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!
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 and 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.
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! 😊
Arsenal MS is no stranger to Stand Together, but this year they definitely amped up their game. Although they are a small group, they are mighty and the diversity really propels the group to explore MH in a new way.
Stand Together students held three Kool-Aid Stands (‘Aid’-like assistance, get it? haha) this past Spring to promote access to resources and social inclusion, two of Stand Together’s three goals. In the past, the Arsenal team had focuses only on education/awareness, so this definitely brought stopping stigma at their school to a whole new level, by making it ‘okay to not be okay’ and ‘okay to get help.’
The Stand Together team posted the pledge and a signed poster with easy ways to remember their cause:
1) I will end stigma towards youth and adults with mental illness!
2) Caring friends make all the difference in a person’s recovery.
3) I will NOT tease youth and adults with mental illness!
4) If my friend is in danger, I will try to get them help!
5) I will NOT use mean words towards ANYONE.
Students moved though two stations, one for each goal. At the first stations, students signed the Stand Together pledge to receive a green wristband, representing Mental Health Awareness. These bracelets served as a reminder of what the students ‘signed on’ for that day. Students then proceeded to the actual Stand, where they had to show their wristband to get a ‘kuppa Kool-Ade.’ Students were also handed a slip with a mental health/crisis resource on it. These slips included information on re:SOLVE crisis center/hotline, the crisis text-line (741-741), ‘Safe Places,’ and the school resource lead, Mr. McCarthy (who is also Stand Together’s advisor!)
The student body sipped their Kool-Ade while learning how to stop stigma in their school. The group even got to do two of their events outside-talk about promoting mental health and self-care!!! We look forward to working with Arsenal again next year. Thanks for all your hard work, team! Kudos!
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:
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. 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!)
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 weather 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.
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 in my family. A lot of that was from stigma. Even 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.
West Allegheny HS Stand Together students have been hard at work, creating and facilitating an amazing assembly for their classmates and various stigma awareness projects the last few weeks. They’ve clearly become ‘super heroes’ in the mental health revolution! Check out these amazing activities!
On February 13, the Stand Together students held an assembly at their school to kick-off this year’s projects. The students shared facts about mental illness, emphasized that Words Matter!, and talked about the impact stigma has on individuals struggling with their mental health. One phenomenal student, Jake, talked about his depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The students also marked every fourth chair with a green paper and had these students stand up, representing the ratio that 1 in 4 youth are affected by a mental health condition in a given year. The students did an absolutely amazing job right out of the gate this year!
The students also held their first of three educational give-away stands to talk to their peers about mental health in a casual, fun way. In the first event, the Stand Together team manned tables and walked around the lunch periods talking about how peers could support, hold hope, and encourage (SHE) each other when they are struggling with a behavioral health concern. Students were asked if they could share what the three letters meant in order to receive a HerSHEy kiss to ‘kiss stigma goodbye.’ Students were also asked how they would use SHE to reach out to a friend. After participating, students could also receive a bonus Lifesaver mint after signing the pledge to end stigma, since they could be a ‘lifesaver’ to someone they know. There was plenty of candy, the Stand Together students were excited to talk to their peers, and everyone learned a lot-and had a great time.
Even though this is their first year in the program, West Allegheny Stand Together students are making waves at their school and are fighting against stigma, one ‘kiss’ at a time.
Sometimes there’s a stigma not only attached to mental health and substance use disorders, but also getting help. Because of this, many adolescents struggle alone and without receiving treatment. Do you know the average time from symptoms to diagnosis is 10 years?! That’s a lot of time that could be spent happier, and healthier…but stigma is rough.
We spend a lot of time in Stand Together talking about how important it is to reach out to an adult you trust when you’re worried about yourself or someone else. That can be really scary! You may have had a bad experience or are afraid of judgement or not being understood. The mental health teams at your school might be located in very populated areas and one might be afraid to be seen going through those doors. You might not even know who your mental health team at your school is! Despite all of this, is important to be able to ask-an-adult for help. We can only do so much; we’re not counselors, therapists, or psychiatrists. We can practice SHE (support, hope, and encouragement) and lead students to available help.
Here’s a quick guide to who those people might be:
– social workers-Social workers do as their name suggests, help with social functioning, but they also help navigate signs/symptoms of mental illness and the struggles of adolescence.
-guidance counselors-You probably don’t know this, but they’re not just there to help you pick your classes and apply for college! They have received extensive training in ‘counseling,’ too, so you can go to them about not just academics, but things outside of the school as well.
–in-school therapists/other professionals-Your school might also contract with external groups to provide other mental health services in your school. This is great because sometimes help can be hard to access or might not be readily available.
–SAP teams-The Student Assistance Program is a group of adults, mental health professionals and teachers and other staff members that work together to address the mental health needs of students in the school. Any student can reach out to any one of these trained individuals if they need further assistance.
We want to take a minute to thank the members of our Stand Together team that serve in this capacity: Samantha Noll (social worker, Allderdice HS), Linda Capozzoli and Whitney Moore (guidance counselors, Brentwood HS & MS), Jerry Pepe (SAP lead, Carlynton HS), Shelly Murphy (Behavioral Specialist, Linton MS), Holly Balattler-Eidinger (social worker, SciTech Academy), and Erica Cicero, Meredith Grillo, and Laura Montecalvo (all members of the mental health team at West Allegheny HS). Thanks for all you do for the students in Stand Together and in your schools! We appreciate you!
Stand Together students are having conversations about mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma all the time, but we want to take the time today to emphasize how important talking about mental health is and how much of an impact it can have on an individual’s life.
1 in 4 students are affected by a mental health condition in a given year. That means out of a group of four friends, one of them will experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or trauma that year. That’s a lot! And the data shows that this is clearly a problem:
-suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in 12-18 year olds
-90% of individuals that complete suicide have a diagnosable mental health or substance use disorder
-6 out of 10 adolescents that are experiencing mental health concerns don’t receive treatment
And these conditions not only affect an individuals mental health, but other areas as well:
-poor academic performance (aka not doing well in school)
-absenteeism (aka not going to school)
-behavior problems (fighting, outbursts, etc.)
-24-44% don’t graduate from high school
-those that don’t graduate are 12x more likely to be arrested
So after all of those sad statistics, what can we do? TALK ABOUT IT! Now is that time! Today is a great day to have a conversation about mental health.
-Ask someone how they are feeling and truly listen
-Reach out to a friend that you haven’t seen in a while and see if they want to do something.
-Don’t use stigmatizing language, such as ‘crazy,’ ‘bipolar,’ ‘freak,’ etc. and when others say those words, use it as an opportunity to educate them about mental health conditions.
-Be open, honest, and genuine; share your own experiences and respond with empathy.
-If you know someone is struggling or has a mental health condition, treat them the same; they are the same person-they are just like everyone one else, but they just happen to have a MHC. *person-first*
-Most important, justbe there and remember SHE: support, hope, and encouragement.
West Mifflin High School has been ‘breaking the silence’ around mental health and substance use disorders and stigma for the past five years and have been doing a great job changing the culture of their school regarding mental health. This year they continue to deliver. Mr. Mike had the chance to visit WMAHS for their Break the Silence day last Friday, January 26. Let’s #talkaboutit!
For the last few years, WMAHS has been having a Break the Silence day, a peer-to-peer event at which the Stand Together students hold a ‘fair’ in their common area during lunch to promote education, awareness, and social inclusion and decrease stigma. Students can visit various stations that have been set-up to provide information and help the student’s understand more about mental health, coping skills, and resources, both in the school and the community.
The group will also hold a Mental Health Art Gallery in the spring, but at this event, senior Hayley created over a dozen posters focusing on mental health in celebrities. This has been a passion project for Hayley, as she has been in the group for four years and will be focusing on art next year in college. Great job, Hayley!
In addition, another senior, Trinity, wrote and produced a short video to share with her peers. She reached out to teachers and even the school nurse to get their feedback. Over 40 educators and 20 students are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and are equipped to be ‘first responders’ when other students at the school may be experiencing a mental health concern or crisis. Trinity hopes to encourage her peers to become more aware and make proactive efforts to combat the stigma in their school.
The entire group did a phenomenal job presenting mental health and substance use disorders in a more positive light and are clearly making an impact in the lives of the students in their school, whether they are changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or helping students receive the resources and support they need to aid in their mental health. Thanks for being five-year members of the Stand Together mental health revolution-you guys rock! You just don’t stop amazing us!
On December 11th, I attended West Mifflin Middle School’s 6th grade hot cocoa stand. The goal of this project was to educate their fellow peers on mental illness and substance abuse. To receive a hot cocoa, a student had to sign the Stand Together pledge and read aloud a fact related to mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many students came up to participate and were interested in what the ST group was doing.
When it came to organization, the students worked together to come up with a process that made serving the hot cocoa go smoothly. Some of the students mixed up the hot cocoa, while others put marshmallows on top, and the rest of the group helped with the signing of the pledge. It was impressive to see the 6th graders all work together and make sure that everyone was involved. Some of the students even stayed late to make hot cocoa for students who didn’t get a chance to come up and get some!
After the lunch bell rang and it was time to go, the Stand Together group helped their advisor, Ms. Roman, clean up the area which they worked in. Students wiped down the tables, packaged up supplies, and carried items back to their proper location.
All in all, the 6th grade Stand Together hot cocoa stand was a success, and even though there were a few hiccups in the road, they worked together as a team to try and end stigma in their school! Great job West Mifflin Middle School 6th graders!
Brentwood High School is no stranger to the Stand Together program and we were thrilled to hear that they would be teaming up with their middle school students this year to create one large Stand Together team!
Since we had middle and high school working together, we did three days of training. The first day was only middle schoolers, who had never been in Stand Together before. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressed I was with these students! Not only were they extremely knowledgeable, they were also emotionally mature. They all asked questions that were thoughtful and weren’t afraid to voice their opinions, even if they differed from others. It was such a pleasure getting to know each student and seeing how excited they were for the upcoming year (especially working with the high schoolers).
The second day of training was just with the high school students. Many of them had been in Stand Together previously, so it was nice to see returning students. Much of the discussion was very personal and heartfelt, which showed me how much the students trusted each other. By the end of the day, I felt like I had learned so much from this group.
The third day of training was a combined project planning with the middle and high school students. This was my first time doing a combined training, so I was a bit nervous as I did not know what to expect. We began to brainstorm ideas that were applicable to both middle and high schoolers. The students decided on doing a 1-in-4 toolkit and a Lemonade for Change toolkit. Once they had their main ideas and goals laid out, we broke the entire group (middle and high school), into two groups. Those two groups then worked on their specific toolkit. At the end of the day, we all came back together and shared our ideas to receive feedback. Each group had such different projects that all related to the Stand Together goals!
I want to thank you, Brentwood, for allowing me to come in and work with both the middle and high school students. You were all so passionate and really cared about this project. I can’t wait to see your creative ideas put into action!