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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.’
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
South Allegheny Middle School Gladiators are back again to dismantle stigma towards mental health and substance use disorders in their school.
It’s training day! New students as well as returning members filed into the library to take part in the two-day training. Early in the morning, students were quiet and shy, but after a round of ice-breakers, introductions, and some snacks, the students started to warm-up to each other. Returning members supported their peers with the knowledge they had retained from last year in review games. They definitely finished the first workshop strong!
The ideas about changing their school environment flowed in the ‘What I want my peers and staff to know…’ section. This group of youth really wanted the adults around them to partner as allies and provide a ‘shoulder to lean on’ if they were feeling down or in need of help. Reflecting on last year, they also want their peers to take mental health and stigma seriously. Stigma is so ingrained in our culture and it can be difficult to change, but these students are going to fight it!
The South Allegheny team plans on hosting a truth booth-with a twist! They’re one of our first middle schools to ever hold this kind of event! The Truth Booth project is a great way to anonymously share what one may be struggling with or even show support for someone you know that may be affected by a mental illness or substance use disorder. Their ‘What Color Are Your Feathers?’ event will allow both students and staff to select feathers of support to motivate their peers to ‘show their true colors’ and ‘lift one another up.’ The feathers will be color-coded and each color will represent a way to stop stigma, discuss a mental health diagnosis, or write-in a supportive message. Students will drop them in a box to be collected. Once the event is complete, the team will create a beautiful mural of all the feathers to be displayed in the middle school, along with a pledge banner to end stigma.
The Stand Together team will also bring back, ‘Send Stigma Spinning.’ In this activity, participants will spin a wheel to answer a question or decipher a myth from a fact. This will give their peers an opportunity to learn more about mental health and stigma-and a chance to win a prize! Check out that awesome pic above from last year.
The ideas continued and team members identified their own personal ways they were going to take down stigma. Many students decided to challenge themselves by paying more attention to the language they use, as well as sharing the information they had learned with their family and friends. Students also shared a specific contribution they are going to make to their projects over the rest of the school year based on their skills and talents. They were two full days, but they were full of stigma-stopping power-and that’s what gladiators are made of!
Way to go, South Allegheny MS! Keep up the good work-every year it gets even better! We can’t wait to see your projects in action. You’re going to make such an impact in your school!
Written by Montaja, trainer
North Allegheny Senior High School began its second year in the program-and brought their Intermediate High School with them, too! We’re excited to expand our program in the NA school district and NASH has really taken Stand Together and ran with it. We look forward to another year with this group of youth! And it all starts with the training…
Many of the students in the team returned from last year and a handful of passionate new students came together in October to learn about mental and substance use disorders, the definition and examples of stigma, and how to help their peers. Students from various groups across the school spent two days getting to know each other and work together to plan projects to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders in their school.
Some activities got intense-it was a pretty competitive group!-but the students learned a lot and had lots of fun. The team had insightful responses to the role playing prompts in the What Would You Do? exercise and were eager to share what they learned with their peers. The group had learned so much and could share the ‘Big 5’ by heart:
1) You matter.
2) You’re not alone.
3) SHE (support, hope, encouragement aka How to Help)
4) 1:4 people have a behavioral health condition
5) WHAPP!: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care (the signs of a mental or substance use disorder)
By the end of the day, the group was really starting to come together and already had some great ideas for projects!
The group was overflowing with ideas for this year. It was incredibly difficult to pick only a few to focus on, but the students combined some ideas, elaborated on others, and were able to form concrete planning for three big projects, including peer education in PE classes *2 days!*, a ‘truth tree,’ and permanent mural. They also want to continue using visual media and videos to share the information with their peers; this year, they’re going to focus on what to do and how to help. By incorporating physical/social activities, informational presentations, and moving visuals, NASH hopes to continue their work to decrease stigma in their school.
Students finished up the day by sharing a behavior that they were personally going to start and/or stop doing to address stigma as a result of the education and experience they received during the Stand Together training. Team members shared commitments to care more about their own mental health, speak up when someone uses stigmatizing language, and let others know that they’re there for them when they’re struggling.
Thank you, NASH, for pledging to speak up and speak out against stigma, to not use stigmatizing language, to share information, resources, and experiences, and to provide support, hope, and encouragement to others. You’re changing your school, community, and the world! Keep up the good work!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
Stand Together went in to the Academy last fall to begin training on stigma, mental illness, and substance abuse. This was my first time facilitating a training so I was a bit nervous! As we began the day, I began to see how emotionally mature these students were and how much they truly know already about stigma. We discussed many relevant stereotypes seen in society, and I enjoyed every single student’s input. I could tell that this subject was something they were passionate about, and I knew they would have an awesome year!
One activity we did that they seemed to really enjoy was the “Common Ground” activity where someone stands in the middle and says, “I see common ground with…,” then everyone who the statement applies to must get up and move to a different chair. Even though at times it got competitive, the students really saw how much more they have in common with others than different.
I returned to the Academy this spring to check out the student’s projects. I came on the day they were implementing their “Cup of Cheer” project. This entailed putting inspirational quotes onto cups and stuffing the cups with coffee, tea, a Stand Together bookmark, and a jelly bracelet that said Stand Together. The students also created a “calm down” room at their school. Inside the room was a mural that the students painted, giving hope and positivity to the students who come into the room needing a break.
I am extremely proud of all the hard work these students did this past year. It was amazing to see them work together on accomplishing such an important goal, ending stigma! Thank you, the Academy! 😊
Written by Lacey, Project Trainer
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their Love is LOUDER than Mental Illness series of events this February. In addition to participating in the Breaking the Barriers dash with the middle school, the high school students held several activities during this past month for their peers. From Hershey kisses telling students to ‘Kiss stigma goodbye’ to Huggies when students shared a hug with a peer, SVHS spread the love in their school to increase awareness of mental illness, increase social inclusion, and talk about getting help when having a mental health need.
Stand Together took to the hallways of Steel Valley High School to spread the love and break the stigma surrounding mental illness! Students posted inspirational quotes to motivate and encourage students in their daily struggles, as well as anyone that might be silently suffering from a mental health concern. In addition, students posted information on the prevalence of mental illness, what stigma is, and flyers urging students to sign the anti-stigma pledge on our site. Over 240 students committed to stop stigma, challenge their preconceived notions, and advocate for mental health in their school and communities.
Students also held a door-decorating contest. Participating students and teachers covered their doors with facts regarding various mental health conditions and other decorations to get students attention and learn about a specific disorder. The winning classroom received gift cards for their efforts.
Their projects concluded with a Mental Illness fair during all lunches on Friday, February 25. This tremendous event took over the entire school gym. Upon entering, students were given a green ribbon sticker for the day and a Stand Together wristband to remind them of the event and message. Tables were set-up around the room with various activities. 10 tables were set-up highlighting facts and sharing information on various mental illnesses, including autism, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, depression, and OCD. Music and games were played and the students and staff really united together against stigma.
One impressive highlight was a mural the students had created to emphasize the concept that no one is alone. Students answered questions anonymously with sticky notes to create a visual representation of the impact we have on each other. Additionally, some students stepped up and spoke with their peers about their first-hand experiences with mental illness. It was a great success!
Check out these videos from the event to hear what students and staff had to say about the fair!
Thanks to Mrs. Kamnikar and the Stand Together team for all their hard work!