Shaler Area Middle School is joining their high school counterparts in Stand Together this year to take action against stigma. Mr. Lisowski & Ms. Coleman’s crew was large and mighty and they came up with some incredibly creative projects for this year. Students are focusing on increasing education and awareness as well as social inclusion in fun activities for their peers during lunch.
Stand Together workshops cram a lot of information into one day and sometimes it can be difficult to absorb it all, so we review several times throughout the day, as well as provide takeaways for the students. We also engage the students in meaningful activities that help them remember the concepts while having fun, too. For example, we have all the students stand up and the trainer counts off by four. The first three students can sit while the fourth remains standing. Once we have gone around the room, the students can visualize the ratio of students that have a mental or substance use disorder (1:4). Another activity, Ships & Sailors, is a game of elimination in which students must follow directions and form groups of a specific number in order to stay in the game. Afterwards, we discuss what it was like to be ‘eliminated,’ excluded, and ‘betrayed.’ This is what stigma feels like. To remember the five most common signs of mental and substance use disorders, we have the students repeat them back to each other and give each other a ‘high-five.’ (Did you know physical action helps your brain remember things?)
Another important piece of our trainings is learning how to respond when you recognize those signs in someone you know. We emphasize that the students are not professionals, but there are still things they can do to help. That’s where the acronym S.H.E. comes in: support, hope, and encouragement. Students can be there for their friends that are struggling, hold hope for them when they cannot do so for themselves, and encourage them to talk to an adult/get professional treatment. We also realize that youth can identify concerns in family members as well. In the clip below, students review a scenario in which a student’s aunt is demonstrating signs of a mental illness. The students share how they would approach that individual, what they would say, and what they would do.
This year, the group has planned three unique projects to engage their peers. In January, students will ‘Band Together’ Against Stigma by answering questions about mental and substance use disorders and receiving a wristband to represent the 1:4 individuals that are affected by these conditions. Students are also using a winter theme (and cookies!) for students to share their personal experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. Sharing our stories helps decrease stigma by promoting awareness and increasing social inclusion; students find that they are not alone in their struggles and they have more in common than what separates them. Lasly, the students are planning another cookie give-away to dispel the myths about these disorders and/or perform a socially inclusive act. This activity plays on the game, “Truth or Dare.” Students will have to decide whether a statement is a fact and/or do something to get to know someone new.
We’re excited to see these projects over the course of this year-and get some cookies while we’re at it! I have to say Snickerdoodles are a pretty underrated cookie, so I’m excited to see these treats teach and encourage other students to talk about mental and substance use disorders as they ‘Band Together’ against stigma.
written by Danyelle, coordinator
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