Posts Tagged advocate


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My Experience: Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (Brandy)

My Experience: Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (Brandy)

This blog is part of a series from our Stand Together team to bring to light our experiences with depression and anxiety. May is Mental Health Month and it’s as good of a time as ever to end stigma by talking about our experiences and spreading awareness. You are not alone-we’re with you. We’re in this together.

Trigger warning: suicide & self-harm

Unsurprising to most (looking back, myself included), my symptoms of depression and anxiety began when I was a child. What I do find interesting is that my symptoms changed over time. In the very beginning, it was incredibly difficult for me to open up and meet new people, I kept my emotions ‘bottled-up inside,’ and I had issues not being comfortable with my body. In high school, I started to struggle with self-harm. I had yet to receive any kind of help for my mental health issues growing up, so these problematic symptoms became even more challenging when I went to college.

At university, my generally social anxiety turned into general anxiety (anxiety about any and everything). Along with my body image issues, I also developed a general feeling of inadequacy in my life, whether it be school, social life, finances, or anything else. Neither my good grades nor the praises that were given to me from loved ones consoled me. I still hadn’t received any treatment or developed any healthy coping skills; as it sounds, at that point it was a constant downhill spiral. It was at this time (in college), that I also started having suicidal thoughts and I ended up admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital.

Now I am finally on the proper medication (it took a few tries to find the right one for me) and I am constantly developing and using coping skills to diminish my feelings of loneliness and increase my feelings of self-worth. These strategies can look like anything from making origami to cleaning. Yes, I love cleaning! Haha. I’ve also cut out any ‘toxic’ individuals that were in my life that weren’t good for my mental wellness and I’m trying to reach out to my friends more, not only when I’m in need, but just to have meaningful human interaction that I crave.

I still don’t have too many friends (I only have a small handful of wonderful humans), but I don’t feel lonely or inadequate. My only thought now is,

I’m shocked I don’t have more friends because I’m pretty awesome!

Haha 🙂

To be able to have that mindset is something ‘younger Brandy’ would have never imagined and that, too, is pretty awesome. I also love making people smile. I love my cats. I’m a cherished friend a fierce advocate. I thrive off anime, Spongebob Squarepants, video games, and-much to the dismay of my dentist-pastries!

My big floof, Oliver

The things I like don’t define who I am and neither does my depression, but all these things make up who I am as a person. They are the little parts that interact with each other that make me who I am and shape how I view and navigate life. These pieces enable me to show other people-and myself!-that I have plenty to offer. I will fiercely and unapologetically be myself to achieve wonderful things in life. Because, like I said, I’m awesome! 🙂

Written by Brandy, *new* trainer

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My Experience: Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (Danyelle)

My Experience: Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (Danyelle)

This blog is part of a series from our Stand Together team to bring to light our experiences with depression and anxiety. May is Mental Health Month and it’s as good of a time as ever to end stigma by talking about our experiences and spreading awareness. You are not alone-we’re with you. We’re in this together.

I knew something was different about me from a very young age; I distinctively remember not feeling loved as a child-and that’s not a typical experience. It wasn’t long before my mental health conditions (MHC) emerged. Multiple mental health conditions frequently occur at once (co-morbidity) and can overlap in different ways; psychologists have recently discovered that all MHC are more connected than we ever thought.

Although I have bipolar disorder, I also have symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Depression is a phase of bipolar disorder, but the anxiety that accompanies it-and the in-between, baseline times-can be overwhelming. The important thing for me was not the diagnosis or the label, but discovering how to manage it and cope with my MHC on a personal-level. It took a while to find what works for me and sometimes I have to change my strategies, but as long as I stay aware and mindful of my feelings and their effects on my thoughts, I can minimize my struggle. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I have to put a lot of effort forth every day to manage my health holistically, whether it’s attending therapy to talk through my emotions and experiences, exercise to promote the ‘good chemicals’ in my brain, or support from family and friends, I work hard to stay in balance. But it’s always worth it. I live with a mental health condition-but it doesn’t define who I am.

I am a person-first: a wife, lover of Mister Rogers, cat-mom, mental health advocate, friend, Christian, adventurer, foodie, and a person with a purpose. We’re all people-first – let’s start believing and treating each other like it; it makes all the difference.

Coordinator, Danyelle

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My Experience: Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (Montaja)

My Experience: Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (Montaja)

This blog is part of a series from our Stand Together team to bring to light our experiences with depression and anxiety. May is Mental Health Month and it’s as good of a time as ever to end stigma by talking about our experiences and spreading awareness. You are not alone-we’re with you. We’re in this together.

I first learned about depression when I met it face-to-face. Growing up, I struggled with thoughts about death and my rocky childhood experiences did not help with my mental wellness. The change in pace, constant moving, and inconsistency made me turn inward, keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself.

This trend followed me throughout school and stopped me from seeking the help I so desparately needed. I became a master at masking my feelings and struggles; with theater performance my college degree, it wasn’t hard to do.

Knowing all along something wasn’t right, but being afraid to actually ask about it, really kept me suffering in silence for a long time. Growing up, I didn’t have access to conversations about taking care of my mental health, let alone know who to reach out to for that kind of support. After finishing college and not having anything left to keep me running and distracted, I came crashing down into emotional distress.

Life started to make sense when I found out that I had been living with major depression disorder. I did have to work out my own stigma, accepting my diagnosis and accepting the fact that I needed help-and it was okay to do so. Talk therapy has helped me process and manage my recurring thoughts, fears, and shame. When I don’t feel okay, I allow myself to feel those feelings and have a cry if I need to. I also turn to humor, art, cooking, and writing to help me cope and thrive.

a Mixed Media Collage I created

My experience with depression and anxiety has helped me become who I am and advocate for myself and other. The best accomplishment I have made is becoming emotionally aware. I am still building my community of support and true self-care. I get closer and closer to arriving at joy each day. I credit this to the hard work I’ve done in therapy and my continued practice of mindfulness.

Talk about your feelings to an adult you trust and remember that your feelings don’t dictate your future-you do. A diagnosis is just a diagnosis; you are a ‘person-first.’ You can go on to do amazing things despite having a challenging condition. Take care of yourself and enjoy the small things (like tacos and koalas!). It can get better.

Written by Montaja, trainer

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Mental Health Advocacy & Me-ST Youth take on Legislation

Mental Health Advocacy & Me-ST Youth take on Legislation

We often hear: ‘Youth are our future.’ As cliche as it sounds, it’s 100% true. Change starts with you and YOUth across Allegheny County are paving the way for mental health education, resources, and parity by meeting with local legislators to discuss the future of mental health in our area.

Stand Together staff had the pleasure of assisting the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and PA Youth Advocacy Network in planning and implementing the Youth Mental Health Advocacy Workshop on Tuesday, March 3 during the Dan Miller Disability Awareness Summit-but the students did all the work. Members of Stand Together teams from CAPA, Montour, West Allegheny, and West Mifflin high schools joined students from other schools to gather their perspectives on teen mental health and work together to identify issues, formulate questions, and propose suggestions to advocate for mental health. Afterwards, the students had the opportunity to discuss their findings with members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate.

Team leads walked their groups through concerns and opportunities, current and proposed policies/bills, and the importance of youth voice in government. These weren’t easy issues either! Students discussed:
-Addressing disparities in mental health;
-Creating safe, inclusive school communities;
-Educating teachers and students on mental health;
-Equality in support for mental and physical health; and
-Promoting suicide prevention and awareness.
Stand Together’s goals address many of these areas: increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and reach out to an adult (which requires adequate training for staff and faculty). Because of this, Stand Together team members brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the tables that day!

Our students made some really introspective and keen observations and remarks:
-‘It’s important to talk about mental health just as much as physical health in school…it needs to be stressed and ‘normalized.’ – Emma Dischner (HB 1696: Mental Health Parity)
-‘The media needs to stop making suicide look like a way out.’ – Angela Brown, West A (SB 199: Suicide Prevention & Awareness)
-‘Females tend to get more mental health attention in schools. Talking about mental health is a ‘choice,’ but because of the culture of toxic masculinity, it’s also not a choice. ‘Treatment’ is for the behaviors, not the cause (mental health)…A big part of it is changing the cultre surrounding mental health and making small changes.’ – Aiden Magley, CAPA (Federal: HRes480: Disparities in Mental Health)
-‘It should be a conversation between youth and staff what Act 71 (suicide prevention education) looks like in schools. – Emma Dischner (HB 590: Ed. for Teachers & Students in MH)
-A student from Montour agreed: ‘Teachers are afraid to reach out to students because they don’t know how to or are afraid to.’

The legislators were invested and had much to add:
-‘You can’t reach your potential unless this issue of mental health is addressed.’ – Sen. Pam Iovino
-‘What’s more important as a parent? That my son has a cavity or a mental health issue?…I think it (mental health) should be prioritized…We’re bringing students together, but we’re not talking about it enough and this can cause social isolation. We need to teach all health in fullness and connect people together.’ – Rep. Dan Miller
-‘We need more human-centered policies that have real-world application (about the people, not the numbers). Engagement of students and citizens is so important.’ – Rep. Sara Innamorato

Students and legislators discussed a lot of key issues, but this is just the start. We need to keep talking about mental health in our schools and communities and advocate in government for policy reform and support. We will continue to support our students as they speak up and speak out against stigma and build a youth mental health advocacy movement that will change our county for years to come.

‘Keep it going…you are just as much our constituents as your parents are. Keep using your voice.’

-State Senator Lindsey Williams

Written by Danyelle, ST Coordinator & JHF planning team member

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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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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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Environmental Charter: Environment, Friendship, & Community

Environmental Charter: Environment, Friendship, & Community

Environment, friendship, and community are three values that Environmental Charter School values and it clearly showed in their Lemonade for Change project. In May, the students implemented their stand during lunch to raise awareness about mental health concerns and provide valuable information about mental health, stigma, and hope.

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Students were greeted by a student that explained to them who they were, what they were talking about, and what they were doing at the stand. They then proceeded through a line to sign the pledge, pick-up information, and receive their free beverage.

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Students were also given a wristband to remind them of the event as they continued through their day. The the students used green wristbands with #StandTogether on them to represent mental health awareness and 1:4 of the wristbands were purple and had a fact about mental health conditions on it. The 1:4 referenced that one in four students has a mental health condition in a given year. Students remarked: ‘It was cool that they did this.’ ‘I’m going to keep this bracelet on for as long as I can.’ ‘They care.’ In addition, the staff remarked that they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their classes because they know it’s something that we’ve already tackled. How awesome!

The students were also able to confront a popular meme/joke that was going around the school during the year. Stand Together students refused to get involved in the ‘joke’ and one student explained that ‘suicide isn’t funny.’ These students have really made steps toward becoming advocates for mental health.

ECS did a great job with their project this year and can’t wait to return next year. The students learned a lot and shared their passion with vigor and courage with their peers. Kudos!

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