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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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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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Woody High Rise Up-Again!

Woody High Rise Up-Again!

Back at it again for the second time, Woodland Hills High School’s Stand Together team returns to shift the culture in their school when it comes to speaking up and out about mental health.

Woody High students came together on two days in January and both new-comers and returning students were ready to really make an impact in their school with the Stand Together message. This year, the group started meeting long before the training workshops took place to get a jump-start on the year. What dedication!

The first day of training re-introduced the students to the important signs and symptoms of mental and substances use disorders and refreshed their memories on what factors cause these emotional struggles. The Stand Together workshops strengthened the already strong bond this group had created during the pre-training meetings. Friendly competition arose when reviewing the information during trivia games and a unity formed while sharing their own experiences during and after Cross the Line.

The second workshop was more hands-on: project planning. Returning members shared feedback with their peers from last year’s activities. They had even handed out pencils with a survey link before the workshops to get more feedback from the larger student body. Team members shared what they want their peers and staff to know when it comes to reaching out for help and even just talking about the struggles they may be dealing with. They want their teachers to know the right information and resources to provide effective support when students come to them. They also want their peers to know that mental and substance use disorders are more common than we think and that it’s okay to get treatment. These students see the need and want to shift the culture and dismantle stigma.

The group brain-stormed elaborate new ideas and revisited ideas from last year with a twist. They really want to focus on providing clear information in a fun and engaging way. The group plans to hold a school assembly and mental health Kahoot! game tournament, as well as a possible ice cream social.

Staying true to Stand Together’s mission and goals, Woodland Hills is ready to rise up to the challenge again. We have no doubt that they will surprise us with their anti-stigma events this year. We can’t wait to see all your hard work in action!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

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

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‘Dice Dragons are Slaying Stigma (with Bitmoji!)

‘Dice Dragons are Slaying Stigma (with Bitmoji!)

Pittsburgh Public’s Allderdice High School continued to use their mascot this year to engage their peers in activities to decrease the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders in their school. They had some ‘unfinished business’-a project they didn’t get to finish last year-and were excited to complete it and continue their work in the school.

 

DSCN1637This year the students combined four projects into an activity fair for the freshman students. The entire grade has to take history and the rest of the day is a chaotic time, so this turned out to be an ideal alternative to hold their events. Stand Together students even got out of class all day to make sure their fellow classmates got to learn about mental health!

 

Students entered the auditorium were introduced to the team and their cause by watching a Bitmoji video the team had created. Members of the team, including one of their advisors, Mr. Matson, recorded themselves as Bitmoji’s describing the Stand Together program and its goals and the importance of addressing stigma towards mental and substance use disorders. The video also included facts (1:4, of course! and the definitions of mental illness and stigma) and a dragon head that announced Allderdice’s pledge to stand against stigma. How creative is that?! Check it out:

 

 

After the film, students rotated through several stations that were set-up with activities to engage peers. At the first station, students could enjoy a cup of lemonade to encourage the students to lemon-aid each other when they are struggling. 1 in 4 cups of lemonade were pink to represent the 1 in 4 individuals that experience a mental and/or substance use condition in a given year. Another booth encouraged students to ask questions in a judgement free-zone. They passed out resources to encourage students to ‘mustache’ a question. I was impressed with the number of students that were eager and willing to talk about their own struggles or reach out for more information for a friend. At the last station, students signed a flame sticker to represent that they were going to ‘burn out stigma…’ because dragons breathe fire. Get it?! 🙂

 

 

The students also displayed their dragon mural for the students.mural-r The group really wanted to finish this last year, but as it’s quite a large piece, it took longer than expected. This year, the group completed the mural of a beautiful, immense green dragon breathing fire that reads: ‘Allderdice pledges to end stigma towards youth or adults who have a mental illness.’ This mural will be displayed in the school as a permanent fixture to remind all students to ‘slay stigma’ at their school.

 

Members of the team as well as participants and faculty were impressed and proud of their school and the event:

  • ‘I’m so glad we’re able to talk about this important issues at school.’ (ST team member)

  • ‘In our efforts to make Allderdice a more inclusive environment, our Stand Together group has played a major role in making this more of a reality. I am extremely proud of their work and I know that the fight to end stigma towards those with mental health conditions will continue to have an impact not only on our current students, but those students in years to come.’ (school principal)

  • ‘This fair was completely surprising to me. I hope to join the Stand Together group next year.’

 

The students also used this time to recruit new members for the 2019-2020 school year. They hope to make this event an annual fair and possibly incorporate outside mental health providers and additional resources. We can’t wait to see what you come up with for next year! Keep on slayin’ (stigma, that is)!

 

DSCN1636

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

 

 

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Arsenal MS addresses stigma-one ‘kuppa Kool-Aid’ at a time!

Arsenal MS addresses stigma-one ‘kuppa Kool-Aid’ at a time!

Arsenal MS is no stranger to Stand Together, but this year they definitely amped up their game. Although they are a small group, they are mighty and the diversity really propels the group to explore MH in a new way.

improvised sign

Stand Together students held three Kool-Aid Stands (‘Aid’-like assistance, get it? haha) this past Spring to promote access to resources and social inclusion, two of Stand Together’s three goals. In the past, the Arsenal team had focuses only on education/awareness, so this definitely brought stopping stigma at their school to a whole new level, by making it ‘okay to not be okay’ and ‘okay to get help.’

DSCN1159

The Stand Together team posted the pledge and a signed poster with easy ways to remember their cause:

1) I will end stigma towards youth and adults with mental illness!
2) Caring friends make all the difference in a person’s recovery.
3) I will NOT tease youth and adults with mental illness!
4) If my friend is in danger, I will try to get them help!
5) I will NOT use mean words towards ANYONE.

DSCN1165Students moved though two stations, one for each goal. At the first stations, students signed the Stand Together pledge to receive a green wristband, representing Mental Health Awareness. These bracelets served as a reminder of what the students ‘signed on’ for that day. Students then proceeded to the actual Stand, where they had to show their wristband to get a ‘kuppa Kool-Ade.’ Students were also handed a slip with a mental health/crisis resource on it. cropped slipsThese slips included information on re:SOLVE crisis center/hotline, the crisis text-line (741-741), ‘Safe Places,’ and the school resource lead, Mr. McCarthy (who is also Stand Together’s advisor!)

 

The student body sipped their Kool-Ade while learning how to stop stigma in their school. The group even got to do two of their events outside-talk about promoting mental health and self-care!!! We look forward to working with Arsenal again next year. Thanks for all your hard work, team! Kudos!

DSCN1174

Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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