Posts Tagged self-disclosure

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West Allegheny High School is returning for its third year in the program and they continue to amaze us with their creativity, passion, and vulnerability. Half of their members returned this year, committed to continue their work to address stigma in their school. With a diverse group and a handful of staff support, this group is well on their way to another amazing year-and they’ve upped their game to Tier 3! There was no doubt in my mind they would rise to the occasion and blow us away with their ideas.

To decrease stigma, it’s important to increase education and awareness to break down the stereotypes and myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. One of the first things we stress is that these are diagnosable conditions (by a mental health professional) that occur frequently and over a long period of time. It’s not just the ups-and-downs of every day life; we all feel anxious and sad from time-to-time (we asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever felt this way in the picture above), but when it starts to affect someone’s daily life, that’s when it’s important to reach out for help.

In the HS curriculum in particular, we also discuss various diagnoses and definitions. Students learn about the eight most common mental health conditions and the similarities and differences among them. Although we don’t expect the students to memorize these disorders, we want them to be aware of the correct definitions so that they can address the stigma associated with specific ones. For example, most people use ‘OCD’ as an adjective, like it’s just about being ‘neat’ or ‘picky,’ but in reality, OCD is a disorder involving obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s not just that someone likes things a certain way, but they are following certain rules, rituals, and routines; things have to be a certain way. No matter the diagnoses, most disorders can be associated with five major signs and symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care, or WHAPP! (as we like to call it). Students recognize that when they notice these in themselves or someone else, it’s important to reach out to an adult they trust.

Students at West Allegheny also take part in an activity called Climate Change. In this activity, students think about the positive and negative characteristics of their school environment, what an ideal culture would look like, and think about how they can get there. One of Stand Together’s goals focuses on social inclusion-all students and staff are welcomed and included in the social fabric of the school. They used this idea to plan one of their projects the second day. (see below)

The team at West A has always been passionate about reaching their Freshman class as soon as they enter the building. For the past two years they have held a freshman assembly with information about mental health and Stand Together, games, and a recovery speaker. This year they’re going to take it a step further. After their assembly in the fall, this Spring, the students will be entering the health classrooms to spend three-yes, THREE!-days sharing information with their peers, engaging them in fun activities, and showing them a self-created film they will be producing that will include both students and staff sharing personal stories about their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. One of their advisors, Ms. D, is the health teacher and it was a natural connection to expand her unit with peer-to-peer instruction from Stand Together students. We always say, it’s one thing if an adult tells you something, but it’s quite another if you hear it from someone your age, someone you know…it has a much greater impact.

Students have also planned a Stop Stigma Speed Run (or Triple S Grand Prix) obstacle course for students in gym class. Participants will rotate through different activities learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma while engaging in fun activities and physical games. The team will also be painting a mural with silhouettes of the team and a pledge for their school to ‘end stigma’ by ‘creating a self and welcoming environment’ for students and staff, regardless of whether or not an individual has a mental health, substance use disorder, or any other difference or diagnosis.

We’re looking forward to see how great an impact this team makes at their school this year. We know they’re going to change the environment and even lives. See you soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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NAHS Tigers Talk about It: ‘We Stand with 1 in 4’

NAHS Tigers Talk about It: ‘We Stand with 1 in 4’

If you’re familiar with North Allegheny, you know that it’s a HUGE school district. This can seem daunting, but it gives our students the chance to impact even more youth in their community! As it was their first year, the advisors started recruitment with students from their SADD club, students that were passionate about making a difference and making their school a better place. And what a better place to start then with students that are motivated to enact change!

 

This year’s team implemented a visual for their peers, classroom presentations to all the physical education classes (which included pretty much every one in the school at some point), and a lemonade stand at a NA district event. The students created suspense, educated their peers, and extended their reach beyond the walls of their school to the community at large. The group also documented their activities on Twitter @NASHSADD and #stand2getherNASH.

 

1in4Steps.3NAHS has a very large building with several stairwells that are constantly flooded with students. The team decided to take advantage of this by placing green tape on every fourth step to represent the 1 in 4 individuals that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder in a given year. They purposely didn’t advertise or provide any explanation for the project to peak their peers interest in the seemingly random decorations on the stairs. The next day, however, posters and flyers plastered the walls and the principal made an announcement to explain the meaning behind the project.

 

The group presented a PowerPointDSCN1640-r of Myths and Facts and educational pieces to share with their classmates. This presentation focused on the signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders, the definition of stigma and the impact it has on youth, and how students can support their peers and Stand Together. ‘End Mental Health Stigma’ wristbands were distributed for students to remember the event and handed out Resolve crisis services wallet cards. Students reminded the groups that although they might not take the cards seriously right then, they never know when they might need it. This was a very powerful, strong finish to the presentation.

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Even more powerful was the student-produced video showed during the presentations. In this film, students and faculty members alike shared their personal experiences with mental health challenges and the stigma they’ve faced. Some of the biggest discouragers of stigma is called ‘the first person narrative,’ in which individuals are exposed to and hear from individuals that are living with or have been affected by mental and/or substance use disorders. Students realize that they are not alone in their struggles, that they have more in common than separates them, and that individuals with these disorders are ‘people-first,’ that just happen to have a mental health challenge, just like someone might have a physical challenge and shouldn’t be discriminated against. It was a very powerful demonstration of the bravery and strength of individuals in their own school that are living successfully with these conditions.

 

DSCN1872-rThe ST team concluded the year by giving away ‘lemon-aid’ at their district-wide diversity celebration event, which included groups from many different ethnicities, different abilities, and social groups. One out of every four cups of lemonade was pink to reinforce the 1 in 4 message. Walk-ups to the table were asked questions about some of the myths surrounding mental health and stigma in order to enjoy a free cup of lemonade. The students also played their video presentation and distributed Stand Together informational handouts, including the STIGMA acronym, Words Matter!, and How to Help a Peer. Although they didn’t reach many that night, it was heartening to me see conversations between our team, parents, and their children about mental health.

 

For their first year, NA did an absolutely fantastic job. Faculty, staff, administration, the student body, and the ST team members were moved by their participation. One youth in the program said:

The whole experience was really eye-opening.  DSCN1660  Going through training, and then giving presentations I learned a lot of things that I would probably never have known. And since, I have been trying to make changes in my everyday life and trying to help others in an effort to end the stigma. If I could’ve participated for more years, I would have. I will take what I learned with me through the rest of my life.

 

Their school principal even attended our Recognition Event and was singing the praises of their students:

Our students used a creative approach while bringing recognition to stigmas related to mental health. Their approach captured the interest of our entire student body and had a significant impact on the manner our students process their perceptions of those being treated for mental health challenges.

 

Thank you, NA, for your passion and commitment. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next year-and bring on your Intermediate school too!

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Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler HS Titans Aren’t Afraid to Talk About It!

Shaler HS Titans Aren’t Afraid to Talk About It!

Shaler Area High School is returning for its second year with Stand Together. We were impressed with the impact of their ‘truth booth’ project last year and the vulnerability of the entire student body. This year, of course, the ‘truth booth’ is being resurrected, along with a few other activities for another great year.

 

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Many of the students returned from last year, but there were plenty of new faces that joined theIMG_20181109_085422 team this year. One of my favorite moments was when two students connected over a discussion about therapy; one student was asking questions about partial hospitalization (that means when someone can go to school or work, but still has extensive amounts of group and individual therapy, usually 3 or so hour/day) and another student willingly shared some of her own experiences. This was incredibly powerful. Stand Together sees the incredible value in youth that have experienced these difficulties, whether themselves or someone they know, and their great opportunity to enact change from a lived-perspective. Sharing our stories helps others know it’s okay to not to be okay, you’re not alone, and help is out there; it can get better. There is hope; there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

 

IMG_20181109_104449We also had a lot of fun. The ‘fan favorite’ Ships & Sailors resulted in hilarious outbursts as students dramaticized movements and reactions. We had a lot of theater participants in the room and it clearly showed! The students also learned how to work together. Like many of our groups, the Stand Together team at SAHS was a diverse team of students. But after the first day, they were well on their way to forming a unified front against stigma.

 

One of my favorite parts of the day is the time we spend inIMG_20181109_122059 circles. I know it sounds cliche, but this ‘circle time’ is where a lot of the ‘magic happens.’ Students find out that they have more in common than separates them, they get to know each other, and more importantly, they get to share pieces about themselves and how they’re going to use their passion and the information they learned to help others. This is always a moving time for me as students share things they learned, what they’re going to change, and what they’re going to contribute to the project. By the end of the second day, these students were ready to go.

 

IMG_20181116_104028These students also came up with some amazing ideas during their project piece. Using some of the activities we facilitate in trainings, as well as some creative new ideas, the students planned some amazing events for this year. We’re looking forward to this year’s visual, student activity fair, and newest version of the ‘truth booth.’ Thank you, SAHS, for not being afraid to #talkaboutit and #standtogether against stigma.

 

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Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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North Allegheny Tigers Talk Truth-Awareness & Inclusion

North Allegheny Tigers Talk Truth-Awareness & Inclusion

Another first year school, North Allegheny High School was incredibly impressive. Right off the bat, the students were already aware of many of the myths and were prepared to counter them with facts as early as the first activity. It was such a privilege working with such a passionate and aware group. Most of the team is also members of the school’s S.A.D.D. group. Even though they had some bonds and connections (and a decent knowledge of mental health), there were still plenty of new people to meet and new information to learn and share.

 

IMG_20181101_135505Although the students were very quiet at first, with some encouragement they quickly opened up. Everyone was willing and excited to participate in the trainings. One of our larger groups (30 members), it can be intimidating, especially for more reserved students. The most memorable moment for me was the discussion after Cross the Line. IMG_20181101_133950There were so many different perspectives and each student had a unique story to share. The group was vulnerable with each other and left the day feeling empowered to challenge others’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to decrease stigma in their school.

 

IMG_20181113_102404The team couldn’t wait to start planning their projects. As a large school with many staircases, the students decided to use them to their advantage to kick-off the year by grabbing the students’ attention. Stand Together will be decorating each fourth step with green tape to provide a visual representation of the ratio of individuals that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder (1:4). The students plan to follow this activity with a video of both students and faculty sharing their own personal experiences with mental health, whether their own or someone they know. This will also serve as a transition to a form of Truth Booth the students will facilitate later in the year. The team also has a few other small activities throughout the year, so they’re definitely going to be busy!

 

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A special shout-out goes to Mr. Longo, one of their advisors. He spent almost a year trying to get Stand Together into N.A. and it’s definitely paid off. The group is great, the advisors are invested, and leadership is abound. We can’t wait to see their projects in action this Spring!

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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WBD Day 2018: What you need to know about Bipolar Disorder

WBD Day 2018: What you need to know about Bipolar Disorder

Today is the fifth-annual World Bipolar Day, an annual global campaign to raise awareness about bipolar disorder and eliminate stigma. It is celebrated every year on the birthday of artist Vincent van Gogh, a famous Dutch painter diagnoses with bipolar disorder that died by suicide after struggling with psychosis. Bipolar disorder affects around 3.4 million children and adolescents.3.30 bipolar blog 5 Although mood swings are typical in adolescence, when these start to affect the individual’s life on a daily basis, this can be cause for concern. Famous recording artist Demi Lovato has also become a strong public advocate as well.

 

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by period of mania (hyperactivity, impulsivity, reckless behavior, high energy, lack of sleep) and depression (little activity, anxiety, potentially suicidal thoughts/self-harm, low energy, and often increased sleep). Some forms of bipolar disorder also include psychotic episodes, when people can experience hallucinations, delusions, and odd thoughts/ideas. As you can imagine, this is a complex and difficult disorder for youth to experience, especially if they’re experiencing these symptoms for the first time on adolescence. (Click the roller coaster below!)

 

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There is a lot of stigma associated with bipolar disorder. How many times have you heard the word bipolar used as an adjective to describe someone that changes their mind often or when the 3.30 bipolar blog 1weather is unpredictable? Using these words can be offensive to individuals that are affected by BD (bipolar disorder). Although known for their rapid changes in mood, mania and depression typically change only several times a year or at most a month. These transitions can be exceptionally difficult and confusing.

 

The good news is-like most mental health disorders-bipolar disorder can be treated and recovery is possible. For most individuals, a combination of medication and therapy is the most effective. Medicines may include things like mood stabilizers to help even things out and anti-depressants to help with the lows that can be more difficult. The medication isn’t a ‘magic pill;’ the individual may still experience symptoms, but it helps them become more manageable. Therapy includes cognitive behavioral interventions that may help manage the individual’s thoughts, moods, and behaviors. These types of therapies help the individuals cope with the changes and intense feelings that they experience and help them to challenge their thoughts, which, in turn, impacts their moods and behaviors.

 

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I myself have been diagnoses with bipolar disorder. As a teenager and young adult, I was afraid to seek help; I was scared that everyone was going to think I was ‘crazy‘ and getting help was a sign of weakness in3.30 bipolar blog 3 my family. A lot of that was from stigmaEven though I was clearly suffering, I was unable to get the help I needed until much later in life. Now, despite these challenges, I am a successful adult. I have a job I love, I’m getting married in December, and I frequently share my story to help decrease the stigma associated with this and other mental health conditions. Sometimes I still struggle, but I have a great support system, I can always reach out to my therapist and psychiatrist, and have the tools and coping skills I need to overcome the bumps that come along the way. There may be potholes, but I can dig myself out.

 

For more information, check out these websites:

3.30 bipolar blog 6Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)-particularly the Young Adult section

TeenMentalHealth.org

the National Institute of Mental Health

Inside our Minds bipolar disorder podcast

#worldbipolarday #bipolarstrong #strongerthanstigma #socializehope

 

Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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