As Pride wraps up for the year, I find myself to proud of how far Pittsburgh has come in supporting its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, etc. (LGBTQ+) population. Pride serves as a platform for LGBTQ+ people to combat the prejudice and discrimination they face on a daily basis with positivity, love and dignity. Seeing an increase in support for Pride from the general public and businesses this year, as well as rainbow lights shining at City Hall, has been a step in the right direction. Thousands marched at Pittsburgh Pride Parade this past Sunday in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
But Pride isn’t something that LGBTQ+ people can turn to for support year round. Therefore, when LGBTQ+ people are targeted and socially discriminated against, it can leads to an increase in suicidal ideation; LGBTQ+ youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. Fortunately, resources like The Trevor Project [1-866-488-7386] and the Trans Lifeline [(877) 565-8860] provide support for LGBTQ+ youth. Family acceptance and social support also help to protect against mental illness, including depression and anxiety, as well as help to prevent suicidal behavior and substance abuse. In addition, acceptance can allow LGBTQ+ people to have greater access to healthcare resources.
Acceptance is so important when it comes to both LGBTQ+ identities and mental illness because of the stigma attached to both communities. The fear of what others may think if you come out as being LGBTQ+ or having mental illness is bad enough that people don’t get help . Concealing one’s mental health concerns, however, makes it difficult to receive help or be referred to vital resources. This is where a local organization like PERSAD CENTER comes into play.
PERSAD works to connect LGBTQ+ people of all ages to the resources they need. These resources include counseling, affordable services, giving aid to individuals who seek to change their lives (perhaps along the lines of substance abuse recovery), and more. Having an LGBTQ+ centered organization like PERSAD provide counseling is a game changer. People who face stigma both from their LGBTQ+ identity and mental health status can get the help they need without worrying about the social discrimination and prejudice they could face from a regular counselor. PERSAD serves as a safe space. More information about their counseling services can be found by calling 412-441-9786 (Monday-Friday 9am-5pm).
Additional resources like Pride, The Trevor Project, the Trans Lifeline, and PERSAD CENTER provide LGBTQ+ people who lack access to more traditional healthcare resources with the support they need to freely celebrate their identity, overcome adversity, and live a healthier life. The public must support these resources to improving the health of LGBTQ+ people. For more information about The Trevor Project and the Trans Lifeline, please read below.
The Trevor Project [1-866-488-7386] provides support for LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 25 through a 24-hour phone, chat (3pm-10pm daily), and texting (Monday-Friday, 3pm-10pm) services with counselors. The project also offers peer-to-peer support through TrevorSpace.
The Trans Lifeline [(877) 565-8860] is specifically geared towards transgender people who are going through a crisis, dealing with gender identity confusion and self-harm prevention. The Trans Lifeline is a phone line open 18 hours daily (11am to 5am).
Stand Together students had another phenomenal year and our team couldn’t wait to celebrate with and recognize them for all of their hard work to end stigma in their schools! I had the pleasure of working with many of our high schools this year and they blew me away with their passion, commitment, and courage.
This year’s projects were innovative, creative, and incredibly impactful. We trained nine high schools, seven completed projects, and six participated in the recognition event. Here’s what the students designed and implemented at their schools this year:
The Academy Charter School: The Academy chose a different approach to decreasing stigma in their school by creating a ‘safe space’ for students who might be struggling with something. This room was staffed by faculty and had many coping techniques available, including quiet music, comfy chairs, sensory objects, and inspirational MH images. In addition, the students promoted education and self-care with the faculty by giving out cups with coffee/tea, an awareness wristband, and a bookmark with the ST anti-stigma pledge on it. In working with the faculty, they hoped to increase their knowledge and change attitudes that would hopefully filter down to the students.
Taylor Allderdice High School (PPS): The students at Allderdice created and presented a mini-presentation about mental health and stigma to the freshman Civics classes. In addition, they worked with the art department to create a dragon (their mascot) painting. Students signed flames agreeing to ‘breath fire on stigma.’ This mural will remain a permanent fixture at the school signifying their solidarity in the fight against stigma. The Stand Together team finished their year with an 1:4 assembly, in which mental health and stigma was reviewed and the students were rewarded by pie-ing four teachers in the face for their participation in the year’s activities.
Propel-Braddock Hills High School: Propel HS has been in Stand Together for all five years! Switching things up from their typical ‘Black Out Stigma’ theme, this year the Stand Together students chose ‘BLOCK Out Stigma.‘ This theme utilized larger-than-life lego blocks for their projects that addressed all three of Stand Together’s goals: 1) ‘Block’ Stigma (education/awareness); 2) ‘Build’ Relationships (social inclusion); and 3) ‘Lego’ of Fear (ask-an-adult). Students did activities within their ‘crews’ (like homeroom) and during a ‘Block Party‘ during lunch. (All those puns!) PBHHS always comes up with out-of-the-box ideas that really get the student body interested and involved in Stand Together at their school.
Science & Technology Academy: Although SciTech’s group was small, they were mighty! Students were given cups of Lemonade for Change that had mental health facts on them. The team used the lemonade as an incentive to get their peers to visit their booth and learn about mental health in a casual environment. The team also made posters that were shared around the school to remind the students of what they had learned during the activities. They mentioned they could definitely see an impactwith their students and that students were very receptive and interested in what they had to say. Sounds like a success!
Shaler Area High School: Although it was their first year in Stand Together, Shaler did a great job incorporating two goals into two projects. During lunch, the team had students ‘Take a Bite out of Stigma‘ by reading facts about mental health and substance use disorders and stigma (education/awareness) before receiving a cookie. Students also participated in a social inclusion, ‘No One is Alone.‘ Several prompts were provided on a large poster and students had color-coded post-it notes to anonymously respond to the statements if they applied to themselves or someone they know. These statements included such as: I have been personally affected by a mental illness; I have been personally affected by substance use; I’ve felt excluded or disadvantaged. Students also received a ‘sucker to stop stigma.’ This project was incredibly moving; the post-its filled the entire poster and it was powerful to see so many students being honest about their struggles, but also have the visual to see that they are never alone in what they’re going through.
West Allegheny High School: A first-year school like Shaler, West A. did fantastic projects that were presented the information in fun, free food projects that were meaningful and memorable. Students not only engaged in ‘food give-aways‘ (including cookies, HerSHEy kisses, and gum>>check out their other blog for the great slogans!), but also began and ended their project season with assemblies for the student body. The first included an overview of Stand Together and mental health and the last had students participate in a ‘Mental Health Jeopardy.’ Trainer Danyelle also shared her recovery story for the group. The team remarked that students really enjoyed the activities and are excited to continue participating in Stand Together next year.
West Mifflin Area High School: This is also WMHS’s fifth year with Stand Together. This year’s projects included an ‘I am…’ reflective mural, their annual Glow Dance so spread awareness about mental health and substance use disorders and suicide, and a Mental Health Fair, featuring a Celebrity Art Gallery, depicting and describing celebrities that are affected by MH/SUD. Students have promoted social inclusion in a Worry Monster, in which students would right down a struggle with anxiety and students could see that they are not alone ; the team also responded to these with uplifting messages of encouragement and hope. In addition, the school’s ‘Safe Haven’ program promotes relationships with adults by creating ‘safe classrooms’ and ‘safe teachers’ that are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and are willing and able to help students get the help they need.
Lacey and I are incredibly proud of all of our high schools and we look forward to working with you again next year! If you want to see more of these amazing projects, check out our YouTube Playlist, the individual school blogs, and the full-length Stand Together Student Project Reel 2018 below: