Posts Tagged awareness

ST goes VIRTUAL!

ST goes VIRTUAL!

The above students are just a few of the many students who have taken part in our virtual Stand Together training to combat stigma.

The world has changed-and we’ve changed along with it! This year things are a little different (well, a lot different!), but we’re rising to the challenge. It’s been a chaotic time, but within these trials we’ve discovered innovative ways to inspire and empower our youth and propel them forward, expanding on their current successes and taking further strides to break down the barriers to mental health.

Althought projects might look a little different this year, we know that your school teams are going to come up with creative ideas and make a difference in your school communities, whether online or in-person. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that you’ll decrease stigma and help each other become and stay mentally healthy. One new addition to the Stand Together curriculum this year is self-care; participants learn about and then share coping skills with the other students and staff to promote a culture of wellness in their schools. We will ‘stand together’ for mental health and against stigma.

Our first trainings started in October with CAPA, West Allegheny, and TJHS. These schools wanted to jump right in and get started, noticing the incredible need for mental health education, awareness, and resources in their schools. Yeshiva is currently ‘in session,’ and Propel-Braddock Hills finished up last week. If you haven’t gotten a chance to take part in your school’s training sessions yet, we’ll have another blog about some of the changes we’ve made and fun activities we’ve added to keep it interactive! (Stay tuned!)

We knew going into the 2020-2021 school year it would be different-and we’d have to adapt. The Spring was so sudden and it broke our hearts that some of our students didn’t get to hold or complete their projects. Mental health is more important now than ever, especially with the added pressures of the Coronavirus. (Yes, we talk about it!) I’ll admit, I didn’t know how it was going to go virtually-mental health is such a personal, vulnerable, intimate topic and I was really concerned about how we would be able to get the ST vibe and experience in a virtual setting. I also pouted for a little bit, if we’re being honest-trust me, I experienced a lot of the same feelings you have! It’s so frustrating! But over the summer, we worked on an entirely new virtual training to give you the best online experience we can.

Sessions are shorter and so is the entire training-screen fatigue is a real thing and we didn’t want to contribute to an issue that was already challenging, especially since most of you are all online all the time. I mean, it’s great to stay in my pj’s and work in bed, but it’s also not easy. Schools also get the option this year to select (2) 4-hour sessions or (3) 2.5 hour sessions to split up the training. Project planning will be conducted with ST trainers during the first few team meetings and schools will be encouraged to think ‘outside of the box’ to reach their peers in this virtual world. Thanksfully we’ve also had the experiences of our all-school summer projects to provide some great examples of how to move forward this year. (If you haven’t checked them out, you need to! Check out the podcasts and eZines in the Projects section of our webpage.)

Whew! That was a wordy bit-thanks for hanging in there until the very end! If that wasn’t enough, Stand Together is expanding to Clarion and Washington counties in addition to Venango County and the state of Delaware! This is all because of YOU! So hang tight-we can’t wait to start your schools’ training and meet YOU! See you (virtually) soon!

Written by Danyelle, Coordinator

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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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North Hills Stand(s) Together: #onetribe

North Hills Stand(s) Together: #onetribe

When we presented Stand Together a year ago (can you believe it?!) at North Hills HS, the answer was a quick and resounding YES! The SAP team leaped at the opportunity to better the mental health environment of their school and provide the youth with a positive means of talking about mental health. In addition, we had a lot of support from the administration; the school’s principal was previously at one of our other ST schools! We knew it was going to be a great year from the start.

Even before the ST team met to complete their training, they had already completed an activity. At the first home football game of the season, mental health facts were shared on the sound system before the game and the student section had an impactful visual: a banner with various stigmatizing words was ripped to signify the end of stigma at their school with the start of the Stand Together program. Students also held up a Stand Together banner to symbolize their school’s solidarity. (#onetribe) What a great way to kick off the year! (pun intended)

After the activity at the game, the students continued their momentum by preparing for their first project: peer-to-peer presentations to be facilitated the week after the training! Students introduced themselves and the Stand Together program and had created a PowerPoint slideshow with information and a Kahoot! game. Their peers learned the definitions of mental illness and stigma and factual information to counter some of the myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. The group wanted their peers to know that they’re not alone and it’s okay to get help.

Individuals can’t choose to have a mental and/or substance use disorder, but WE can choose to help. STAND UP, don’t stand by!

The group continued the year by sponsoring a ‘trunk’ at their community ‘Trick’or’Trunk’ halloween event to become visible to and support their community. They also hosted a Star Wars themed mindfulness event during their school’s wellness week. After focusing on self-care, the team engaged their peers in an interactive event for both students and faculty. Students wanted their peers to be aware of the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders in youth by creating paper chains that were displayed around the school. Three chain links were white for everyone one red link to help students visualize the 1:4 ratio of those affected by these disorders. (Red and white are the school’s colors.) On each link, students were encourage to anonymously share how mental and substance health disorders have affected their lives. The chain also represented how the school was ‘Stand-ing Together,’ no matter their experiences or differences (#onetribe). A great number of students participated in this activity and the chains were on display for everyone to see for several weeks.

Unfortunately, North Hills didn’t get to finish all the projects they wanted to get to this year because of Covid-19 – but that didn’t stop them from pressing forward and continuing their efforts to end stigma! The students and advisors created a moving video of themselves sharing support and mental help tips for this challenging time. They wanted to remind their peers and others that they are not alone, remind them of Stand Together’s mission, and encourage their peers to take care of themselves in various ways, including pet therapy, time outside, motivation, and how to ‘stand together,’ even ‘while standing apart.’ Students were reminded to ‘stay home, but ‘stand together,’ One of my favorite parts was at the end when advisor Ms. Wrabley held up a poster with the following tips, forming the acronym SPEAK UP!:
-Start with family
-Phone a friend
-E-mail your counselor
-Ask for help
-Keep trying
-Use resources
-Phone #1-888-You-Can (Resolve Crisis Line)

North Hills High School had an AMAZING first year and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next year. This will be difficult to top, but we know they’re up for the challenge! We certainly are #NHproud! See you in the fall!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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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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NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

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.’

Anonymous

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

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CDS: Steps, Ducks, & Celebrities Against Stigma!

CDS: Steps, Ducks, & Celebrities Against Stigma!

Community Day School was the last of our schools to be trained this year-but definitely not least! This group was small, but mighty and came up with some very innovative ideas for their projects!

The first day started off, well…interesting. The group sat in separate tables based on gender-but just because the tables didn’t interact didn’t mean the students weren’t engaging with each other! The girls especially had a lot to say from early on-and plenty to share. These students were very vocal about their personal experiences from the get-go and were ready to learn and, in turn, educate their peers.

Students spent the morning learning all about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, how to recognize the signs, and how to help a friend in need. Students asked a lot of questions and were eager to participate in activities. The afternoon was very meaningful for the students; many of them got real with issues they’ve struggled with and things they’ve experienced. And even though this school is small and tight-knit, they found out things about each other they didn’t know and things in common they never thought they would. The team built a strong foundation, a sense of community, and a passion for stopping stigma. Students finished the day with an even greater desire to talk about mental and substance use disorders and share the education and experiences they shared with their peers.

The second workshop was a whirl-wind! This group had so many ideas from the moment they sat down in the morning to walking out of the room that afternoon! They had so many novel themes, mottos, and activities, it was hard to keep them on task! The students focused on two main projects for the day using the Stand Together photo booth and Food 4 Thought toolkits. The photo booth has a VIP feel as they put a ‘Spotlight on Stigma;’ students will walk down a make-shift ‘red carpet’ with pictures of celebrities, while being asked questions about mental health, and culminating with a photo to remember the day! In addition, students will be having a duck pond (that was popular this year!) to test the student’s knowledge about our acronyms: WHAPP, STIGMA, and SHE (see below*), as well as myths/facts. And get this: their slogan is ‘Quack Away Stigma.’ (I just can’t…) The students will also kick-off the year by decorating 1:4 steps and their stairwells with mental health information. Whew!

These students are ready to stop stigma by increasing education and awareness and promoting social inclusion. Through creative, innovative projects and personalities to match, this team will engage their peers and dispel the myths that cause stigma. We’re excited for CDS’s first year in the program and are ready for that ‘red carpet treatment’ this Spring! Keep up the good work!

*WHAPP (signs of a mental/substance use disorder: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, poor self-care
*STIGMA (examples of stigma): stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
*SHE (how to help): support, hope, encouragement

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler MS is On Their Way

Shaler MS is On Their Way

Middle school can be a challenging time, especially if someone has a mental and/or substance use disorder. Shaler Area Middle School wants to decrease the stigma associated with these conditions by increasing education and awareness and promoting social inclusion. This is the group’s second year in the program and it was great to see some familiar faces as well as meet new additions to the team.

Even though the students had already attended their first classes for the day, it took a little effort to wake them up. To get them moving, we kick-off with an exercise that not only gets the blood flowing, but teaches them something along the way. Students are directed to jump up and down 10 times while whispering their favorite colors. Obviously, participants at opposite ends of the room wouldn’t be able to hear each other, but just because the other student couldn’t hear it, didn’t mean that person didn’t have a favorite color. This is a lot like mental and substance use disorders-just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Students learned not only about the definitions and prevalence of these conditions, but, more importantly, how they affect individuals outside the symptoms of the disorder. Students learned about the impact of stigma on their peers-and what they can do to help. W.H.A.P.P. was introduced to help students recognize the signs that someone may be struggling and students used S.H.E. in scenarios to think about how they would help a peer that was struggling by providing support, hope, and encouragement and reaching out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themselves or someone else. Students also got to know each other better and realized they had more in common than they thought, creating a sense of unity in the group and reaffirming their commitment to the program and each other.

After completing their first day of training, students were ready to start using the education and experiences to design projects to decrease stigma in their school. Students were excited to included food (because who doesn’t like getting free food) again this year and also expand on myths and facts. The group also wants their peers to be more aware that a lot of people struggle with these disorders and #itsokaytonotbeokay. They want to create a culture of acceptance and support where their peers feel welcome and know that they matter. The support of family and friends is so important in recovery and for wellness and the more we engage others, the more we create relationships that foster connection and trust. When these qualities exist, people feel comfortable talking about their experiences, sharing their feelings, and reaching out for help. And that’s what Stand Together is all about.

By the end of the day, I was really impressed with the groups innovative ideas and slogans and lofty goals for the year. Their passion will only help propel them forward as they continue planning and implement their projects. Hopscotch, paper chains, popsicles, and Kahoot! will all be used to entice their peers and further their anti-stigma message in a fun, but purposeful way. Personally I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that we can ‘Freeze Away Stigma,’ but that’s just me…

These group is sure to change minds, hearts, and even lives by challenging myths and bringing their peers together to end stigma. We look forward to another year at SAMS and can’t wait to see your projects grow!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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