students sign the pledge on a large poster so they could make a visual commitment to ending stigma at their school.

 

 

Steel Valley never ceases to amaze us and we look forward to seeing what they come up with this year! See you soon!

 

Written by Danyelle. Project Coordinator

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Flashback Friday: Propel MS: #itsokaytonotbeokay

Flashback Friday: Propel MS: #itsokaytonotbeokay

Although it was Propel-Braddock Hills Middle School’s first year in the program, advisors Amand and Danielle really worked hard with their students to make it a good one-and they definitely succeeded. This diverse group became a team over the year, student leaders stepped up, and stigma was challenged in their school. They chose the Food 4 Thought toolkit and got to work right away. They finished the year with three unique projects that addressed myths, provided information, and promoted social inclusion.

 

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For their first project, students researched facts on mental illness and substance use disorders. AtDSCN1184 lunch, they walked around and shared facts with their peers. Students then went to get lemonade and a wristband with #itsokaytonotbeokay after they shared something they learned.

 

DSCN1204For their second project, students created a myth vs. fact and sorting game on mental illness. The student body identified what was a myth and what was a fact and after successfully completing the game, they received a sports drink and a wristband. There was also a station to sign the pledge.

 

 

 

Lastly, the student leaders created a Kahoot! game to test the student body’s knowledge on mental illness. After the activity, they were able to visit a station to get a “Keep Calm and Stop Stigma” temporary tattoo. (BTW, these were super cool!)

 

The glow-in-the-dark wristbands were a gentle reminder that #itsokaytonotbeokay and to create a safe environment to stop stigma. So many people are affected by mental illness and many times, they don’t know who to reach out to or how to deal with the symptoms. Educating students and engaging them in a service-learning project encourages students to speak up and work together in way that can-and do-create change. Schools are changing people’s perceptions and view on mental illness in positive ways. Their messages are not only motivational, but educational and engaging.

 

Props to Propel MS for a prosperous first year! We’re so proud of you!

 

 

Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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