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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.
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
Although Stand Together isn’t an ‘anti-drug campaign’ per se, we do discuss substance use disorders and their impact on the individuals that develop them. Alcohol is everywhere-on TV and social media and, for many youth, in their homes. It’s widely accepted because it’s legal and readily available and it’s heavily romanticized as a ‘right of passage,’ the ‘college way,’ or (and yes, I’m lame and use this word) ‘the cool thing to do.’ But the reality of the situation is that alcohol can be just as dangerous and deadly as any other substance and just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe or can’t become a problem.
I’m not going to bore you with a slew of statistics, but I wanted to note a few things I think are important to know about young adults and alcohol use.
-11% of all alcohol consumed is by under-aged youth
-18.6% of youth start drinking before the age of 13
-34.9% of teenagers have had a least 1 drink in the last 30 days
-25% of teen car crashes involve an impaired, underage driver
-Young adults that start drinking before age 15 are 4x more likely to develop substance use disorders than those who start at age 21
Clearly alcohol use by youth and young adults is a problem-and that’s why it’s important that we #talkaboutit!
A good place to start is to identify the reasons why people abuse (mis-use) or develop an addiction (dependence) on alcohol. Sometimes individuals may use substances to escape or deal with negative feelings, they might have an underlying mental health condition, use them to decrease social anxiety, or just to ‘fit in.’ Social and other media can pressure individuals into trying or using alcohol. The importance of getting good grades/into a good school, achieving in sports, or just the stress of everyday life can take its toll on an individual, especially if they already are at risk of developing or have an underlying mental health condition. If alcohol or other substances are readily available or someone sees them being used in the home, a young person could think that this is ‘normal’ and/or engage in the behavior, even at an earlier age. Right now, the coronavirus has people stuck at home experiencing loneliness and life changes far greater and more rapidly than ever before. The more stressors and risk factors an individual has in one’s life, the more likely they are to use alcohol and/or develop a substance use disorder. On an everyday basis we all encounter things that affect our mental health-how we deal with them is important.
Regardless of the reason an individual drinks, an alcohol use disorder can cause impairment in living, including health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. This includes lack of control, changes in behavior, and risky use, such as binge-drinking. Just as a mental illness affects many parts of an individual’s life, so does a substance use disorder, but it occurs with the use of a substance. And, like mental health conditions, a substance use disorder of any kind (including alcohol) can stem from biological, psychological, and environmental factors. No wonder its use is so prevalent!
Mental health and substance use disorders are clearly closely related and can not only have the same causes and effects, but also some of the same signs (remember W.H.A.P.P.*). Sometimes, individuals with a mental health condition use substances to mask the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing due to the disorder. This is called self-medicating. Often, it’s easier to use substances because someone might be afraid to or unable to get help and these substances-especially alcohol-are readily available. Many individuals that ‘self-medicate’ develop substance use disorders as a result of long-term use; this is called co-morbidity, or co-occuring disorders.
A lot of youth use alcohol and many young adults start drinking in high school or college. Although ‘experimentation’ is considered a part of the human experience (and by no means are we advocating this is okay), it’s important to be able to recognize that someone could be developing a substance use disorder. There are two kinds of disorders: abuse and addiction. An individual that abuses (or misuses) alcohol may engage in binge-drinking or excessive use (‘getting drunk’), but they’re still able to stop using; they are still in control and their use can fluctuate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences: DUIs, hang-overs/black-outs, reckless behavior, promiscuity, and violence can all occur ‘under the influence.’ When an individual experiences withdrawal and tolerance without use, they are said to have developed an addiction (or dependence). An individual at this stage will drink every day, multiple times a day, and ‘crave’ or need the substance to perform daily tasks. Addiction is considered a disease because it physically changes and individual’s body and they depend on the alcohol to function. Without alcohol, the individual could experience physical symptoms, such as over/under-sleeping, shaking, cravings, and gaining/losing wait, as well as psychological symptoms (depression, anxiety, panic, etc.).
It’s important that when you notice any or all of these signs in yourself or someone you know that you reach out to an adult you trust to get help. I know it can seem embarrassing or that you’re going ‘behind someone’s back,’ but we want people to live a successful, meaningful life-without the use of alcohol-and you could save someone’s life. The person could deny that they have an issue or are struggling; this occurs frequently. If this happens, you can still talk to an adult and be there for your friend, letting them know that you care about them, you’re there for them, and you’re there to listen whenever they’re ready to talk. (For more suggestions, check out our handout. << link)
The good news is that alcohol and other substance use disorders are treatable, there is hope, and recovery is possible. Treatment and recovery are unique to each individual and may include:
-individual or group therapy/counseling
-mental health services
-self-care (coping skills, exercise/healthy eating, spirituality, etc.)
No matter the modality, treatment addresses the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. With treatment from mental health professionals and the support from family and friends, individuals can have happy, healthy lives, YOU can connect an individual to an adult you trust to get that help and support them along their recovery journey (S.H.E.*).
Underage drinking and substance use affect everyone, just like mental health disorders. The more we educate ourselves and others, decrease the stigma associated with having these conditions and seeking help, and engage trusted adults when we’re concerned, we can prevent alcohol abuse and addiction and get individuals that are struggling the assistance they need to live a successful, meaningful life. Remember-we’re all in this together. You play an important role in connecting with your peers-take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and reach out. You could change that person’s life!
*W.H.A.P.P. (the five signs: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, poor self care)
S.H.E. (how to help: provide support, hope, and encouragement) (link to handout)
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
Deer Lakes High School was more than eager to participate in Stand Together this year; with a resounding, excited YES! their mental health team and administrators elected to begin a chapter in their school.
Since it was their first year, the students wanted to make sure their peers became aware of the Stand Together program and understood what the team was going to set-out to accomplish. The DL team produced a video outlining the goals* and explaining the importance of discussing mental health and substance use disorders. Students shared the prevalence of these conditions (1 in 4 youth) and encouraged their peers to reach out to an adult if they’re worried about themselves or someone else. Check it out!
Students followed the video with an assembly sharing information about mental and substance use disorders with their peers. They showed the Nuggets video to educate them about substance use disorders and I got to share my recovery story to inspire students. It was an amazing experience-over 400 students and staff members were present! The students concluded the assembly with a Kahoot! game; students from each grade competed to get the highest score and prove their mental health IQ. It was a great way to get the students involved in the activity.
Thankfully, the group was also able to engage students with an additional activity before they switched to online learning. The team created a spinning wheel with various options for the students to respond and participate: myth or fact, pop culture, definitions, and even player’s choice! Posters surround the sign encouraging the students to recognize the signs of stigma (S.T.I.G.M.A.**) and mental health conditions (W.H.A.P.P.**) and how to help (SHE**). All students that participated got candy and students that answered correctly got a ‘bonus prize;’ these included an assortment of mental health awareness items like pins, lanyards, pens/pencils, and keychains. Everyone was encouraged to sign the anti-stigma pledge and wear a DL Stop the Stigma! wristband to show their united support to end stigma.
Deer Lakes HS is off to a great start. Although they might not be able to get in another in-person project this year, we’re excited to see what they come up with in the years to come!
*The three goals of Stand Together are to increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and encourage youth to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re concerned about themselves or someone else.
**The acronyms are, as follows:
-S.T.I.G.M.A.: stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
-W.H.A.P.P.: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care
-S.H.E.: support, hope, and encouragement
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
Back at it again for the second time, Woodland Hills High School’s Stand Together team returns to shift the culture in their school when it comes to speaking up and out about mental health.
Woody High students came together on two days in January and both new-comers and returning students were ready to really make an impact in their school with the Stand Together message. This year, the group started meeting long before the training workshops took place to get a jump-start on the year. What dedication!
The first day of training re-introduced the students to the important signs and symptoms of mental and substances use disorders and refreshed their memories on what factors cause these emotional struggles. The Stand Together workshops strengthened the already strong bond this group had created during the pre-training meetings. Friendly competition arose when reviewing the information during trivia games and a unity formed while sharing their own experiences during and after Cross the Line.
The second workshop was more hands-on: project planning. Returning members shared feedback with their peers from last year’s activities. They had even handed out pencils with a survey link before the workshops to get more feedback from the larger student body. Team members shared what they want their peers and staff to know when it comes to reaching out for help and even just talking about the struggles they may be dealing with. They want their teachers to know the right information and resources to provide effective support when students come to them. They also want their peers to know that mental and substance use disorders are more common than we think and that it’s okay to get treatment. These students see the need and want to shift the culture and dismantle stigma.
The group brain-stormed elaborate new ideas and revisited ideas from last year with a twist. They really want to focus on providing clear information in a fun and engaging way. The group plans to hold a school assembly and mental health Kahoot! game tournament, as well as a possible ice cream social.
Staying true to Stand Together’s mission and goals, Woodland Hills is ready to rise up to the challenge again. We have no doubt that they will surprise us with their anti-stigma events this year. We can’t wait to see all your hard work in action!
Written by Montaja, trainer
Propel: Braddock Hills High School continues to show-up for the Stand Together program-it’s their 7th year! They’ve been with us since the beginning. This year is no different-well, maybe a little different: they have a larger group of student participants! Kudos to past ST teams for paving the way with your previous events!
Returning and new members alike took part in two days of anti-stigma training. Participants asked probing questions about mental and substance use disorders and held in-depth discussions about seeking therapy, stigma, and the barriers students may face when it comes to asking for help and being taken seriously.
The first training workshop was more informal. Students got the facts and de-bunked the myths about mental illness and substance use disorders. They also participated in team-building activities and review games. Not only did this group learn the signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders, but they also discussed ways to provide support, hope, and encouragement (‘S.H.E.‘) to their peers.
The second workshop is when the real fun took place. After an intense morning of review, the team revealed what they’d like their peers and staff to know regarding mental and substance use disorders. The group really wants to focus on raising awareness in their school and letting their peers and staff know that it’s okay to talk about mental health (#talkaboutit), #itsokaytonotbeokay, and it’s important to feel comfortable and know where to go to get help (#itsokaytogethelp). Some Seniors in the group are also working on projects that specifically focus on mental health in the Black community and shared their research findings. These Seniors are enthusiastic about using what they learned in Stand Together to aid their projects outside the program.
Propel BHHS never shies away from a grand idea when it comes to project planning! This year is no different. Students really got down to the details of their ideas in small planning groups. Taking what they learned and the experiences they shared, the group presented their ‘Glow Out Stigma‘ week of events to ‘glow up’ support so much that stigma is no where to be found. Another project idea had tacos as a reward for learning about mental health and testing the students’ knowledge: Let’s Taco ’bout Mental Health. In addition, the group is looking forward to more food stands and dress-down days. Raising awareness is the key to eliminating stigma and this group plans on doing just that.
Propel BHHS-your projects never cease to amaze us! Keep up the great work and we’re excited to see your projects in action soon!
Written by Montaja, trainer
Stand Together trained it first ever all-boys schools this past December. This group may of been a little rowdy and a little wild, but they were a whole lot of fun and were clearly passionate about talking about mental health and ending stigma in their schools and communities.
Although the schools’ boys separated themselves at first, both by school and grade, and were quite quiet, they quickly broke down barriers and had a lot to say! That’s a good thing-we want our students to feel comfortable ‘speaking up and speaking out’ about mental and substance use disorders to increase awareness and decrease stigma. This group was ready and willing to share their own personal experiences, ask questions, and really dig into the topics at hand.
The activities were a wild ride! As boys tend to be-each activity became a competition, which made the day quite interesting, but exciting. The youth really enjoyed anytime there was a buzzer or ball, were pretty excited about the ‘bonus prizes,’ and were not only intense, but intimate with each other as well. As Rabbi Hoen explained to the youth, there is a passage in their scriptures about how it’s not healthy to keep in struggles and it’s important to seek the counsel of others. This directly parallels what we’re doing in Stand Together: encouraging youth to #talkaboutit (their struggles) and reach out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themselves or someone else. Rabbi Hoen’s statement really resonated with the students and motivated them even further in their work.
Armed with knowledge and quick wit, the students were ready to start project planning at their second workshop. The students broke into 4 groups: 2 for each school and 2 for each grade-level (MS/HS). The boys had so many ideas, it was hard to whittle it down to just a few projects, but they left the second day with concrete plans:
–Hillel Boys MS‘s 1:4 Color War with trivia, competition, and prizes
–Hillel Boys HS‘s: F-WHAPP Fanny Exchange Program (fanny packs-just you wait!) and Tea with Teachers
–Yeshiva Boys MS/HS: This school did something different. Although each grade-level group came up with a project, both groups will do the same projects in their respective schools. They planned to hold a Do-nut Stigmatize stand and a What’s WHAPP? video. Afterwards, the students will test their peers’ knowledge by asking them myths/facts to win a prize.
These students really came up with some amazing ideas and even more creative slogans to go with them! They’re sure to entice their peers to participate and start talking about mental health and stigma!
I was sad to leave the group after the training, but I knew I was leaving them in good hands and with solid plans moving forward. This group is committed to leaving their schools and communities better than they found them and working together to reduce stigma so that more people can get the help that they need. We can’t wait to see these projects in action! See you soon!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator