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!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS was another team that lost a large group of seniors from last year and is smaller than some of our other groups, but they definitely make up for it in passion and commitment. This group is only 10 members LARGE if you measure it by the size of their hearts!

One thing very special about this group is that they bring a wealth of personal experience to the table and aren’t afraid to #talkaboutit and be vulnerable with each other. Each individual’s experience was unique and we had some great discussions about stigma, the media, and how to combat it.

Are you ready to WHAPP?! (Rather, do you know the five signs?)

Like most teams, the Shaler HS group LOVED the buzzer games, but I’d say this was pretty intense! I’m glad we had lots of laughs playing Common Ground and thoughtful responses to the scenarios to balance it out. They had such a good time laughing and learning together and were ready to start their project planning filled with excitement and drive.

By the end of the second day, the group came up with several projects to reach their peers where they are (even if it means bathroom stalls), make connections and foster relationships with staff, and host a mental health a-WEAR-ness week to rally the whole school. They were also excited to use the LEAD/JED There’s Help All Around You posters to remind students that #itsokaytonotbeokay and #itsokaytogethelp.

We’re excited to see their projects in action this spring as they increase awareness, promote social inclusion, and start forming relationships with staff to encourage reaching out for help. 10 students, 3 goals, 3 project, and 2 advisors are ready to change their school-and the world!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Dice Dragons: Quality over Quantity!

Dice Dragons: Quality over Quantity!

Mid-October, as the leaves were falling and the weather was changing, Allderdice HS (PPS) Dragons linked up for their Stand Together training. Dice is no stranger to the project, however with the graduation of their upper-class members, new faces graced the group, wowing us with how much information they retained about mental health and substance use disorders.

This group might be small, but they are MIGHTY! Students participated fully in the activities during the trainings and helped their teammates in review trivia games. Not only did they open up about their own experiences, they also discovered how much they had in common.

The project ideas were flowing with no shortage of creativity. Stand Together students brain-stormed many ideas through-out the workshops, from food events to fair days to staff-student activities. One idea the group is excited to work on is a 1:4 day by bringing mental health and substance use awareness to their fellow classmates; they plan to use visuals in their hallways and stairwells on all the different floors to help students understand the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders. Each level will provide information about a specific disorder. They also want to connect with the teachers and staff this year and use their ‘truth booth’ idea to help create a safe space for everyone, including students and adults, to communicate more effectively. At the end of the day, the group was ready to finalize their meeting times so they could get started putting their plans into action.

Dice Dragons are here to stay to ‘flush the stigma away!’ (Project preview?!) They may be small, but they’ve got heart! Here’s to another exciting year of changing their school culture!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

Earlier in October the Stand Together team at Oakland Catholic HS met to learn more about mental and substance use disorders, how to help, and how to stop stigma. This is OC’s second year in the program and they are ready to come back and build on the progress they’ve made with their scrunchies against stigma and cookies that crumbled away stigma by promoting education and awareness. One student remarked: ‘Some of my friends deal with mental health issues and they were more open to talk about it at school because of the projects that the club put together.’ They are definitely off to a good start!

This team has great passion and urgency to advocate for change in their schools and communities. Students asked though-provoking and introspective questions during the trainings and had such a good time engaging in the games and activities while learning about the topics and each other. By the end of the second day, the group had the education, experience, and group cohesion to start thinking about their projects.

The team had so much enthusiasm on the second day and couldn’t wait to start tossing out ideas and planning their projects. The group had so many ideas it was hard to narrow it down, but by the end of the day they decided to focus on forming relationships with staff and increasing awareness of the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders and that no one is alone in their struggles. The group wants to plan an active discussion between the team and staff/faculty and produce a video that includes students and staff sharing their own personal experiences.

The students still want to explore creating a ‘truth booth’ styled project, but had so many suggestions, they weren’t sure which way to go! We form bonds and increase social inclusion when we connect with each other and realize that we have more in common than we think. ‘Truth booth’ projects really help individuals see these concepts visually and in action.

At the end of the day, the group couldn’t wait to get started finalizing their plans and start implementing their projects in their school. They’re excited to see the changes they will be making in their school environment and culture and make strides in ‘soaring over stigma’ in their community.

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Throwback Thursday: WMHS Titans Training 2019

Throwback Thursday: WMHS Titans Training 2019

Earlier this month, our team headed to West Mifflin Area High School to train their students. WMHS is no stranger to Stand Together-the program is 7 years young and West Mifflin has been with us from the beginning. Although the group members and numbers have changed over the years (at one point they had 74 on the team!), their passion, commitment, and leadership has never wavered.

The first day of training is always an interesting time because a lot of the students don’t know each other. WMHS, like many of our schools, uses an application process to select their students. Students are selected for their interest in mental health and decreasing stigma and their desire to enact change. Because any one can apply and the applications are reviewed anonymously, there’s guaranteed to be a very diverse group of students and this year was no different. There were members from all areas of the student body, students with leadership potential, and even some youth that have been personally connected with mental health and substance use disorders. We consider this a privilege and a valuable experience that adds to the depth of our teams.

Cross the Line

This day was filled with fun activities, new friendships, laughter, and even some tears. The students explored the types of mental disorders and substances, brainstormed how to help peers who are struggling, and learned more about each other. Students connected through shared experiences and left the day empowered to address the stigma in their schools.

If the first day was full of information, the second day was packed with the students’ project ideas! Small groups came up with dozens of suggestions and additions jumped back and forth as they built on the foundations of vague ideas and dreams of a world without stigma. Students came up with ideas to increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and build relationships with staff and faculty so that students felt comfortable reaching out to an adult they trusted when they were worried about themselves or someone else. By the end of the day, they had at least six solid plans, including mental health a-WEAR-ness events with pjs, socks, and ribbons, reviving the infamous glo-dance, and even a unique take on meeting students where they are. (Spoiler alert: they’re putting something on the ground so students look up (literally) to support and hopeful messages! << We can’t wait to see this one!)

All in all our team had an amazing couple of days with this group. They always bring their A-game and we know they’ll engage their peers in creative and educational ways all year-long. Thanks for another great training, WMHS! We’ll be out to see your projects soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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World Mental Health Day 2019

World Mental Health Day 2019

Each year on October 10, advocates around the world promote recovery and wellness through education and awareness. It was first celebrated in 1992 at the suggestion of the World Health Organization (WHO) and has expanded to over 150 countries to bring attention to mental illness and its major effects on peoples’ lives. This day also provides an opportunity for organizations to talk about their work and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

Talking about mental health is especially important for youth and young adults. One in four people experience a mental health or substance use condition in a given year and most disorders emerge in adolescence. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. The number of middle and high schoolers with anxiety and depression has steadily increased and social media has made it difficult to escape the constant pressures of life. Anyone can develop a mental health condition, regardless of age, race, sex, gender orientation, ethnicity, or financial status.

There are so many ways to get involved, whether you have conversations about mental health, support your friends and family, or re-direct inappropriate language (i.e. ‘crazy,’ ‘psycho,’ etc.). Check out our list for How to Be Helpful to Peers and don’t forget to sign our pledge to end stigma.

We can make mental health stigma a problem of the past as we Stand Together. Be the change!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Demystifying Mental Health at Montour

Demystifying Mental Health at Montour

Students at Montour HS started bright and early the last two weeks, waking up their minds and bodies, getting to know each other, and starting to plan some incredible projects to educate their peers about mental and substance use disorders, decrease stigma by promoting social inclusion and increasing awareness, and encourage students to form relationships with adults to feel comfortable reaching out if/when they need help. 7:30 AM is early-but these youth were ready to go!

Team members were all-in from the get-go, but really enjoyed the physical games. Matching the diagnosis to the definition encouraged teamwork and tested their knowledge, while Sparkle assessed their understanding of key concepts. It was evident from the first day that the students felt a large part of the stigma in their school stemmed from the myths that perpetuate our society. We form our beliefs in many different ways: from our parents, our friends, past experiences, the media-but these ideas may or may not be true. Stand Together workshops spend a lot of time talking about what stigma looks like and how it affects individuals, oftentimes preventing them from getting help; student projects are all about decreasing this stigma and one of the ways Montour participants wanted to challenge this stigma was by demystifying mental health and confronting these myths head-on.

Students spent the second workshop in small groups working on a giveaway, a ‘truth booth,’ and a staff-student activity to engage their peers and address Stand Together’s three goals. A fan-favorite is always the Food4Thought toolkit, which utilizes incentives to entice students to have a conversation about mental health and stigma. Students were excited to think about the possibility of having students spin a wheel to decide whether a statement was a myth or fact to receive a cookie, or whether they would give away pins and ‘Put a Pin in Stigma.’ Other students were passionate about spreading awareness by creating a visual and making sure teachers and staff were informed and ready to assist students that might be struggling. We left the second day with concrete plans for six projects and it’s up to the group to decide which three (or four 🙂 ) projects they want to implement this year.

All in all the group had so much fun learning about mental health and each other and getting ready to work to end stigma in their school. Each student left with a clear commitment to how they were going to use their skills and talents within their service-learning projects. We can’t wait to see your projects in action soon! (And of course we’ll have a blog for you, too!)

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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North Hills HS Kicks off the Year-Literally!

North Hills HS Kicks off the Year-Literally!

Usually my first post for a school is just about how much fun we had and how impressed I was with their training, but North Hills has really jumped-in and hit the ground running. Before they even had their training, they had two events on the calendar! With a whole team of advisors and a slew of supporters (including the new principal that was previously at West Allegheny, another one of our schools), they’re already creating waves and setting the stage for their other projects.

On Friday the 13th, the student section roared as the team kicked-off – and not just the football team! The announcer shared information about the group and facts, tore-up huge posters with stigmatizing words, and encouraged each other to Stand Together Against Stigma. What an impactful visual!

With this exciting event under their belt, the team was ready to start their training workshops. Our TA, Jordan, is a NHHS alum and was so excited to be back at her alma mater-she even attended the game that past weekend (and was already impressed!). As with most of our teams (we start pretty early in the morning), they were quiet to start, but soon found their voice. The students got really competitive with WHAPP! and the How to Be Helpful to Peers buzzer games and were moved by Jordan’s recovery story. They learned a lot about each other from Cross the Line and there was definitely a feeling of unity from the group, even as we left the first day.

The second workshop kept the momentum going as students had already started working on one of their projects. I stopped by on the following Friday to stop by as they processed their ideas-for an event that would be held the day immediately after their second training! Student leaders had already started planning and the second day flew by as we finalized details on student presentations to their Freshman and Sophomore English classes. Groups created ice-breakers, a Kahoot!, and a Where Do You Stand? activity that challenged students perceptions about mental and substance use disorders. We talked about some other projects, but spent most of the day planning and rehearsing for the next day-when they’d stand up in from of small groups of their peers and Stand Together against stigma!

The students’ first project was a great success! Students participated in the activities and learned a lot. The teachers will also be using this information in their own classes to talk and write about mental health. The impact of Stand Together has already gone well beyond the group: first at the football game, the students during English classes, and the assistant principal and one of the school police officers even joined in the workshops. Students were eagers to attack the stigma in their school. I don’t know where they’re going from here, but I can’t wait to see what else they come up with for this year! See you soon!

-Written by Danyelle, Coordinator

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Meet our TAs: KY

Meet our TAs: KY

Welcome to the team, Ky! This is Ky’s first year with Stand Together. Ky also works as a Peer Specialist, using his skills and experiences to help others. Ky loves music and the outdoors, poetry, and religion and philosophy.


‘I wouldn’t understand myself as well as I do without my mental illness.’


Learn more about Ky:

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Let’s Get It Started! Stand Together 2019-2020

Let’s Get It Started! Stand Together 2019-2020

Summer is winding down, but Stand Together is just getting started! We’ve been meeting with advisors, training new assistants, and getting Montaja ready to start her new role this year. We’re almost ready…are you?

This year, 21 Allegheny County schools will be trained to plan and implement projects in their schools. This year’s school’s include:

Allderdice HS (PPS), Avonworth HSCAPA (PPS), Deer Lakes HS (Cheswick), Dorseyville MS (Fox Chapel), Montour HS (McKees Rocks), North Allegheny HS (Wexford), North Allegheny IHS (McCandless), North Hills HSOakland Catholic (Pgh), Perry HS (PPS), Propel HS (Braddock Hills), SciTech (PPS), Shaler HSShaler MSSouth Allegheny MS(McKeesport), South Park HSThomas Jefferson HS (Clairton), West Allegheny HS (Imperial), West Mifflin HSWoodland Hills HS (Churchill)

(Click the links above to view the school’s past projects or website to learn more!)

Montaja & Danyelle with Smiley after an advisor orientation

In addition, we have some new and returning staff. Montaja has transitioned from assistant to trainer and assistants Jamie, Jordan, Julianna, and Ami are returning for another year. We also have three! new assistants: Ky, Savana, and Savanna. Yes, two Savan(n)a’s…at least their names will be easy to remember!

As Stand Together continues to grow, we look forward to working with more schools in Allegheny County, and even across the state and country! This summer, Danyelle and Mike trained a group of youth to facilitate Stand Together programs in Delaware. In addition, Stand Together will be offered in the Jewish Day Schools in Squirrel Hill and a high school in Venango County. As you can see, we’ve been quite busy!

Delaware squad

But now, it’s your turn! School trainings start in a few short weeks and we couldn’t be more excited. Tried and true activities are coming back in fun, improved ways and new members are getting ready to share their passion for mental and substance use awareness with the world. Hang tight-school workshop blogs will be up soon! See you in a few!


Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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