If you’re from anywhere around Pittsburgh and/or familiar with the NFL, you’re familiar with Pittsburgh’s history, coining the name, The Steel City. Steel Valley MS’s Ironmen have been using their knowledge and training for the past three years to combat stigma in their schools by building bridges between students, promoting social inclusion, awareness, and encouraging students to reach out to an adult when they’re worried about their own or someone else’s mental health. (If you didn’t know, bridges are typically made out of steel or iron ‘I-beams,’ hence the pun. I crack myself up 🙂
Anyways…A lot of the students had returned from the program before, but after the summary, we had a lot of review to do! Students participated fully in all the activities and were quick to re-learn the myths and facts surround mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma. Students always love BINGO (as do adults!) and experienced a glimpse of what anxiety feels like when students were asked to demonstrate who could hold their breath the longest and analyze the difficult feelings and sensations they experienced when they were running out of breath. Stand Together participants engage in activities that teach the students empathy; even though these exercises aren’t close to experiencing a disorder, they help the students understand what someone might be going through a little better.
Students also learn the difference between intellectual disabilities and mental health conditions. These are easily confused, but we teach the students to remember that intellectual=intelligence (or IQ)-while pointing to their eyes and brains, since physical activity helps memory. In addition, the students learn that individuals with mental health conditions have varying levels of intelligence just like the general population, re-instilling the idea that individuals with these disorders are just like everyone else and are people-first, who just happen to have a disorder like any physical condition.
Students heard Danyelle’s story of recovery and many students related to her struggles and experience. This is always a very powerful and important part of the Stand Together workshop. After this activity we follow with another impactful activity, Cross the Line, in which students confront stereotypes they may have and learn that they have more in common than they could ever imagine. That is what ends stigma: knowing that ‘we all bleed the same‘ and we’re all in this together. A person is a person, no matter what they might be dealing with and we are all experiencing some of the same struggles; you are never alone.
Project planning is always my favorite part of the whole experience and the students came up with tons of great ideas, including a movie night, a mental health fair, and a bake sale, and a sporting event. Students research budgets, resources, and outreach prospects to finish the planning process. We had so much fun and I can’t wait to see their projects in action in the spring. Shout-out to Ms. Dunmire and the students for all their hard work! Kudos!
(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)