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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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Gateway Gators Gear-up to End Stigma

Gateway Gators Gear-up to End Stigma

Stand Together welcomes Gateway Middle School to our line-up of participants this year. Our new team is just as excited as we are to start removing the stigma around mental health in their school and community.

Two Thursdays in January, students strolled into their LGI space to partake in our training workshops. Some students knew each other, but mostly the group was full of students who built new connections with their classmates. As the day went on, the team-building activities and games removed any uncertain and shy feelings they may have had in the morning and the group was really coming together.

This group held nothing back when asking questions about the myths and facts and mental health diagnoses. Most, if not all, of the students felt comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings about the stigma surrounding mental health and discussed the myths most often heard in their school environment. As the training went on, it was clear the students retained the important information given to them as they blazed through the review games with flying colors. During the end of the first workshop, we also had the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges youth face when they feel alone or someone may be struggling. What an impressive first day!

A bond was already being built with this group the first day, which only helped them bounce right back into action for our second workshop. They returned ever more excited to start planning their projects. Day 2 had so many ideas flowing that it was hard to keep up with all the possibilities! The team broke into small groups as they selected a toolkit idea to really focus on. These three groups shared with the large group their plans for an anti-stigma event. A 1:4 theme (the ratio of youth affected by mental and substance use disorders) was laced through each project idea, reflecting Stand Together’s goal of education and awareness. Cookies & milk, slushies, and a variety of snacks made the list of ideas as well.Catchy slogans, like ‘Stigma belongs in the dirt!’ and ‘sNOw Stigma!’ helped to connect the activity back to the treat they planned to reward their classmates with after they participated.

These students were so excited to keep project planning, they continued their brain-storming session long after our team wrapped up for the day! With all this motivation and passion propelling this group forward, we can’t wait to see the events they finally decide on for their school. Gateway MS is more than eager to end stigma. What a fantastic way to start your first year-keep up the great work. Welcome to the family!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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Propel BHHS: Let’s Taco ’bout Mental Health

Propel BHHS: Let’s Taco ’bout Mental Health

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

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Hillel & Yeshiva Boys-Slogans for Days

Hillel & Yeshiva Boys-Slogans for Days

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

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Flashback Friday: ECS 2017-2018

Flashback Friday: ECS 2017-2018

We can’t believe summer is halfway over and before we know it, Stand Together will begin again! We’re still catching up on blogs and this DSCN1139week, we’re featuring the Environmental Charter School. ECS has been in the program for several years. Their students are always creative, enthusiastic, and passionate and find it easy to reach out their peers to enact change in their school.

 

They started their projects off with a presentation of facts about mental illness and stigma. They addressed some of the myths surrounding mental illness and introduced their classmates to Stand Together.

 

DSCN1136Since their project was implement in the colder months, ECS’s had a hot chocolate stand to entice the other students to learn about mental and substance use disorders. Each cup had a fact or important phrase they wanted their peers to know. These included things like:

  • 1 in 4 people will be affected by mental illness.

  • It’s okay to not be okay.

  • To help friends, think SHE: support, hope, encourage.

In addition, 1 in 4 cups were labelled in green to signify the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders. The students also created and displayed ‘table tents’ in the cafeteria so that students could learn more.

 

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Their advisors were impressed with the relationships the students developed within their group and how comfortable the group was starting this difficult conversation with their peers. Team members also noticed that students were more open to talking about mental illness, ask questions, and share their stories.

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We can’t wait to have ECS back next year for more fun and fellowship and-most importantly-less stigma.

 

Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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