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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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Mental Health Advocacy & Me-ST Youth take on Legislation

Mental Health Advocacy & Me-ST Youth take on Legislation

We often hear: ‘Youth are our future.’ As cliche as it sounds, it’s 100% true. Change starts with you and YOUth across Allegheny County are paving the way for mental health education, resources, and parity by meeting with local legislators to discuss the future of mental health in our area.

Stand Together staff had the pleasure of assisting the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and PA Youth Advocacy Network in planning and implementing the Youth Mental Health Advocacy Workshop on Tuesday, March 3 during the Dan Miller Disability Awareness Summit-but the students did all the work. Members of Stand Together teams from CAPA, Montour, West Allegheny, and West Mifflin high schools joined students from other schools to gather their perspectives on teen mental health and work together to identify issues, formulate questions, and propose suggestions to advocate for mental health. Afterwards, the students had the opportunity to discuss their findings with members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate.

Team leads walked their groups through concerns and opportunities, current and proposed policies/bills, and the importance of youth voice in government. These weren’t easy issues either! Students discussed:
-Addressing disparities in mental health;
-Creating safe, inclusive school communities;
-Educating teachers and students on mental health;
-Equality in support for mental and physical health; and
-Promoting suicide prevention and awareness.
Stand Together’s goals address many of these areas: increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and reach out to an adult (which requires adequate training for staff and faculty). Because of this, Stand Together team members brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the tables that day!

Our students made some really introspective and keen observations and remarks:
-‘It’s important to talk about mental health just as much as physical health in school…it needs to be stressed and ‘normalized.’ – Emma Dischner (HB 1696: Mental Health Parity)
-‘The media needs to stop making suicide look like a way out.’ – Angela Brown, West A (SB 199: Suicide Prevention & Awareness)
-‘Females tend to get more mental health attention in schools. Talking about mental health is a ‘choice,’ but because of the culture of toxic masculinity, it’s also not a choice. ‘Treatment’ is for the behaviors, not the cause (mental health)…A big part of it is changing the cultre surrounding mental health and making small changes.’ – Aiden Magley, CAPA (Federal: HRes480: Disparities in Mental Health)
-‘It should be a conversation between youth and staff what Act 71 (suicide prevention education) looks like in schools. – Emma Dischner (HB 590: Ed. for Teachers & Students in MH)
-A student from Montour agreed: ‘Teachers are afraid to reach out to students because they don’t know how to or are afraid to.’

The legislators were invested and had much to add:
-‘You can’t reach your potential unless this issue of mental health is addressed.’ – Sen. Pam Iovino
-‘What’s more important as a parent? That my son has a cavity or a mental health issue?…I think it (mental health) should be prioritized…We’re bringing students together, but we’re not talking about it enough and this can cause social isolation. We need to teach all health in fullness and connect people together.’ – Rep. Dan Miller
-‘We need more human-centered policies that have real-world application (about the people, not the numbers). Engagement of students and citizens is so important.’ – Rep. Sara Innamorato

Students and legislators discussed a lot of key issues, but this is just the start. We need to keep talking about mental health in our schools and communities and advocate in government for policy reform and support. We will continue to support our students as they speak up and speak out against stigma and build a youth mental health advocacy movement that will change our county for years to come.

‘Keep it going…you are just as much our constituents as your parents are. Keep using your voice.’

-State Senator Lindsey Williams

Written by Danyelle, ST Coordinator & JHF planning team member

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TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

The Stand Together program welcomes another newcomer to our line-up of schools: Thomas Jefferson High School! Welcome!

The group had their first official ST workshops on two Tuesdays in December, however they had already been meeting as a group in preparation for the training, discussing their thoughts about mental health and brainstorming ideas to end stigma in their school. This group came together on their training days eager to get started, but a bit timid. That would quickly change!

After setting clear ‘community agreements’ to create a ‘safe space,’ the students began to ease into team-building and education. The first workshop was all formal training about mental illness, substance use disorders, and the effects of stigma. Not only did TJHS learn new information about mental health and wellness, they also learned new things about one another.

During the ‘Cross the Line’ activity, the group shared they were surprised to share some of the same struggles as their peers. Stand Together members also noticed it was a challenge to share their concerns; they care a lot about what their peers are going through and didn’t want to add any more stress onto others. Group members shared how much they feel sad when they see other peers and staff going through hard times and they want to use this program to really change the culture of their school.

Thinking about what they learned at the first workshop, the students came up with a list of very important information they wanted their peers and staff to know, including:
-taking mental and substance use disorders seriously
-knowing that #youarenotalone if you struggle with something
-don’t be afraid to #talkaboutit!
The group brain-stormed different ideas to create their anti-stigma projects. One idea was a popcorn stand during lunch periods. They wanted it to be interactive with a trivia game wheel and different colored popcorn that featured the 1:4 ratio of individuals affected by these disorders. They also discussed having a school-wide assembly to raise awareness about mental health and stigma. Not only do ST members want to get the right facts out to their peers, this group also wants their teachers and staff to feel comfortable enough to check-in on the students they interact with daily. TJHS is really tackling a lot of issues in their first year!

Empathy is a huge part of the TJHS motto and this project’s theme. With this ‘super-power’ in their toolkit, we have no doubt their first year in Stand Together will have a lasting impression on their school.

Welcome to the club! We’re happy to have you and excited to see your projects!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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