The Creative and Performing Arts Academy (PPS) is one of our 10 (!) new schools for this year. And they’re serious about stopping stigma. So serious, that they requested to take a ‘serious’ photo of their group at the end! At any rate, mental health and stigma are serious issues-all the more reason we need to start talking about them and stop the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders.
This year we added a more extensive section on substance use disorders. Students have had a lot of questions and substance use disorders often occur with and/or because of mental health conditions. In addition, as the ‘opioid epidemic’ comes to the forefront and more students are being affected by the use of heroin and ‘pain killers,’ it was important that our training provided much needed information to dispel myths, share information, and help youth address the specific stigmas attached to these disorders. Stigma is so pervasive and perpetuates the shame that comes from receiving treatment for both mental and substance use disorders, but these numbers continue to rise, especially youth using electronic vapor products and marijuana. It’s important to be knowledgeable and aware of not only these disorders, but also the resources available and how to help someone that may be struggling with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Although one wouldn’t think it, the wrap-up on the first day is an important piece of the training workshops. After hearing from one of our team members (TA Montaja-she majored in Musical Theater!), Cross the Line, and what usually ends up being a very vulnerable, intimate, intense discussion, students take a break and come back to one of our last activities: Motivational Echoing. It might sounds like a simple activity, students come back together to solidify and personalize the truths we’ve discussed through the day:
Mental & substance use disorders are not my fault.
I am not alone.
I am loved.
It’s okay to not be okay.
It’s okay to get help.
I can help others get help.
We’re in this together.
Students leave the day feeling heard, valued, inspired, and equipped with the tools and experiences they need to influence their peers and design and implement projects to create change in their school cultures. The knowledge and awareness, feelings of social inclusion, and relationships with advisors/supporting staff pour out onto their peers and faculty. Change happens by confronting myths, changing attitudes, and promoting help-seeking and socially inclusive behaviors. The students at CAPA were no exception. They were exceptionally passionate and motivated to attack stigma head-on in fun, creative, and innovative activities.
By the end of the second day, the students at CAPA had come up with FOUR solid projects, including Stigma Stopping Stallions (S3) educational presentations, The Real Tea stand to discuss myths and facts, and a Living Wall, a version of a ‘truth booth’ in which students can visualize the impact mental and substance use disorders have on their peers, staff/faculty, families, and the community. The team will also hold an art gallery for students to create and submit original works inspired by mental health experiences. They will be displayed for the school and public. CAPA’s team is well on their way to using their ‘creative’ talents to make meaningful changes in their school!
We look forward to seeing CAPA’s projects in action and watching the students make a difference in the lives of those around them as they stand together against stigma.
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
Perry High School (PPS) joined us for the first time this year. Students had expressed an interest in doing something with mental health in the past, but didn’t have a concrete plan in place. Enter in Stand Together! It turned out to be a convenient time and we jumped at the opportunity to work with this school.
Some of the concepts were new to the students and many of them were strongly rooted in their personal views, whether they had stemmed from their parents, friends, or media. We engaged in a lot of active discussions and I think we all learned a lot from each other. It was a very diverse group and they were very vocal in their opinions, but we discovered that we had a lot in common. Even though we are all very different, we had shared some of the same experiences that we never would’ve guessed without getting together. The students had some great discussions about diversity and adversity in mental health services, particularly surrounding trauma, the impact of mental health on schooltime, and stigma in the African American community (especially males).
Food seems to be the way to reach youth-well, probably everyone, and Perry’s team said their school was no different. The team decided on the Food 4 Thought toolkit. The group decided to focus on attacking stigma and encouraging their peers to start talking about mental health, including things like: It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to get help. Stigma hurts-talking helps. The students decided on three events, focusing on what stigma is, how it affects people, and how to stop it. The team will share food, facts, and tips to their fellow students. The students were very passionate, as many of them had been affected by mental health and substance use disorders in a myriad of ways. We really encourage this, because students that have this experience are incredibly valuable to the cause, as they have ‘been there’ and add so much more to the group.
I’m excited to meet with the Commodores again today to keep project planning rolling and really start hashing out the details. It’s going to be great!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
“Don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama
This quote was on the wall when we entered Propel: Braddock Hills Middle School and it inspired us as we prepared for our day. Courage and hope are HUGE parts of tearing down stigma and we were ready to work to instill these values in our group!
For many of the students in this group, it was the first time they had came in contact with each other. Sure, they may have passed each other in the hall, but many of them didn’t know each other. That was definitely going to change by the end of the trainings. Students enjoyed tossing the ball around to talk about their favorite holiday memory, moving seats in Common Ground, and partnering-up to learn about the 5 Signs and empathy.
Although they’re long days, the students were eager to share their thoughts and ideas with the group and participate. Even if it got a little bit rowdy at times, we encourage the students to have fun, make new friends, and speak up when they have something to say-and they had a lot to say!
After much discussion and hard work, the students came up with and presented six exciting ideas to the group. We’re still not quite sure which one they’ll choose, but one thing is for sure: it’s going to be awesome!
Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator