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Steel Valley Ironmen Building Bridges to End Stigma (MS)

Steel Valley Ironmen Building Bridges to End Stigma (MS)

If you’re from anywhere around Pittsburgh and/or familiar with the NFL, you’re familiar with Pittsburgh’s history, coining the name, The Steel City. Steel Valley MS’s Ironmen have been using their knowledge and training for the past three years to combat stigma in their schools by building bridges between students, promoting social inclusion, awareness, and encouraging students to reach out to an adult when they’re worried about their own or someone else’s mental health. (If you didn’t know, bridges are typically made out of steel or iron ‘I-beams,’ hence the pun. I crack myself up 🙂

20171011_095309Anyways…A lot of the students had returned from the program before, but after the summary, we had a lot of review to do! Students participated fully in all the activities and were quick to re-learn the myths and facts surround mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma. Students always love BINGO (as do adults!) and experienced a glimpse of what anxiety feels like when students were asked to demonstrate who 20171011_101238could hold their breath the longest and analyze the difficult feelings and sensations they experienced when they were running out of breath. Stand Together participants engage in activities that teach the students empathy; even though these exercises aren’t close to experiencing a disorder, they help the students understand what someone might be going through a little better.

Students also learn the difference between intellectual disabilities and mental health conditions. These are easily confused, but we teach the students to remember that intellectual=intelligence (or IQ)-while pointing to their eyes and brains, since physical activity helps memory. In addition, the students learn that individuals with mental health conditions have varying levels of intelligence just like the general population, re-instilling the idea that individuals with these disorders are just like everyone else and are people-first, who just happen to have a disorder like any physical condition.

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Students heard Danyelle’s story of recovery and many students related to her struggles and experience. This is always a very powerful and important part of the Stand Together workshop. After this activity we follow with another impactful 20171011_120456activity, Cross the Line, in which students confront stereotypes they may have and learn that they have more in common than they could ever imagine. That is what ends stigma: knowing that ‘we all bleed the same‘ and we’re all in this together. A person is a person, no matter what they might be dealing with and we are all experiencing some of the same struggles; you are never alone.

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Project planning is always my favorite part of the whole experience and the students came up with tons of great ideas, including a movie night, a mental health fair, and a bake sale, and a sporting event. Students research budgets, resources, and outreach prospects to finish the planning process. We had so much fun and I can’t wait to see their projects in action in the spring. Shout-out to Ms. Dunmire and the students for all their hard work! Kudos!

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(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)

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Breaking the Silence: Talking about Mental Illness at West Mifflin HS

Breaking the Silence: Talking about Mental Illness at West Mifflin HS

Students at West Mifflin High School have been planning and implementing Stand Together projects since the beginning of the school-year. As one of only two schools that has participated all four years, WMHS has a large, elaborate program that continually works hard to educate, increase social inclusion, and encourage students to get help.

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Projects began in October, when the group held a cupcake bake sale to kick off the year. In November, the students held a balloon release in which students wrote something they wanted to ‘let go’ of (struggling with), a fact about mental illness, or a hopeful message and attached it to a balloon. The balloons were then released in a moving ceremony. One of the balloons was found 90 miles away and the person that found it contacted us!

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Throughout the year, students maintained a Stand Together bulletin board, held informative sessions during Freshman Health classes, and even participated in a Mental Health First Aid training, including over 40 teachers and staff and 20 students! Students and faculty that completed this training are considered a “Safe Haven,” that is, someone that students and anyone else at the school can talk to if they’re struggling with a mental health concern. Students also connected with teachers during a lunch activity to break down the barriers and fear that sometimes separate adolescents and adults.

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Last Friday, students facilitated Break the Silence Day, a fair-style event at which the student body could test their mental health knowledge by playing games, participate in self-care activities, and help create a mural that was displayed in the school cafeteria.

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This mural was a green ribbon for mental health awareness, made out of the Stand Together students hands, that was surrounded by multicolored feathers with mental health prompts that were answered by the student body, including:

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In addition, the students organized the Mindful Art Gallery which displays works of art relating to mental health in students lives. Works were displayed anonymously so students could express themselves freely without judgement.

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Last week, some of the students facilitated a lesson about emotions and coping skills with the preschool class. The children listened to a book about a monkey that learned to deal with being upset and participated in various activities, including yoga, blowing bubbles, and making masks of faces with different emotions. The lesson concluded with the students identifying an emotion or coping and skill and receiving a green bear to remind them of what they learned.

       

The year will conclude with an end-of-the-year assembly for the entire school. Check them out at http://wmstandtogether.weebly.com/. Special thanks to their advisor, Ms. Rowe, president, Eliza, and preschool teacher, Ms. Bonacci, for all their hard work!

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Hope Floats: West Mifflin HS Balloon Release

Hope Floats: West Mifflin HS Balloon Release

On Friday, November 18, 2016 I had the pleasure of joining the Stand Together team and students from West Mifflin Area High School for a balloon release event. It was a beautiful day and the activity was a great success!

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At lunch, students could purchase a balloon for a ticket out of class for the release that afternoon. Students wrote something anonymous about mental illness, stigma, or hope on a card and it was attached to the balloon. The balloons were redistributed randomly to students and students could read one anothers’ heart-felt messages, before ‘letting go’ of their 20161118_141101struggles and believing in hope for the future.

WMHS Stand Together President, Eliza, shared some remarks at the event:

“Today we recognize our challenges, struggles, accomplishments, and our worries. Today we let it go. All of the years that we have been challenged to live with depression. All the struggles that OCD has given you on a day to day basis. All the help that you have received and the accomplishments along the road to recovery. All the worries to the ones we love struggling with ADHD. Today we are not alone, we have support by the ones around you. The community has your back; if your balloon lands in their yard, they will learn the things we are going through. They will learn we are not crazy, that we are people. That STIGMA IS SHAME, SHAME CAUSES SILENCE, AND SILENCE HURTS AUS ALL!”

Over 100 students attended the moving event. The Stand Together team also passed out brochures on suicide prevention from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a self-created resource guide. In addition, Principal Phillip Woods participated to show his support.

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Advisor Lauren Rowe & ST Students             Principal Woods ‘high-five’-s Eliza

One of the balloons was found in Ashville, PA, 85 miles away! This balloon was found by Donna Boring who found it while walking in the woods and contacted us on Facebook.

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In addition, students were instructed to Insta/Tweet/Share photos and videos with the hashtag #wmstballoons. We leave you with this video courtesy of Lorin, a ST team member:

#wmstballoons 💙💛🎈

A video posted by @lorin_17_ on

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