Posts Tagged resiliency

NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

North Allegheny Senior High School is returning for their second year in Stand Together and what a whirlwind it has been! Their team was able to complete two of their activities before the ‘quarantine’ went into effect and have really left an impression on their school this year, excelling beyond their previous work last year.

NASH’s first project was an interactive anti-stigma fair with various stations of educational activities for their peers. Building off of last year’s peer-to-peer presentations, they went many steps further this year. In 2019, the group prepared a moving video (link) of students and staff sharing their personal experiences with mental health and substance use disorders. They then broadcast this movie to students during their gym classes and engaged the students in a true/false activity accompanied by a PowerPoint of education and review of resources.

This year, the team hit it out of the park! (Can you tell we’re missing baseball?) Instead of a small classroom of students with a video and a presentation, students created a huge event with activities for all the students to rotate through. They also produced another video (link), this year focusing on treatment and recovery. Students again shared their struggles, but also talked about how they bounced back and who-and what-helped them along the way. After the video, students went through various stations around the room to learn about stigma, challenge myths, and use physical activities as a metaphor for mental health challenges:
‘Stigma Ducks’ (a play on words) – educating students about the S.T.I.G.M.A. acronym* and challenging students to think about the consequences of stigma.
‘Be a Helping Hand Obstacle Course’ – students went through the ‘course’ blind-folded-only one person got to have a peer help them as they went through. This activity signified the importance of S.H.E.* and the support of family and friends when someone is struggling with a mental and/or substance use disorder. Students received a mini hand clapper for participating. (Get it?!)
Myth or Fact spinning wheel
1 in 4 Hoops – 1 in 4 individuals got a football instead of a basketball to show how mental and substance use disorders make it harder for the 1:4 individuals that struggle with them.
The Pledge – students read and signed the pledge on a huge poster to show their commitment to ending stigma in their school.
Whew! That’s a lot of education and awareness in one event!

The group followed that amazing event with another that covered all three of our goals: their take on a ‘truth booth.’ Students and staff alike were encouraged to visit the stand and select a color-coded tiger (their mascot) paw or paws that represented themselves to add to the ‘tree.’
Purple : I personally deal with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
Green : I am a friend or family member of someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Blue : I support or advocate for someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Yellow : One way that I can help someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder is to… (fill-in-the-blank)**

The impact was remarkable. Multiple students and staff shared their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders (‘I have…’ ‘I have a brother…’ ‘I am a cousin to someone that has a substance use disorder.’) Without being asked to, students disclosed some of their struggles; others wrote inspirational messages for their peers that were experiencing this issues:
-‘I will be okay.’
-‘You are strong and you are worthy.
-‘Last year was extremely rough. The recovery I had was huge…but there’s much more to improve on.’
-‘Be kind to yourself.’
-‘You’re never alone.’
-‘I have a good friend that deals with one. Much love to her.’


‘Schizophrenia does not have the right to control you.’

Anonymous

I can’t believe how eager students were to participate and how vulnerable they were willing to be with each other. Even though it was anonymous, students and staff had a visual reminder that they were not alone and that we’re all in this together. We all are affected by mental health and substance use disorders in some way and mental health is just as important as physical health. These youth are addressing myths and breaking down barriers to treatment by normalizing discussions about mental health in their school communities. After students put their paw on the tree, they were given a package of resources and treats for participating, including how students could help a peer, Resolve crisis cards, End the Stigma: NA Stand Together stickers, and a green bead necklace to remember the event.

I was so glad that I was able to attend and participate in these events. I could tell the students were having fun and engaging in the activities, but were also having intimate and sometimes intense conversations about mental and substance use disorders and the stigma associated with them. The team also plans to design a permanent mural for their school to remind them of the program, the pledge, and NASH’s commitment to ending stigma. Congrats on another job well done! Thanks for all your doing-you’re changing lives!

*S.T.I.G.M.A. – stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
*S.H.E. – support, hope, encouragement

**Click here to view a list of things you can do and say to help your peers.

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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World Mental Health Day 2018

World Mental Health Day 2018

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.

 

WMHD blog 3More 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.

 

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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.”

 

WMHD blog 4            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.

 

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Written by Leah, intern

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Guest Blog: Let’s talk about African American Men’s Mental Health

Guest Blog: Let’s talk about African American Men’s Mental Health

As we come to the end of Men’s Health Month, I wanted to talk about mental health from my perspective. I hope that in doing so you might find the common thread of human experience that binds us as a society.  In writing this, may I first say that I am not an expert on mental health.   However, I do get to play one at work each day in my role as a Recovery Specialist. Anyone who knows me will confirm my lack of authority on the topic, so I am in no position to preach to anyone.  However, I am quite willing to talk about what I know best, my story. My story is common in the African American male community.  You’ve seen it or presumed it, men neglecting their mental health to the detriment of their family, community and society.  I was no different, I waited until I was 50 and out of functional relationships to wake up and address a few things.

 

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I am a strong African-American Man. I am the parent of children who have grown up to contribute to the world.  I breezed through grad school with a 3.75. I’ve had a success filled career in Education and Mental Health Services that has lasted over 30 years.  I coached a high school basketball team that scored 82.0 points per game with only one player over 6’.  I was hit by a moving train and walked away relatively unharmed (and because of that).  I have earned the right to wear a cape and a big S for ‘superhero’ on my chest.

 

MMH blog 1Also, I am an African American male with a mental illness: depression. I have spent my share of hours in the therapist’s office.  I know recovery for me, is a process I must work on daily. At times, it takes a village to keep me on task.

I used to be ashamed and secretive of the reality of having depression, but now I’m proud of the life I live.  Now my life is an integrated whole, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

I know that pushing aside the leotard to reveal the inner workings of the person behind the S does not make me any less of a strong African American male.  Superhero status is not really required.  I cannot save the world and often I am the one who needs saving.  Like many people, I once felt that having a mental illness was a sign of weakness. So I avoided treatment.

 

As a mental health professional, I spent lots of time convincing people otherwise, but when it was my turn I felt going to the psychiatrist was a sign of failure.   I tried MMH blog 4running, yoga, drinking, smoking, meditation and most of self-help books in the Carnegie Library catalog.  Anything but mainstream medical attention.  I did not want to go to a psychiatrist because “nothing is wrong with me I’m not crazy!” But I had no issue going to the dentist, my primary care doctor, or orthopedist.

 

Like many African American males, I stigmatized mental illness in a way we do not stigmatize obesity, diabetes, hypertension and so many chronic and life-threatening illnesses prevalent in our community.  We take pills to lose weight or lower our blood pressure but not to get or stay mentally well.  According to the mythology that surrounds the strength of African American men, “falling apart” is just not something we do.  We survived the Middle Passage, slavery, racial oppression, economic deprivation and a few political campaigns.  We know how to “handle our business”, “be a man” but we see therapy as the domain of “weak”, neurotic people who don’t know what “real problems” are.

 

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So how do African American men begin to eliminate the stigma of mental illness so that we can get the help we need and support those who might need it? May I offer a few suggestions?

  • Talk about it.

  • Don’t whisper or gossip about it.

  • Talk about it at the party.

  • Talk about it at church.

  • Talk about it on TV/the radio/social media

  • With our loved ones

  • With our doctors

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If we can talk about our high blood pressure, our asthma, our lung cancer we can talk about our depression. Support each other in getting help.  We send friends to the doctor for nagging back pain, so send them to get relief from their mental and emotional pain too.  And don’t forget to be a friend and ask them how they are doing from time to time.  Don’t stigmatize the brain!  It is attached to the body, so mental illness is a physical illness.

 

Finally, support people who share their stories of mental health disorders.  It is time to show that the faces and lives of African Americans with mental illness are not just the faces and the lives of the homeless person talking to the unseen.  It is my face and my life and the faces and lives of others just like me.  “Coming out” requires courage.  Like any other consciousness raising process, a range of role models who represent a variety of experiences with mental illness will change perceptions.

 

As a local community we have a list of accomplished African American men to inspire us in our various endeavors.  Andrew McCutchen, Ju Ju Smith-Schuster and Coach Tomlin come immediately to mind.  We need a list of African Americans with mental illness who survived and thrived. No doubt MMH blog 3due to stigma it was difficult to find the names of locally well-known African Americans with a “confirmed” history of mental illness and this is not the place for gossip or rumor, so I will start the list with me:

 

My name is Bill Boyce and I have depression.  I am a father, athlete, artist, writer, musician, social activist, mental health professional and as sane and happy a person as you would ever want to meet. My mental health disorder does not define who I am.

 

-Written by Bill, STU Recovery Specialist

 

 

(The images above are African American males that have shared their experiences with mental health conditions: Kid Cudi, Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson, Wayne Brady, Jay-Z, and Brandon Marshall)

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The Academy Spreads Cheer & Creates Calm!

The Academy Spreads Cheer & Creates Calm!

Stand Together went in to the Academy last fall to begin training on stigma, mental illness, and substance abuse. This was my first time facilitating a training so I was a bit nervous! As we began the day, I began to see how emotionally mature these students were and how much they truly know already about stigma. We discussed many relevant stereotypes seen in society, and I enjoyed every single student’s input. I could tell that this subject was something they were passionate about, and I knew they would have an awesome year!

 

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One activity we did that they seemed to really enjoy was the “Common Ground” activity where someone stands in the middle and says, “I see common ground with…,” then everyone who the statement applies to must get up 1and move to a different chair. Even though at times it got competitive, the students really saw how much more they have in common with others than different.

 

I returned to the Academy this spring to check out the student’s projects. I came on the day they were implementing their “Cup of Cheer” project. This entailed putting inspirational quotes onto cups and stuffing the cups with coffee, tea, a Stand Together bookmark, and a jelly bracelet that said Stand Together. The students also created a “calm down” room at their school. Inside the room was a mural that the students painted, giving hope and positivity to the students who come into the room needing a break.

 

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I am extremely proud of all the hard work these students did this past year. It was amazing to see them work together on accomplishing such an important goal, ending stigma! Thank you, the Academy! 😊

 

 

Written by Lacey, Project Trainer

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

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

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-ve

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.

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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.

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Written by Danyelle. Project Coordinator

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Trainer & Coordinator: Danyelle Hooks

Trainer & Coordinator: Danyelle Hooks

Many of you know Danyelle from last year, but if you haven’t met her yet, here’s what you need to know:
Roles: administrate website and social media, coordinate and facilitate school workshops, plan EOY event, conduct Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings, develop and revise materials
logoExperience: worked with children and adolescents in inpatient behavioral health, lead HS community leadership group, engaged urban students and promoted success, co-chair DBSA Young Adult Council
Professional interests: community mental health (especially faith-based programs and in schools), mental health awareness, holistic wellness, anti-stigma *educate>>stop stigma*

 

Important Stuff
Why I’m here: lived-experience with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder; promote recovery & resiliency, *inspire others* #unashamed

Fun StuffAYNIL graphic
Likes: walruses, popcorn, ice cream, running, camping/hiking, water sports, cats, people-watching, star-gazing, sleeping, surprises, FOOD, the Beatles *all you need is LOVE*, Hello Kitty, JESUS #unashamed, Team RWB
Dislikes: tomatoes, dolphins, the ocean, things in between my toes, conflict, loud noises, crowds, data/numbers, cars, (surprisingly) technology
Life plan: get married, have kids, go back to school, become a counselor! 🙂

Random Facts
-I LOVE polka music.
-I’m afraid of heights, but I like to challenge that.
-My hair used to be neon pink.
-I’m getting *married* next year! <3
Bucket list: hike the Grand Canyon, climb Mt. Ranier, run the Yellowstone & Glacier Park half-marathons, learn Slovak

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My Story

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NEW TA: Jordan Corcoran!!!

NEW TA: Jordan Corcoran!!!

Jordan Corcoran went to Mercyhurst College. During her freshman year, she was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. After going through a very difficult struggle with coming to terms and learning to cope with these disorders, Jordan created an outlet where people can openly and candidly share their own challenges and personal struggles. She speaks publicly to college, high school and middle school students about her story, Listen, Lucy and the importance of acceptance– of others and of yourself. She is the author of Listen, Lucy Volume I and has been featured on Today.com as well as UpWorthy.com for her self love campaigns. Last year, she filmed The Acceptance Movement docu-series which features her speaking to 10 schools and organizations in the United States and revealing the powerful impact this organization can have on an individual. Her mission is simple- she wants to create a less judgmental, more accepting world.

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Jordan loves Beyonce, pizza, her husband, Reality TV and Doritos.

 

For more about Jordan and Listen, Lucy! check out the bio on her website!

 

 

PS: Jordan just published her second book to be released Nov. 8!!! We can’t wait!

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Minority Mental Health Month-Guest blog by TA Montaja Simmons

Minority Mental Health Month-Guest blog by TA Montaja Simmons

 

I do not know about you but I need a break!

Like a real break- specifically for my sanity and health and the reaffirming of my humanity,

Because clearly doing anything while Black is….

Well you get the point. If you don’t- Evelyn for the internets (@eveeeezy) explains it best.

Check out her “Call in Black” on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/cpVeUVcFMAU

Besides seeing people that look like you portrayed negatively in the media you also have to deal with your own personal woes….like mental health and wellness!

 

Society marginalizes people by gender, religion/faith, sexual orientation, intellectual status, class, disability and the biggest one of all RACE.

We forget that minorities deal with all of these “others” while being ‘othered.’

Unfortunately, just race alone can cause a whole host of worries.

I have a few things to keep in mind when living with mental illness while Black:

 

  • 1.) DO NOT BE SILENT

The more we talk about mental health, the more the stigma will dissolve. The more we talk about mental health in the minority community, the more real and human we become, dismantling barriers and stereotypes.  We don’t have to be “strong” all the time.

Mental health is not a race thing; however, minorities deal with mental health issues very differently. Trusting professionals and family plays a big part in feeling safe enough to get help without being label as crazy, weak or a criminal.

Silence is shame! Please continue to be an advocate!

 

2.) KNOW WHO TO TURN TO

Just like not being silent, we must also know where to go when we need help! We should have five people we can lean on in times of crisis. These are the makings a strong support system.

Do not wait until you are in a crisis to reach out to your support. As a minority, the world says you deserve what happens to you, be grateful you’re alive and pick yourself up by your bootstraps. It is crucial to have people in your corner reassuring your greatness and valuing your life.

 

3.) KEEP YOUR FAITH

This is very important for me, one because hope is the backbone of recovery. Even deeper for me is God. I am a believer in Christ.  In the Black community one my be ridiculed on both sides. Either you’re a fool to believe, or you don’t believe enough. Seeing a therapist, taking medicine if/when needed is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. In fact, it is taking action- and faith without works is dead. Whatever you put your faith in continue to believe in it, because this is YOUR journey to recovery.

 

**Bonus tip**  DO NOT STAY PLUGGED INTO MEDIA OUTLETS FOR TO LONG!

Disconnect, decompress and treat yourself: mind, body and soul with care!

Please, please keep your wellness in mind.

Calling in mental health days are becoming a common practice in the work place.

Who knows maybe “Calling in Black” will follow.

 

Disclaimer: Black is what I identify as; this message is for all minorities! #minoritymentalhealthawarenessmonth

 

***Submission from Montaja Simmons***

 

(Stand Together staff disclaimer: This blog is the opinion of one of our staff members. Stand Together believes it is important to represent all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. so that everyone has a voice. This is just one voice in our conversations around mental health. We hope to hear and share many others.)

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PTSD Awareness Day 2017

PTSD Awareness Day 2017

You may or may not know that today is PTSD Awareness Day. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and occurs after an individual has seen or experienced a distressing event that involved the threat of injury or death, such as abuse, assault, war, or car accidents. An individual can also develop PTSD after extensive periods of verbal and mental/emotional abuse.

PTSD is real and serious. People aren’t just affected mentally. Extreme trauma can affect the way people physically and emotionally live as well.

Some people often associate PTSD with veterans (people that served in the military), but just like all mental health and substance use disorders, anyone can develop PTSD. It is estimated that one in thirteen people will develop PTSD at some point  in their lifetime. Here’s some of the important things to know:6.27.17 ptsd blog 4

-Creates feeling of intense fear, hopelessness, and terror
-Negative reactions to ‘triggers:’ things that remind people of the event
-Recurring dreams and ‘flashbacks’
-Affects relationships & every-day activities
-Results in avoidance of people/places/things associated with the event
-Sometimes block out event all together (ignoring/trying to forget)

Trauma is one of the hardest things to describe, much less respond and treat. A lot of individuals that have PTSD also turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, making it even more complicated. The important thing to remember is to BE THERE. Encourage and support someone you know that has experienced something. It may be difficult to talk about and they may not want to share their experience, but let them know you’re always there to listen, hang out, or reach out to find help.

Here’s how one person described the experience of PTSD:

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Remember:

Educate yourself

You can’t help someone if you don’t know what it is they’re experiencing and where to get help. Learn about PTSD and educate others. Reach out to an adult you trust if you’re concerned about yourself or someone you know.

Fight the Stigma

Remind your loved ones it’s OK to not be okay. He/she is not alone and his/her struggles are valid. People can and do recover!

Be aware

Remember everyone is fighting their own battles. Remember, one in four people develop a mental illness in a given year. Mental illness is invisible; just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean someone isn’t going through something.

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Recognition Event 2017

Recognition Event 2017

Words cannot express what an amazing experience we had on Wednesday, May 10 celebrating our Stand Together schools’ accomplishments this past year. Over 150 students and 100 supporters attended this years’ event at the Heinz History Center. All eight of our project completing schools were able to attend in some fashion and some even brought guests, give-a-ways, and goodies to share.

Arsenal giveaways WMHS giveaways

The chairs were full and the plaques were ready to be given out! After a brief introduction, the program began!

crowd plaques

Our featured speaker, Dese’Rae Stage, shared her moving recovery story and the students found hope and inspiration in her words. Many students could relate to her on a personal level and all the participants enjoyed viewing her work, Live Through This, and learning about other suicide survivors stories.

Dese speaks Dese and WMMS students

All of our schools did a fantastic job presenting their projects and demonstrating their mental health expertise and changes in school culture.

Here’s what each school came up with:

Propel: Braddock Hills High School’s projects were a HUGE hit. Their creativity and innovation always inspire other groups to take risks with their projects and think outside the box. This year, the students manufactured a ‘Thought Bubble’ that they used to invite their peers to stop stigma and increase social inclusion by sharing things that they struggled with, things that helped them cope with life’s stress, and things that inspired them. Students also created a life-size board game similar to Chutes & Ladders, in which participants scaled ladders when they supported a friend or talked about mental health, but moved down the slides when they used stigmatizing language or ignore’s signs/symptoms in a peer. The students wrapped-up their project with their annual Blackout Stigma day, in which students are allowed to dress-down in black clothes, participated in a moving wristband sharing activity, and took pictures at a photo-booth with an anti-stigma backdrop created by all the students at the school.

Propel gameboard Propel bubble

Propel was followed by Steel Valley Middle School. These students worked together with their HS counter-parts to unite their schools for a common-cause in their Breaking Barriers Dash. Students also facilitated a Glow-in-the-Dark dodgeball tournament for almost 200 students. Each team had to learn about, spread awareness, and represent their assigned mental health condition. The winners received gift cards. Students also conducted a Kindness Kafe at which they gave away free hot chocolate and ‘Breaking Down Barriers’ bracelets to discuss mental health and increase social inclusion. Students also had a #standtogether selfie station to remind their peers of the activities.

SVMS and MikkiSVMS presentation

Next, students in Arsenal Middle School shared their ‘Cool-Aid Stand’ project, explaining the importance of reaching out to their peers, meeting them where they are, and giving away something for free. As a Community School, Arsenal strives to involve parents and other community members as well. Check out their project!

Arsenal students     DSCN0475

Carlynton spoke of their ‘dirt’ and ‘sand’ bake sale in which they reminded peers that “Stigma is dirty!” and that they should “S(t)and Together.” The snacks had flags that discussed the myths and facts surrounding mental health conditions and sold out quickly! Carlynton is also going to be facilitating a 1:4 week soon.

Carlynton award Carlynton presentation

The Environmental Charter School returned to Stand Together after a one-year hiatus and it was great to see them engaging their peers again! ECS handed out hot chocolate and lemonade as well as wristbands to the students to educate them about mental health and substance use disorders. For every 3 green wristbands, there was 1 purple wristband that read “1 in 4 students have a mental illness” to visually represent the prevalence of behavioral health conditions. The students also had information readily available for students that wanted to learn more about common disorders or compare the myths and facts.

ECS table ECS award

Following ECS, West Mifflin MS shared their tier-3 projects, including a movie night featuring Inside Out and a Color Run, which was open for the whole community. Students also performed skits to talk about mental health and stigma before and during these events. One of the highlights of the day was the students interacting with guests, offering hugs-and giving them, along with passing out a pin with a motivational phrase written on it. There was definitely a lot of love going around the room!

WMMS group pic WMMS hug

Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their “Love is louder than any mental illness” campaign. Students decorated lockers with mental health facts and positive messages. They also held a door-decorating contest between homerooms that focused on educating each other about mental health disorders. The students largest event was a mental health fair. Students visited tables and activities set-up around the gym during their lunch periods to learn more about mental health conditions and stigma, participate in social inclusion activities, and de-stress through dancing, Twister, and coloring books. Steel Valley’s innovative theme made a huge impact in their school environment and many faculty members, as well.

SVHS table SVHS presentation

West Mifflin HS wrapped up the program describing their full year of events aimed at ending the stigma attached with mental health disorders. Early in the year, students held a balloon release for students to ‘let go’ of struggles and ‘soar;’ regardless of what was going on, students came together in a moving ceremony to ‘stand together’ in hope. Other projects included educating the preschool students, hosting a bake sale, holding a throwback dance, and presenting a school assembly. Another big event included their mental health fair. Much like SVHS, students learned about mental health, participated in social inclusion and coping skill activities, and played games that not only engaged students and rewarded them with prizes, but provided them with reminders of the things they learned that day. (Did you see some of the prizes above that they also handed out at the event?!)

WMHS award WMHS table

 

It was an absolutely fantastic event and everyone had a great time. Students and other attendees left inspired to address stigma in their schools and communities and continue in their plight to increase awareness, increase social inclusion, and encourage reaching out to an adult. Thank you all for everything you do for Stand Together! See you next year!

Student smiles

 

If you’re interested about learning more about Stand Together or bringing to to YOUR SCHOOL, please contact Danyelle Hooks at (412)350-3455 or danyelle.hooks@alleghenycounty.us.

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