Steel Valley: Standing Together…Together!

Steel Valley: Standing Together…Together!

On October 26 and November 2, Stand Together programs from Steel Valley Middle and High Schools joined together for their training. We had a HUGE working space, passionate youth, and great ideas abound. Students ranged from 5th to 12th grade, spanning our greatest age difference yet!


This group really enjoyed Ships & Sailors, a movement activity used to emphasize concepts of social distance and exclusion. During this activity, students must created groups of certain numbers while performing specific actions. If they cannot find a group with the appropriate amount of participants or complete the wrong movement, they are eliminated. The game grows more intense as students must leave alliances to survive in the game. It can get pretty rowdy and sometimes physical, but it is important for the students to realize the impact of their choices, even when their actions may be accidental, and the debilitating impact exclusion and isolation can have, especially in regards to stigma and mental illness.

What’s unique about this group is that although the Middle and High schools complete separate projects, they frequently work together, offering 20161102_090637support and encouragement, constructive criticism, and active participation in all activities. Sometimes the groups replicate each others events to increase the impact of their efforts at the different age groups. Students find it helpful for older participants to mentor younger individuals and for the high school to be aware of changes and thought processes of the middle school. Our ‘ground rules’ for the trainings focus on these efforts as well, encouraging students to follow the PROCESS: participation, respect, open-mindedness, confidentiality, experience, sensitivity, and Speak up! Speak out! We emphasize the beauty in our differences, but focus on our similarities that bring us together and make us human. We must work TOGETHER to STAND up against stigma and TALK ABOUT mental illness.

 By the end of the trainings, students were prepared to facilitate Stop the Stigma! weeks at both their schools.

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Mrs. Dunmire-Kuftic’s Middle Schoolers                 Mrs. Kamnikar’s High Schoolers

Join Steel Valley Middle and High Schools as they Stand Together…Together!


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FYI: It's Okay to Grieve!

FYI: It's Okay to Grieve!
  • -In a poll of 1,000 high school juniors and seniors, 90% indicated that they had experienced the death of a loved one. (
  • -One out of every 20 children aged fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. These statistics don’t account for the number of children who lose a “parental figure,” such as a grandparent or other relative that provides care. (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008; 10:1)
  • -A parent’s death usually makes a severe impact on a child, research shows. After losing a parent, 85% of children exhibit such symptoms as difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, worry, depression, bed-wetting, and thumb-sucking. After a year, more regressive behaviors may fade, but other problems, such as lack of confidence and preoccupation with illness, are likely to continue.


  • Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Just like mental illness, someone that is grieving can not always be identified on the outside; just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. One of the statements we use in the Cross the Line activity regards the loss of someone close to us. This is a reality for many people and it becomes extremely difficult over the holidays, when memories of family and friends loss to due to death, overdose, suicide, and changing social dynamics remind us of an empty space that can’t be filled. When children and teenagers lose an important figure in their lives, they experience many symptoms of mental illness as a normal part of the grieving process. For some, however, the impact can be much more debilitating. Youth with grief experiences, especially those that are traumatic or sudden in nature, are more at risk for mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), separation anxiety, and substance use disorders (SUD).


What do we know about grief? The Caring Foundation notes:
1. Grief is a natural and normal response to death.
2. Every person’s grief is unique.
3. Grief is not a disease.
4. Grief is a lifelong process that changes with time.
5. Children grieve dierently than adults.
6. Children of different ages grieve differently.
7. Many adults who had lost a parent when they were young describe the death as the defining moment of their lives.
8. Grieving children and adults need support.
9. We grieve because we love.
10. Grieving children and adults don’t “just get over it” but they can learn to integrate the death (the absence of the one they love) into their lives.


So what can we do to help a friend or family member that is experiencing grief?
Do Say:
-“I’m sad to hear that your husband/wife/child died.”
-“If you want to talk about what happened, I am here to listen.”
-“Tell me about _________” (the person who died—and use their name).
-“I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”
-“I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I am here if you need a friend.”
Avoid Saying:
-“I know how you feel.”
-“I’m sorry.”
-“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
-Any cliche like: “Time heals all wounds.” ”He’s in a better place.” “You’ll be OK.” “Be Positive.” “It’s time to put it behind you.”

Remember, what you say is not as important as just being there. There is no way to make it “better” for your grieving family member or friend. What most people who are grieving need is someone to be there who will listen and will not judge them. Just the same as you would do for anyone with a mental illness.

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Stand Together wants you to know that it’s okay to talk and it’s okay to not be okay. You’re not alone. We’re here.


If you or someone you know is suffering the loss of a loved one, there are resources to help:
The Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families, provides peer support groups for grieving children. Referral services, adult telephone support, and educational programs and resources for grieving children and families are also provided. In addition, consultation services, educational presentations and resources for schools and other professionals in the community who work with children are provided, all at no charge.
Highmark Caring Place
620 Stanwix Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(888) 224-4673

Circle Camps provide free overnight camp programs for children who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. Our mission is to offer our campers the adventures and fun of living and playing together at overnight camps, while providing supportive environments in which they can share their grief.
Circle Camps for Grieving Children*
5124 Holyrood Rd
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 491-8151

As always, re:solve Crisis Network is available, toll-free, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week at 1-888-796-8226 or in-person.
re:solve Crisis Network
333 North Braddock Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15208


(Special thanks to the Caring Foundation and Highmark Caring Place for the above facts and tips. More information can be found at their website.)


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Wednesday UPbeat: Self-Care

Wednesday UPbeat: Self-Care


“Self-Care is Important

It might sound silly, but self-care is imperative for people to be successful at anything. If we are not taking care of ourselves, then we are less able to take care of important things in our lives, like our work and finances. In light of the upcoming holiday season, and the heightened stress levels that this causes many of us, we at Peerlink would like to provide you with some free and inexpensive ways that you can practice self-care today, and throughout the year.

Self-Care Ideas for the Body

  1. Give your body ten minutes of mindful attention. Use the body scan technique to check in with each part of your body.


  1. Oxygenate by taking three deep breaths. Breathe into your abdomen, and let the air puff out your stomach and chest.


  1. Get down and boogie. Put on your favorite upbeat record and shake your booty.


  1. Stretch out the kinks. If you’re at work, you can always head to the bathroom to avoid strange looks.


  1. Run (or walk, depending on your current physical health) for a few minutes. Or go up and down the stairs three times.


  1. Narrow your food choices. Pick two healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and rotate for the week.
  2. Activate your self-soothing system. Stroke your own arm, or if that feels too weird, moisturize.


  1. Get to know yourself intimately. Look lovingly and without judgment at yourself naked. (Use a mirror to make sure you get to know all of you!)


  1. Make one small change to your diet for the week. Drink an extra glass of water each day, or have an extra portion of veggies each meal.


  1. Give your body a treat. Pick something from your wardrobe that feels great next to your skin.


  1. Be still. Sit somewhere green, and be quiet for a few minutes.
  2. Get fifteen minutes of sun, especially if you’re in a cold climate. (Use sunscreen if appropriate.)


  1. Inhale an upbeat smell. Try peppermint to suppress food cravings and boost mood and motivation.


  1. Have a good laugh. Read a couple of comic strips that you enjoy. (For inspiration, try Calvin and Hobbes or Dilbert)


  1. Take a quick nap. Ten to twenty minutes can reduce your sleep debt and leave you ready for action.


Self-Care Ideas for the Soul

  1. Imagine you’re your best friend. If you were, what would you tell yourself right now? Look in the mirror and say it.


  1. Use your commute for a “Beauty Scavenger Hunt.” Find five unexpected beautiful things on your way to work.


  1. Help someone. Carry a bag, open a door, or pick up an extra carton of milk for a neighbor.


  1. Check in with your emotions. Sit quietly and just name without judgment what you’re feeling.


  1. Write out your thoughts. Go for fifteen minutes on anything bothering you. Then let it go as you burn or bin the paper.


  1. Choose who you spend your time with today. Hang out with “Radiators” who emit enthusiasm and positivity, and not “Drains” whose pessimism and negativity robs energy.


  1. Stroke a pet. If you don’t have one, go to the park and find one. (Ask first!)


  1. Get positive feedback. Ask three good friends to tell you what they love about you.


  1. Make a small connection. Have a few sentences of conversation with someone in customer service such as a sales assistant or barista.


  1. Splurge a little. Buy a small luxury as a way of valuing yourself.


  1. Have a self-date. Spend an hour alone doing something that nourishes you (reading, your hobby, visiting a museum or gallery, etc.)


  1. Exercise a signature strength. Think about what you’re good at, and find an opportunity for it today.


  1. Take a home spa. Have a long bath or shower, sit around in your bathrobe, and read magazines.


  1. Ask for help-big or small, but reach out.


  1. Plan a two-day holiday for next weekend. Turn off your phone, tell people you’ll be away, and then do something new in your own town.”


(Thanks to PeerLink TAC for this great advice! Be well!)

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DBSA I to We Leadership Weekend: Inspiration & HOPE!

DBSA I to We Leadership Weekend: Inspiration & HOPE!

If you follow us on social media, you know that this past weekend, I attended a Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance conference on unity in mental health, foucsing on eliminating Illness to building WEllness, Isolation and fear to a WElcoming community of support, and Individual views to poWErful, collective voices. DBSA isn’t limited to individuals with depression and bipolar disorders, but those with any mood disorder or mental illness and those that want to help them, including friends and family, mental health workers, and advocates. I had a great time learning about treatment models, wellness, self-advocacy, the power of storytelling, coping, and goal-setting. I wanted to highlight some of the things I got out of the conference and some inspirational quotes to bring you hope!


Our  ‘guide’ for the weekend was none other than the DBSA President, Allen DoederleinAllen reminded us that depression and bipolar disorder are the two most prevalent mood disorders and mental health conditions and that we should OWN it! People don’t understand that we have to take care of ourselves first and that’s okay, but there’s no reason to do this alone. ‘Be the captain of your own ship!’ Mental health is a revolution that can all take a part in, whether we have a mental illness or are the friends, family, co-workers, anyone; EVERYONE is affected by mental illness. I to We means Illness to WEllness, from isolation to a welcoming community of support and encouragement for all. Allen also shared that we just need to TALK to each other: ‘When you get to know someone, it’s much harder to hate them.’ Start the conversation about mental illness & stigma! #StandTogether!

Other presenters were Mark Bauer, MD who shared the importance of working in partnership with those around us to become the best we can be and expecting no less of ourselves, while Melody Moezzi, JD emphasized the parallels between immigrants and people with mental illnesses, focusing on the impact of stigma: ‘People don’t tell you to be ashamed. They tell you to be quiet. But you have something important to say!…You should never have to lower your expectations because you have a mental illness!’

There was also a focus on important historical figures with mood disorders, including Buzz Aldrin, Ludwig van Beeethoven, J.D. Salinger, Charlie Parker, Isaac Newton, Kurt Cobain, Marie Curie, Tennessee Williams, Winston Churchill, Dick Clark, Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, and J.K. Rowling, just to name a few…Where would we be without these amazing people that just happen to have a mental illness?!


Gayathri Ramprasad was a passionate storyteller with so many nuggets of wisdom. In her book Shadows in the Sun, she explores the lack of understanding, respect, and even acknowledgement in other cultures, like her own country of India. She shared her struggle, saying that ‘you can have everything you want, but every day can be a living nightmare.’ So is the difficulties of mental illness. After many negative experiences, Gayathri made the important realization that ‘walls can confine my body, mental illness can control my mind, but nothing can contain my spirit!’ and discovered that ‘faith, hope, and healing have no boundaries!’ through the power of a stranger. Gayathri’s social change organization, ASHA (Sanskrit & Hindu for hope, but an acronym for A Source of Hope for All) provides encouragement and support for people all over the world with mental illness by encouraging them to ‘dare greatly, love deeply, and share your light.’ Remember: ‘We’re all just human. Love and hope unites all of us. A hurricane can come to level you, but you have everything in you to rebuild again!’

By far my favorite presenter and the one I spent the most time with was Tim Bono, PhD. Did you know that research in psychology focuses at least 10x more on mental illness rather than mental health? Not everyone has a mental illness, but everyone is affected by them and everyone can have good mental health. Tim shared Five Habits for Happiness:
1. Don’t be happy-be happier!
2. Don’t let failures go to waste-learn from them!: Mistakes are part of the human experience, but our response either paralyzes us or provokes us.
3. Take time for gratitude: the more gratitude you have, the more optimism and positive you will become. (Emmons & McCullough 2003)
4. Spent time with others, spend time on others.
5. Healthy body, healthy mind.
Henri Matisse said that ‘there are always flowers for those who want to see them.’ What are the things we can do to help ourselves? Practice mindfulness (be present in the moment) & altruism (give back, be there for others). Be patient with yourself. Make S.M.A.R.T. goals. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Take time to take care of yourself. And remember, you are never alone!

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Carlynton HS: Big Goals, Big EQ

Carlynton HS: Big Goals, Big EQ

This will be #StandTogether’s first year at Carlynton, but we can already tell it’s going to be amazing. One thing that stood out from the very beginning was the immense capacity for empathy of this group! EQ means ’emotional intelligence’ and this group of teens was incredibly open-minded, supportive, and engaging. They challenged themselves, each other, and even our staff to really address some of our own agendas and stigmas.

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These students worked hard from the get-go, sharing pieces of themselves and their experiences to really think about how to enact change in their school and their community. They were so excited to start project planning and ended up deciding on not one, but TWO 20161101_131011projects for this school year.

To give you an idea of how the project planning phase works, the students have already spend the first day (and a half) engaging in educational and team-building activities to prepare them to work together to enact social change through service-learning. Students are then presented with the questions, “What can you do to end stigma at your school?” Each student has the chance to share their ideas and consider how they address our goals of stopping stigma, engaging others, and promoting further assistance. We go through pre-designed toolkits and previous projects to give them even more ideas. Then the students vote for which ideas they think will best help them educate and act on the stigma in their school.

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Words cannot begin to express the compassion in this room and we’re more than excited to see how their projects play out this year.

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