Posts Tagged anxiety


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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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West A: Education & Engagement

West A: Education & Engagement

West Allegheny High School is no stranger to Stand Together. This is their third year in the program and each year it gets better and better. Although some of the students may change, their passion for ending stigma and focus on education and engagement shine beyond their years.

One of West Allegheny’s priorities has always been education. Whether it’s in discussions with staff/faculty during professional development sessions or during peer-to-peer sessions, the team uses contact in small groups to connect with their audience and educate them in a way that is not only fun and engaging, but also incredibly valuable.

Common Ground

Since one of the team’s advisors is the physical education and health teacher, she was more than happy to share time with her classes to discuss mental health, after all: mental health is just as important as physical health! Students learned not only about the Stand Together program and the West A projects, but also about mental health diagnoses and each other. Members started by engaging their peers in Common Ground, an activity where students learn more about each other by moving seats when different statements apply to them. This helps break-the-ice and get people moving and talking.

The rest of the time was spent sharing information and engaging in a diagnosis/definition match game and Kahoot! This medium has been a favorite for many of our schools as it uses technology and competition to keep the students engaged while learning the information. Students also shared some resources and how individuals could get help if they were worried about themselves or someone else. They covered all three goals in this project: increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and encourage reaching out to a trusted adult! Woah!

West A’s squad also had a W.H.A.P.P. day for the students in their school. The team painted their faces with a hand-print to signify the ratio of 1:4 individuals that are affected by a mental health and/or substance use disorder. Painted in green (mental health) and purple (substance use) awareness colors, their peers could visualize the number of youth experiencing these conditions and were also reminded of the W.H.A.P.P. acronym-signs they could see that someone was struggling and needed emotional support.

During this activity, students learned what stigmatizing language is, how to recognize it, and positive words to replace it with instead of the negative connotations associated with mental and substance use disorders. Students wanted their peers to know that a person is just that-a person-first and that a behavioral health condition doesn’t define who someone is; that disorder is only part of who they are. Although it may affect that individual in many ways, people with mental and substance use disorders recover and have successful, meaningful lives.

Students demonstrated this by removing a red post-it note with stigmatizing language on it with a green note with a personal characteristic or appropriate word/phrase. Youth that engaged in the activity also received a ticket to win a gift card as a token of the team’s appreciation. By the end of the day, all of the red had been replaced with green in the shape of a green ribbon for mental health awareness! What a meaningful visual and physical activity for students to participate in!

Students also signed the anti-stigma pledge, agreeing to:
-speak up and speak out against stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders in their school and community
-not use stigmatizing language, like ‘psycho,’ ‘crazy,’ or ‘mental,’ to refer to anyone, whether that person has a mental illness or not
-share information, resources, and experiences to spread awareness and acceptance
-provide support and hope and encourage others to seek help when they’re struggling (S.H.E.)

The team also had plans for a mural that is still in the works. This whole quarantine thing has really dampened a lot of our teams’ plans, but West A continues to work virtually to educate their peers and provide resources. They have recently started an online campaign to provide their peers with tools to help them deal with anxiety and engage in self-care, become aware of the signs, and learn when and-more importantly-how to get help. This virtual project continues to keep the team’s momentum, even if they can’t hold events in person! How awesome is that?!

Thank you, West A, for another great year! We can’t wait to see the finished mural and follow your virtual project for tips. You’re changing the world-one student and staff member at a time!

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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Linton MS: Snacks Against Stigma

Linton MS: Snacks Against Stigma

Linton Middle School in Penn Hills returns for its second year. Lead by advisor, Ms. Olivis, the team was so excited to begin their trainings and participate again-the students were asking Ms. Olivis for months when it was time to start Stand Together again! As you can imagine, this group was ready to jump in to the workshops and start working together to stop stigma at their school.

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School is hard for youth in the mornings and it took the group a little while to warm up. We do physical activities that not only engage their bodies (which helps students learn), but also their brains-each activity has a purpose. In this blog’s feature, students were learning about the signs and IMG_20190115_120957symptoms of behavioral health disorders and some of the most prevalent conditions in youth. We engage the students in a breath-holding contest so that they can experience (on a minor scale) what it might feel like to have anxiety or a panic attack. We explain that this can be a very scary thing and could affect their ability to concentrate on schoolwork, hang out with friends, or complete daily activities. Students also learn that even though they could take a breath any time they wanted to, individuals with these disorders can’t just ‘snap out of it;’ they need help and support. Help and support were definitely plentiful in the room as students self-disclosed some of their difficult experiences and realized that they have more in common than separates them. The students finished out the first day with something we call Motivational Echoing, in which students gather as one to emphasize support, hope, and unity by repeating phrases from the trainer. These include statements such as: ‘I am not alone,’ ‘I am love,’ ‘It’s okay to not be okay,’ ‘It’s okay to get help,’ ‘I can help others get help,’ and, most importantly, ‘We’re in this together.’ Check out this clip:

 

 

Many of the students returned from last year, but there were justMVIMG_20190122_123921 as many new faces. One of my favorite things is to notice how much the students grow and mature from year to year, especially in middle school. This group was no exception. Last year the team engaged their peers in a lemonade stand, plastered posters all across the school, and gave away hot cocoa. They created three fun, new snack give-aways to educate their peers about mental and substance use disorders and decrease the stigma associated with them in their school. Food always works to attract attention and the students chose items they knew would draw their peers: slushies, Hot Cheetos, and popcorn. They’re slogans were even better: ‘It’s cool to talk-stigma is not’ (slushies), ‘Burn out Stigma’ (Hot Cheetos), and ‘Pop Away Stigma.’ Popcorn stands and stair decorating seem to be very popular this year-which is fine by me, because popcorn is one of, if not, my favorite foods! Food is the way to the heart, or so I’ve heard. These students are definitely going to be challenging thought, changing attitudes, and redirecting behaviors to make their school a more welcoming environment for everyone, whether or not they are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder.

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We can’t wait to hear more about Linton’s project plans and come out for a visit to grab a slushie or some Hot Cheetos and witness the team changing minds and changing hearts, all in an effort to end stigma. Thanks for standing up and speaking out against stigma, Linton! We’ll see you soon!

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Throwback Thursday: SVMS: Lots of projects, lots of impact!

Throwback Thursday: SVMS: Lots of projects, lots of impact!

Steel Valley Middle School has been in our program for several years and their advisor Ryan always works with the students to come up with new and exciting ways to educate their peers. If you remember, last year they had a mental illness dodgeball tournament. Teams named after specific disorders had to research that specific disorder, create a poster with the information they found, and then got to participate in a glow-in-the-dark dodgeball tournament. Talk about creative and fun! This year, SVMS continued their amazing work with several larger projects and many smaller ones.

The biggest hit of the year was their photo booths. The students used several holidays and fun props to attract students to their booth and talk to them about mental and substance use disorders and stigma. This activity also promoted social inclusion by encouraging students to take photos with students they didn’t know. They created mottos for each theme to help the students remember:

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  • Don’t be a grinch-have a heart! 1 out of 5 teens suffer from mental illness. (Christmas)

  • Poem: I can change the world with my own two hand. Make a better place with my own two hands. Make a kinder place with my own two hands. (MLK Day)

  • I wear green for someone I’m lucky to know! (St. Patrick’s Day)

The team also did several larger events. One was a ‘No One Eats Alone’ challenge, where students were encouraged tosigning the pledge (2) reach out to peers that were sitting by themselves at lunch or sit with someone new (see below). In addition, one of our TA’s, Jordan, came in to spoke to the school about her experiences with anxiety and to share some coping skills before their PSSA tests. The most moving project, entitled ‘I wish you knew…’ Students were given post-it notes and were instructed to right something personal that others might not know about them that has affected their lives. Some students shared mental health and substance use disorders, others shared trauma, and many students talked about feeling peer pressure and feeling alone. This was very impact for the students to see and realize that they were not alone in their struggles and they have more in common than separates them.

 

The students also gave away bracelets to help the students remember what they had learned at all of the events and had students sign the pledge on a large poster so they could make a visual commitment to ending stigma at their school.

 

 

Steel Valley never ceases to amaze us and we look forward to seeing what they come up with this year! See you soon!

 

Written by Danyelle. Project Coordinator

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