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TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

The Stand Together program welcomes another newcomer to our line-up of schools: Thomas Jefferson High School! Welcome!

The group had their first official ST workshops on two Tuesdays in December, however they had already been meeting as a group in preparation for the training, discussing their thoughts about mental health and brainstorming ideas to end stigma in their school. This group came together on their training days eager to get started, but a bit timid. That would quickly change!

After setting clear ‘community agreements’ to create a ‘safe space,’ the students began to ease into team-building and education. The first workshop was all formal training about mental illness, substance use disorders, and the effects of stigma. Not only did TJHS learn new information about mental health and wellness, they also learned new things about one another.

During the ‘Cross the Line’ activity, the group shared they were surprised to share some of the same struggles as their peers. Stand Together members also noticed it was a challenge to share their concerns; they care a lot about what their peers are going through and didn’t want to add any more stress onto others. Group members shared how much they feel sad when they see other peers and staff going through hard times and they want to use this program to really change the culture of their school.

Thinking about what they learned at the first workshop, the students came up with a list of very important information they wanted their peers and staff to know, including:
-taking mental and substance use disorders seriously
-knowing that #youarenotalone if you struggle with something
-don’t be afraid to #talkaboutit!
The group brain-stormed different ideas to create their anti-stigma projects. One idea was a popcorn stand during lunch periods. They wanted it to be interactive with a trivia game wheel and different colored popcorn that featured the 1:4 ratio of individuals affected by these disorders. They also discussed having a school-wide assembly to raise awareness about mental health and stigma. Not only do ST members want to get the right facts out to their peers, this group also wants their teachers and staff to feel comfortable enough to check-in on the students they interact with daily. TJHS is really tackling a lot of issues in their first year!

Empathy is a huge part of the TJHS motto and this project’s theme. With this ‘super-power’ in their toolkit, we have no doubt their first year in Stand Together will have a lasting impression on their school.

Welcome to the club! We’re happy to have you and excited to see your projects!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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DL Lancers: Armed with SHE, Defeating STIGMA

DL Lancers: Armed with SHE, Defeating STIGMA

We’re pleased to welcome Deer Lakes High School to the Stand Together program this year! Having worked with this school district in a previous position, I was anxious to return and see how things have changed since then-and maybe run into a few of my old students along the way! That didn’t end up happening, but I did meet an amazing group of youth that were full of passion, laughter, and love.

Although slow to start (they are teenagers and it was early in the day), they quickly gained energy and momentum as we went through the exercises. It was a very a diverse group and students were eager to participate, learn, and get to know each other throughout the two training workshops. They asked a lot of questions, came up with a bunch of great ideas, and made some new friends along the way.

As you can see, the group had so much fun. All I could see were smiles, hear was laughter, and feel the excitement as the youth participated in activities to learn more about mental and substance use disorders and stigma and come together as a group:
-4 Corners: the classifications, effects, and examples of substances
-Ships’n’Sailors: understanding the feelings of isolation and consequences of stigma
-WHAPP! learning how to recognize the most common signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders
-Sparkle: put it all together to review and reiterate that mental illness is not a choice (1:4 students don’t even have a chance to answer a question)
-WWYD? students role-play in various scenarios to recognize the signs and symptoms, respond, and provide SHE (support, hope, and encouragement)
-Common Ground: a kind of ‘musical chairs’ to find similarities between the students
-The Big Five: the most important pieces of our training: 1) You matter; 2) You’re not alone; 3) SHE; 4) 1 in 4; 5) WHAPP.
Recognizing the signs, spreading awareness and promoting social inclusion, and knowing how to respond are how Stand Together stops stigma. And we know these Lancers are going to slay.

The second day was an amazing experience. The students couldn’t wait to share their ideas and plan projects to stop stigma in their school. Utilizing the education and experiences they obtained in the first workshop, students focused on what they thought their peers and staff should know. Then they viewed some project examples-and the juices were flowing! There were so many ideas, they might run out of time this year! So much to do, so little time!

The group settled on plans for a kick-off assembly with a recovery speaker, 1:4 visual, and Kahoot! trivia, as well as three definite events to be held throughout the year: a myth/fact spinning wheel, a rubber ducky pool/pull, and a balloon release to visualize the 1:4 ratio and unite by sharing their own experiences with mental and substance use disorders. The group plans to track these balloons to see their impact after they let them go as well, as they release not only their challenges, but also information to the greater community.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when students think about their own interests and talents and commit to contributing a specific skill to the project:

We absolutely cannot wait to see these projects in action! I’m so excited to be able to share my story with the students and staff at the assembly and be a part of this amazing experience. Keep an eye out for posts on January 30th!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Perry HS: Capturing Connection & Conquering Stigma

Perry HS: Capturing Connection & Conquering Stigma

Perry High has returned for their second year of Stand Together. Newcomers and returning students put their knowledge to the test. Although this group is small, their ideas to stop stigma in their school are grand!

Two days of training really solidified and unified the group. Students were tested on their mental health IQ and participated in team-building activities. Students also asked important questions about seeking help and really want to focus on getting the ‘real facts’ about mental and substance use disorders out to their peers. They want them to know that their voice matters! They also want to build stronger bonds with their teachers and staff; they believe this will help create a more accepting atmosphere and help their peers communicate their mental health needs.

Project planning was an exciting time! This year, the group plans on creating a photo booth to capture memories and build connections between their peers. Each photo booth will have a different theme and activity throughout the year. The plan is entice their peers and faculty/staff with fun props and games to promote awareness, encourage strangers to get to know someone knew, and to encourage more interaction between staff and students.

They also want to use the photo booth to educate their peers on the WHAPP signs and symptoms; youth should look out for withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care; these could be an indicator that someone is emotionally struggling and needs help. The booths will also lace a 1:4 theme throughout to raise awareness about the impact and mental and substance use disorders.

The photos from these booths will be printed and displayed in the school’s ‘Hall of Fame’ with mental health facts and inspiring messages for all to see.

Great job with project planning! We can’t wait to see the connections you capture during your events!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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Hillel & Yeshiva Tag Team Against Stigma

Hillel & Yeshiva Tag Team Against Stigma

Stand Together is excited to welcome two more new schools this year. From Pittsburgh’s very own Jewish Community in Squirrel Hill: Hillel Academy and Yeshiva girls’ schools! Due to a generous grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and other supporters, we were able to expand to all five (!) schools in this community.

Both schools trained together at Hillel this past November, right before the holiday. Students filed into the training space quiet and curious, but that didn’t last very long! The students got warmed-up to the topics discussed and enjoyed competing in the trivia games that aided in review. It was a busy two days! Laughter, team-building, and deep discussion happened with ease. These young ladies ranged in age and grade levels from 7th through 12th grades. As each training day went on, they discovered fascinating things they had in common with one another, much deeper than their obvious connection with culture and religion.

Although the community is very tight knit, the students still had to get to know each other better as they attend different schools. The teams learned more about themselves, the Stand Together program, and their trainer, Montaja. As each topic of the day was discussed, students started to speak more openly about their personal thoughts about the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders. These young ladies weren’t afraid to ‘Speak up!’ and ‘Speak out!’ about how challenging it is to reach out for help even with adults they trust around them. Without hesitation, the students created a long list of things that they’d like their peers and staff to know about mental health and stigma. Some of the things they mentioned included:
-Mental illness is invisible.
-Having a mental and/or substance use disorder is not ‘wrong.’
-Therapy is okay for anyone and everyone.

By the second training workshop, both schools were ready to plan and design their projects. After viewing other schools’ ideas and discussing some challenges they may have to work around due to the size and culture of their school, both groups put together solid ideas to carry out their project and the Stand Together mission.

Hillel Academy girls’ team are working on a year-long theme that will ‘bar the stigma.’ They’re going to kick-off the year with a hot drink bar to ‘scorch the stigma…not your tongue!’ This clever project will host a table decorated with myths, facts, and other information to start the conversation about mental and substance use disorders and stigma. To incentive their peers and staff to enjoy a cozy cup of tea or cocoa during the cold winter months and start talking about mental health.

Yeshiva girls are planning on using the Stand Together acronyms as a way to start the conversation:
-W.H.A.P.P. (signs & symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care)
-S.T.I.G.M.A. (examples of stigma: stereotyping, teasing, inappropriate language, myths, and attitude)
-S.H.E. (how to help: support, hope, encourage)
Their event includes a drink stand to further educate their peers and staff, focusing on how mental and substance use disorders are invisible and effect everyone.

It’s clear to see both schools are off to a great start. They are more than excited to get the facts out to their student body. What a way to start your first year! Welcome to the club-we can’t wait to see your projects roll out!

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SPHS Eagles are Stronger than Stigma

SPHS Eagles are Stronger than Stigma

The South Park High School Stand Together team returns for its second year in the program. With the help of a returning member, new recruits filled the activity room. This year, the group is fueled by girl power! These young ladies know how challenging it is to speak freely about struggling with mental and substance use disorders and they want to make sure their fellow peers know that their group is all-inclusive and a very important program in their school.

Through-out the two training workshops, this mixed group of students learned about mental and substance use disorders, as well as stigma. They participated in several team building activities and by the end of the second day, new friendships were budding. To create a deeper bond, the group took part in ‘Common Ground,’ as well as partnering up with a peer they didn’t know very well. The girls also participated in our most meaningful activity, ‘Cross the Line.’ It didn’t take long for each participant to realize that they have a lot more in common with their fellow classmates than they thought before and that no one is alone.

After a full day of education and discussing the facts, these Eagles were ready to soar into project planning and sharing ideas. After a quick review and a few more team-building activities, the students shared their thoughts on what they’d like their peers and staff to know. They all agreed that #itsokaytonotbeokay. The students broke into small groups to work through their ideas and came up with several seasonal activities for the school-year.

A major event at South Park is their Winter Festivus. Capitalizing on this existing event, they will be hosting their first ‘truth booth.’ At this ‘booth,’ peers and staff can anonymously share their feelings on a custom-made snowflake. The students will then use the snowflakes as a decoration in their school and, more importantly, to display the impact of mental and substance use disorders. The group also plans on having seasonal truth booths through-out the year to continue to promote awareness and social inclusion.

They want to continue to promote social inclusion with a 1:4 day activity fair. To attract more males to participate, they decided to make a sort-of athletic competition and have a trivia 1:4 game toss. The 1:4 theme would be displayed on the bottles with the slogan, ‘Don’t bottle it up!’ After answering questions and tossing rings, they would be able to earn prizes.

With catchy slogans and fun prize ideas, we’re certain these projects will have a lasting impression on their school. Keep on soaring above stigma-we’re looking forward to your school projects!

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NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

The sun shined though the huge glass windows in the Lounge at North Allegheny Intermediate High School in early November, welcoming students to their first training workshop. It’s NAI’s first year in the program (jumping on the bandwagon from NASH’s participation last year) and as the Fall leaves swirled around, signifying the change of the seasons, the students were eager to start changing the culture around mental health in their school.

Students shared a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun while learning and growing together. Students learned about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, and how to help their peers. They also got to know each other in fun games, such as Common Ground, that encourage them to build relationships with each other. Our teams act as ‘micro-cosms’ to their schools and the connections they make during the trainings will overflow onto their classmates as well, promoting social inclusion (one of our goals). The group left the first day with the education and experience to come back the following week to start planning projects to end stigma in their school.

Students were eager to share their ideas with the team and ‘dive right in’ the second training workshop. Students thought it was very important for their peers to know that many people (1:4!) are living with mental and/or substance use disorders and that they are not alone in their struggles. Another important focus was to share resources and encourage students to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re worried about themselves or someone else (another one of our goals).

We stress that students are not counselors and that weight is not theirs to bear, but there are things they can do to support a friend or family member, summed up in the acronym S.H.E.: provide support, hope, and encouragement. Youth can also continue to include students in daily activities, encourage their peers in their treatment and coping skills, and just be there for them. We don’t have to ‘fix’ things others are struggling with and it can be scary to sit in the silence, but sometimes, all someone needs is someone to sit with them in their struggle to remind them that they are not alone and that you are there for them.

The NAI team plans to implement a food and candy stand, host a 1:4 photo booth, and create a video to connect students to resources and adults to get help. Their slogan, ‘Tigers Talk about It!’ reminds their peers that #itsokaytonotbeokay and that #itsokaytogethelp. They want to normalize conversations about mental health in their school and help others on their journeys by uniting the student body in solidarity to end stigma.

We can’t wait to see your projects in action, stop by for some sweet treats, and learn about the changes you’ve made in your school with your passion and projects. Keep up the great work!

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CAPA: Stigma Stopping Stallions Return

CAPA: Stigma Stopping Stallions Return

Bright and early, the Creative and Performing Arts Academy high school students filled the library to participate in their second year of Stand Together.

Although some of these ‘unicorns’ (their mascot) had graduated, returning students and new students alike thrived in review games and discussions. The team retained a lot of the information about mental and substance use disorders and, more importantly, how to combat the stigma associated with these disorders. The group got to know each other further during our team-building activities and found ‘common ground’ with each other. Finding these similarities helped them come up with wonderful ideas to stop the stigma in their school and even talk to a peer they might not have connected with before their training.

The second workshop was even more eventful. Students participated in a Jeopardy-style review and shared their input on what they would like their peers and staff to know about the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders. They also had the opportunity to map out their ideas in mini-groups and piece together a line-up of powerful anti-stigma projects.

This year, the Stigma Stopping Stallions decided to revisit their art gallery idea, planning to host a space that displays not only art, but also information about mental and substance use disorders. This area will include an anonymous booth for peers and staff to post messages that could possibly be turned into an art piece in the gallery, as well. Another cool idea that will last for years to come are ‘mini-zines.’ Using the information they learned from the training, this group plans on designing and distributing a small, interactive magazine to present to their peers and faculty as an educational tool to spread the word about Stand Together and our message.

No battle is too big for these superheroes! CAPA, we’re excited to see all the creative projects you are working on this year to be implemented in your school!

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SciTech: Serious about Stopping Stigma

SciTech: Serious about Stopping Stigma

SciTech is ready to combat mental and substance use disorder stigma in their school! No stranger to the Stand Together program, this year students returned full steam ahead. With a mix of grade levels and experiences, this group of students spent two Fridays together, refreshing their knowledge of mental and substance use disorders, learning about each other, and planning projects for their school-mates. The team had been meeting before the training to really focus on what they’d like to see change in their school environment. Senior participants are really invested this year and determined to leave a mark in their high school before they move on to future endeavors.

This group has the energy and passion to really connect with their peers on a deeper level. After their first day of training and some review, the group generated ideas in mini-brainstorming sessions. Sparks of inspiration fueled their mission to really bridge the connection between students, teachers, and staff.

The SciTech Stand Together team discussed presenting educational sessions to their staff; they thought this would be more meaningful and impactful than having someone else come in and hold a professional development event. They also wanted a ‘grand-scale’ effort to increase social inclusion in their school; they decided to host an interactive and educational neon ‘glow dance’ for their student body to connect and learn while having a fun time. It’s clear this team is serious about making a change!

Welcome back, SciTech High! We cannot wait to see how your great ideas unfold into wonderful stigma-stopping projects in your school!

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NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

North Allegheny Senior High School began its second year in the program-and brought their Intermediate High School with them, too! We’re excited to expand our program in the NA school district and NASH has really taken Stand Together and ran with it. We look forward to another year with this group of youth! And it all starts with the training…

Many of the students in the team returned from last year and a handful of passionate new students came together in October to learn about mental and substance use disorders, the definition and examples of stigma, and how to help their peers. Students from various groups across the school spent two days getting to know each other and work together to plan projects to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders in their school.

Some activities got intense-it was a pretty competitive group!-but the students learned a lot and had lots of fun. The team had insightful responses to the role playing prompts in the What Would You Do? exercise and were eager to share what they learned with their peers. The group had learned so much and could share the ‘Big 5’ by heart:
1) You matter.
2) You’re not alone.
3) SHE (support, hope, encouragement aka How to Help)
4) 1:4 people have a behavioral health condition
5) WHAPP!: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care (the signs of a mental or substance use disorder)
By the end of the day, the group was really starting to come together and already had some great ideas for projects!

The group was overflowing with ideas for this year. It was incredibly difficult to pick only a few to focus on, but the students combined some ideas, elaborated on others, and were able to form concrete planning for three big projects, including peer education in PE classes *2 days!*, a ‘truth tree,’ and permanent mural. They also want to continue using visual media and videos to share the information with their peers; this year, they’re going to focus on what to do and how to help. By incorporating physical/social activities, informational presentations, and moving visuals, NASH hopes to continue their work to decrease stigma in their school.

Students finished up the day by sharing a behavior that they were personally going to start and/or stop doing to address stigma as a result of the education and experience they received during the Stand Together training. Team members shared commitments to care more about their own mental health, speak up when someone uses stigmatizing language, and let others know that they’re there for them when they’re struggling.

Thank you, NASH, for pledging to speak up and speak out against stigma, to not use stigmatizing language, to share information, resources, and experiences, and to provide support, hope, and encouragement to others. You’re changing your school, community, and the world! Keep up the good work!

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West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West Allegheny High School is returning for its third year in the program and they continue to amaze us with their creativity, passion, and vulnerability. Half of their members returned this year, committed to continue their work to address stigma in their school. With a diverse group and a handful of staff support, this group is well on their way to another amazing year-and they’ve upped their game to Tier 3! There was no doubt in my mind they would rise to the occasion and blow us away with their ideas.

To decrease stigma, it’s important to increase education and awareness to break down the stereotypes and myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. One of the first things we stress is that these are diagnosable conditions (by a mental health professional) that occur frequently and over a long period of time. It’s not just the ups-and-downs of every day life; we all feel anxious and sad from time-to-time (we asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever felt this way in the picture above), but when it starts to affect someone’s daily life, that’s when it’s important to reach out for help.

In the HS curriculum in particular, we also discuss various diagnoses and definitions. Students learn about the eight most common mental health conditions and the similarities and differences among them. Although we don’t expect the students to memorize these disorders, we want them to be aware of the correct definitions so that they can address the stigma associated with specific ones. For example, most people use ‘OCD’ as an adjective, like it’s just about being ‘neat’ or ‘picky,’ but in reality, OCD is a disorder involving obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s not just that someone likes things a certain way, but they are following certain rules, rituals, and routines; things have to be a certain way. No matter the diagnoses, most disorders can be associated with five major signs and symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care, or WHAPP! (as we like to call it). Students recognize that when they notice these in themselves or someone else, it’s important to reach out to an adult they trust.

Students at West Allegheny also take part in an activity called Climate Change. In this activity, students think about the positive and negative characteristics of their school environment, what an ideal culture would look like, and think about how they can get there. One of Stand Together’s goals focuses on social inclusion-all students and staff are welcomed and included in the social fabric of the school. They used this idea to plan one of their projects the second day. (see below)

The team at West A has always been passionate about reaching their Freshman class as soon as they enter the building. For the past two years they have held a freshman assembly with information about mental health and Stand Together, games, and a recovery speaker. This year they’re going to take it a step further. After their assembly in the fall, this Spring, the students will be entering the health classrooms to spend three-yes, THREE!-days sharing information with their peers, engaging them in fun activities, and showing them a self-created film they will be producing that will include both students and staff sharing personal stories about their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. One of their advisors, Ms. D, is the health teacher and it was a natural connection to expand her unit with peer-to-peer instruction from Stand Together students. We always say, it’s one thing if an adult tells you something, but it’s quite another if you hear it from someone your age, someone you know…it has a much greater impact.

Students have also planned a Stop Stigma Speed Run (or Triple S Grand Prix) obstacle course for students in gym class. Participants will rotate through different activities learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma while engaging in fun activities and physical games. The team will also be painting a mural with silhouettes of the team and a pledge for their school to ‘end stigma’ by ‘creating a self and welcoming environment’ for students and staff, regardless of whether or not an individual has a mental health, substance use disorder, or any other difference or diagnosis.

We’re looking forward to see how great an impact this team makes at their school this year. We know they’re going to change the environment and even lives. See you soon!

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