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North Allegheny Senior High School is returning for their second year in Stand Together and what a whirlwind it has been! Their team was able to complete two of their activities before the ‘quarantine’ went into effect and have really left an impression on their school this year, excelling beyond their previous work last year.
NASH’s first project was an interactive anti-stigma fair with various stations of educational activities for their peers. Building off of last year’s peer-to-peer presentations, they went many steps further this year. In 2019, the group prepared a moving video (link) of students and staff sharing their personal experiences with mental health and substance use disorders. They then broadcast this movie to students during their gym classes and engaged the students in a true/false activity accompanied by a PowerPoint of education and review of resources.
This year, the team hit it out of the park! (Can you tell we’re missing baseball?) Instead of a small classroom of students with a video and a presentation, students created a huge event with activities for all the students to rotate through. They also produced another video (link), this year focusing on treatment and recovery. Students again shared their struggles, but also talked about how they bounced back and who-and what-helped them along the way. After the video, students went through various stations around the room to learn about stigma, challenge myths, and use physical activities as a metaphor for mental health challenges:
–‘Stigma Ducks’ (a play on words) – educating students about the S.T.I.G.M.A. acronym* and challenging students to think about the consequences of stigma.
–‘Be a Helping Hand Obstacle Course’ – students went through the ‘course’ blind-folded-only one person got to have a peer help them as they went through. This activity signified the importance of S.H.E.* and the support of family and friends when someone is struggling with a mental and/or substance use disorder. Students received a mini hand clapper for participating. (Get it?!)
–Myth or Fact spinning wheel
–1 in 4 Hoops – 1 in 4 individuals got a football instead of a basketball to show how mental and substance use disorders make it harder for the 1:4 individuals that struggle with them.
–The Pledge – students read and signed the pledge on a huge poster to show their commitment to ending stigma in their school.
Whew! That’s a lot of education and awareness in one event!
The group followed that amazing event with another that covered all three of our goals: their take on a ‘truth booth.’ Students and staff alike were encouraged to visit the stand and select a color-coded tiger (their mascot) paw or paws that represented themselves to add to the ‘tree.’
– Purple : I personally deal with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
– Green : I am a friend or family member of someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
– Blue : I support or advocate for someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
– Yellow : One way that I can help someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder is to… (fill-in-the-blank)**
The impact was remarkable. Multiple students and staff shared their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders (‘I have…’ ‘I have a brother…’ ‘I am a cousin to someone that has a substance use disorder.’) Without being asked to, students disclosed some of their struggles; others wrote inspirational messages for their peers that were experiencing this issues:
-‘I will be okay.’
-‘You are strong and you are worthy.‘
-‘Last year was extremely rough. The recovery I had was huge…but there’s much more to improve on.’
-‘Be kind to yourself.’
-‘You’re never alone.’
-‘I have a good friend that deals with one. Much love to her.’
‘Schizophrenia does not have the right to control you.’
I can’t believe how eager students were to participate and how vulnerable they were willing to be with each other. Even though it was anonymous, students and staff had a visual reminder that they were not alone and that we’re all in this together. We all are affected by mental health and substance use disorders in some way and mental health is just as important as physical health. These youth are addressing myths and breaking down barriers to treatment by normalizing discussions about mental health in their school communities. After students put their paw on the tree, they were given a package of resources and treats for participating, including how students could help a peer, Resolve crisis cards, End the Stigma: NA Stand Together stickers, and a green bead necklace to remember the event.
I was so glad that I was able to attend and participate in these events. I could tell the students were having fun and engaging in the activities, but were also having intimate and sometimes intense conversations about mental and substance use disorders and the stigma associated with them. The team also plans to design a permanent mural for their school to remind them of the program, the pledge, and NASH’s commitment to ending stigma. Congrats on another job well done! Thanks for all your doing-you’re changing lives!
*S.T.I.G.M.A. – stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
*S.H.E. – support, hope, encouragement
**Click here to view a list of things you can do and say to help your peers.
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
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!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
On December 11th, I attended West Mifflin Middle School’s 6th grade hot cocoa stand. The goal of this project was to educate their fellow peers on mental illness and substance abuse. To receive a hot cocoa, a student had to sign the Stand Together pledge and read aloud a fact related to mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many students came up to participate and were interested in what the ST group was doing.
When it came to organization, the students worked together to come up with a process that made serving the hot cocoa go smoothly. Some of the students mixed up the hot cocoa, while others put marshmallows on top, and the rest of the group helped with the signing of the pledge. It was impressive to see the 6th graders all work together and make sure that everyone was involved. Some of the students even stayed late to make hot cocoa for students who didn’t get a chance to come up and get some!
After the lunch bell rang and it was time to go, the Stand Together group helped their advisor, Ms. Roman, clean up the area which they worked in. Students wiped down the tables, packaged up supplies, and carried items back to their proper location.
All in all, the 6th grade Stand Together hot cocoa stand was a success, and even though there were a few hiccups in the road, they worked together as a team to try and end stigma in their school! Great job West Mifflin Middle School 6th graders!
Written by Lacey, Project Trainer
Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their Love is LOUDER than Mental Illness series of events this February. In addition to participating in the Breaking the Barriers dash with the middle school, the high school students held several activities during this past month for their peers. From Hershey kisses telling students to ‘Kiss stigma goodbye’ to Huggies when students shared a hug with a peer, SVHS spread the love in their school to increase awareness of mental illness, increase social inclusion, and talk about getting help when having a mental health need.
Stand Together took to the hallways of Steel Valley High School to spread the love and break the stigma surrounding mental illness! Students posted inspirational quotes to motivate and encourage students in their daily struggles, as well as anyone that might be silently suffering from a mental health concern. In addition, students posted information on the prevalence of mental illness, what stigma is, and flyers urging students to sign the anti-stigma pledge on our site. Over 240 students committed to stop stigma, challenge their preconceived notions, and advocate for mental health in their school and communities.
Students also held a door-decorating contest. Participating students and teachers covered their doors with facts regarding various mental health conditions and other decorations to get students attention and learn about a specific disorder. The winning classroom received gift cards for their efforts.
Their projects concluded with a Mental Illness fair during all lunches on Friday, February 25. This tremendous event took over the entire school gym. Upon entering, students were given a green ribbon sticker for the day and a Stand Together wristband to remind them of the event and message. Tables were set-up around the room with various activities. 10 tables were set-up highlighting facts and sharing information on various mental illnesses, including autism, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, depression, and OCD. Music and games were played and the students and staff really united together against stigma.
One impressive highlight was a mural the students had created to emphasize the concept that no one is alone. Students answered questions anonymously with sticky notes to create a visual representation of the impact we have on each other. Additionally, some students stepped up and spoke with their peers about their first-hand experiences with mental illness. It was a great success!
Check out these videos from the event to hear what students and staff had to say about the fair!
Thanks to Mrs. Kamnikar and the Stand Together team for all their hard work!