October 10th was World Mental Health Day. In solidarity, people all over social media posted about their mental health experiences, spreading awareness, and working towards stopping stigma. But how do you help a person who is experiencing a mental illness? That’s where recovery comes into play.
More commonly than you would think, the definition of recovery is misconstrued. People think that recovery is a one-time event but really, recovery doesn’t have an end. Rather, recovery is the continuous process of improving one’s health. The goal is to live a healthier and more fulfilling life. The recovery journey is unique to each person. People will have achievements and setbacks in their recovery, but it’s all part of the process. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the progress that people make in their recovery.
It’s also very important to spread awareness and educate everyone about the process of recovery. That’s why we talk about recovery for not one, but two months:
The month of September focuses on substance use while October focuses more on mental health. Both substance use and mental health recovery maintain that recovery is an ongoing process, however substance use recovery emphasizes harm reduction and decreasing or eliminating substance use while mental health recovery aims to reduce or eliminate symptoms. This can be best achieved through a combination of medication, therapy, and rehabilitation. Just like any other illness, mental and substance use disorders can be reoccurring. That’s why it’s important to know that recovery is ongoing. Recovery is all about making connections, having hope, establishing a strong sense of self, finding meaning or purpose in what you’re doing, and being empowered. These tenants of recovery serve as a foundation for living a higher quality and healthier life.
The fact that September and October are so focused on recovery gives us the opportunity to start discussions about mental health and substance use. It’s a reminder that these topics need to be talked about. Staying silent doesn’t help; stigma hurts everyone. There’s so much stigma surrounding substance use and mental health. People think that people who are experiencing substance use disorders and mental illness choose to live this way. They take the person out of the equation and use stigmatizing language like “crazy” and “junkie”, not acknowledging that whatever place these people may be in their recovery journey, they are still people-first. If we can all just make one change in our lives, how about using more thoughtful language? Take stigmatizing language out of your vocabulary and instead say “person experiencing bipolar disorder” or “person experiencing a substance use disorder.”
Another important way we can help others in their recovery journey is by reaching out. If you see someone who seems socially disconnected, ask him/her how he/she is doing. These simple words can have a major impact. Isolation makes people more stressed, serving to further negatively impact people’s health. By connecting with others, we can instead help them build resiliency, the ability to cope with and adapt to challenges and change. Resilient people have a good skillset to help them deal with stress and have the motivation to begin or continue the process of recovery. Because of this, building resiliency can be the turning point in someone’s recovery.
Helping other people recover is what spreading awareness is all about. Whether someone is experiencing substance use disorder, mental illness, or a combination of the two, talking about not just the illness but about recovery can make a significant difference. So, reach out to someone you know and start a conversation about recovery today.
This past year was Shaler Area High School’s first year and they did not disappoint-AND they’re bringing their Middle School with them this year! This team did an absolutely amazing job organizing and facilitating their projects and it’s been such a pleasure working with their dedicated advisors. Here’s a glimpse of what you missed:
The Semicolon Project (;):
To spark interest in the group and start the conversation about mental health, students placed green posters on every fourth locker to represent the 1 in 4 youth that are affected by a mental or substance use disorder in a given year. The posters read:
Semicolon (;) — where the author could have ended the sentence…but didn’t.
You don’t suffer alone.
Many of their peers were familiar with the Semicolon Project, a national campaign to end suicide, and started asking them about Stand Together and what they were going to do next.
Take a Bite out of Stigma:
Students created an elaborate scheme to get their fellow students to learn about mental health. Students were enticed by the rows of cookies at the ST table, but quickly found out they would not come for free. Instead of coins, the Stand Together team was asking for real change-in thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. To receive a cookie, each student had to reach into a bag and grab a slip of paper. On that paper was a myth and a fact about mental and substance use disorders. Students had to read the statements out loud and were then able to receive a cookie. What a great idea! (Random fact: if you read something out loud, you’re 4x more likely to remember it!)
You’re Not Alone-Look at the Numbers:
Although it was their first year, students decided to do a very intimate activity. Following the basic outline of a ‘truth booth,’ and Steel Valley HS’s project two years ago, the team set-up a stand in the cafeteria. On the table were sticky notes of various colors, each representing a different connection to mental and substance use disorders:
pink-personally affected by mental illness
yellow-personally affected by addiction
blue-know someone affected by mental illness
lime green-know someone affected by addiction
orange-felt excluded or disadvantaged
The participation and the impact were phenomenal. Not only were students using the sticky notes anonymously, as suggested, but some even felt comfortable enough writing the name or relationship of the person they knew that is affected. The most moving piece for me was a lime green sticky that read: Mom RIP 1.28.18, signifying that this individual had lost his mother to death by substance use. It was incredibly powerful seeing the students literally ‘stick it to stigma’ by sharing their own struggles and truly discovered that no one is alone. (On a fun note, they also gave out lollipops as ‘suckers to stop stigma.’ What a creative group! Check out the video below:
I’m so proud of Shaler. The passion of both their advisors and their students is phenomenal and I can’t wait to work with them again this year. I just know they’re going to have another impactful year! See you soon, SAHS team!!!
Although it was Propel-Braddock Hills Middle School’s first year in the program, advisors Amand and Danielle really worked hard with their students to make it a good one-and they definitely succeeded. This diverse group became a team over the year, student leaders stepped up, and stigma was challenged in their school. They chose the Food 4 Thought toolkit and got to work right away. They finished the year with three unique projects that addressed myths, provided information, and promoted social inclusion.
For their first project, students researched facts on mental illness and substance use disorders. At lunch, they walked around and shared facts with their peers. Students then went to get lemonade and a wristband with #itsokaytonotbeokay after they shared something they learned.
For their second project, students created a myth vs. fact and sorting game on mental illness. The student body identified what was a myth and what was a fact and after successfully completing the game, they received a sports drink and a wristband. There was also a station to sign the pledge.
Lastly, the student leaders created a Kahoot! game to test the student body’s knowledge on mental illness. After the activity, they were able to visit a station to get a “Keep Calm and Stop Stigma” temporary tattoo. (BTW, these were super cool!)
The glow-in-the-dark wristbands were a gentle reminder that #itsokaytonotbeokay and to create a safe environment to stop stigma. So many people are affected by mental illness and many times, they don’t know who to reach out to or how to deal with the symptoms. Educating students and engaging them in a service-learning project encourages students to speak up and work together in way that can-and do-create change. Schools are changing people’s perceptions and view on mental illness in positive ways. Their messages are not only motivational, but educational and engaging.
Props to Propel MS for a prosperous first year! We’re so proud of you!
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! 😊
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.
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!