Posts Tagged social inclusion


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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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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

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Shaler MS is On Their Way

Shaler MS is On Their Way

Middle school can be a challenging time, especially if someone has a mental and/or substance use disorder. Shaler Area Middle School wants to decrease the stigma associated with these conditions by increasing education and awareness and promoting social inclusion. This is the group’s second year in the program and it was great to see some familiar faces as well as meet new additions to the team.

Even though the students had already attended their first classes for the day, it took a little effort to wake them up. To get them moving, we kick-off with an exercise that not only gets the blood flowing, but teaches them something along the way. Students are directed to jump up and down 10 times while whispering their favorite colors. Obviously, participants at opposite ends of the room wouldn’t be able to hear each other, but just because the other student couldn’t hear it, didn’t mean that person didn’t have a favorite color. This is a lot like mental and substance use disorders-just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Students learned not only about the definitions and prevalence of these conditions, but, more importantly, how they affect individuals outside the symptoms of the disorder. Students learned about the impact of stigma on their peers-and what they can do to help. W.H.A.P.P. was introduced to help students recognize the signs that someone may be struggling and students used S.H.E. in scenarios to think about how they would help a peer that was struggling by providing support, hope, and encouragement and reaching out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themselves or someone else. Students also got to know each other better and realized they had more in common than they thought, creating a sense of unity in the group and reaffirming their commitment to the program and each other.

After completing their first day of training, students were ready to start using the education and experiences to design projects to decrease stigma in their school. Students were excited to included food (because who doesn’t like getting free food) again this year and also expand on myths and facts. The group also wants their peers to be more aware that a lot of people struggle with these disorders and #itsokaytonotbeokay. They want to create a culture of acceptance and support where their peers feel welcome and know that they matter. The support of family and friends is so important in recovery and for wellness and the more we engage others, the more we create relationships that foster connection and trust. When these qualities exist, people feel comfortable talking about their experiences, sharing their feelings, and reaching out for help. And that’s what Stand Together is all about.

By the end of the day, I was really impressed with the groups innovative ideas and slogans and lofty goals for the year. Their passion will only help propel them forward as they continue planning and implement their projects. Hopscotch, paper chains, popsicles, and Kahoot! will all be used to entice their peers and further their anti-stigma message in a fun, but purposeful way. Personally I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that we can ‘Freeze Away Stigma,’ but that’s just me…

These group is sure to change minds, hearts, and even lives by challenging myths and bringing their peers together to end stigma. We look forward to another year at SAMS and can’t wait to see your projects grow!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Perry HS: Capturing Connection & Conquering Stigma

Perry HS: Capturing Connection & Conquering Stigma

Perry High has returned for their second year of Stand Together. Newcomers and returning students put their knowledge to the test. Although this group is small, their ideas to stop stigma in their school are grand!

Two days of training really solidified and unified the group. Students were tested on their mental health IQ and participated in team-building activities. Students also asked important questions about seeking help and really want to focus on getting the ‘real facts’ about mental and substance use disorders out to their peers. They want them to know that their voice matters! They also want to build stronger bonds with their teachers and staff; they believe this will help create a more accepting atmosphere and help their peers communicate their mental health needs.

Project planning was an exciting time! This year, the group plans on creating a photo booth to capture memories and build connections between their peers. Each photo booth will have a different theme and activity throughout the year. The plan is entice their peers and faculty/staff with fun props and games to promote awareness, encourage strangers to get to know someone knew, and to encourage more interaction between staff and students.

They also want to use the photo booth to educate their peers on the WHAPP signs and symptoms; youth should look out for withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care; these could be an indicator that someone is emotionally struggling and needs help. The booths will also lace a 1:4 theme throughout to raise awareness about the impact and mental and substance use disorders.

The photos from these booths will be printed and displayed in the school’s ‘Hall of Fame’ with mental health facts and inspiring messages for all to see.

Great job with project planning! We can’t wait to see the connections you capture during your events!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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SPHS Eagles are Stronger than Stigma

SPHS Eagles are Stronger than Stigma

The South Park High School Stand Together team returns for its second year in the program. With the help of a returning member, new recruits filled the activity room. This year, the group is fueled by girl power! These young ladies know how challenging it is to speak freely about struggling with mental and substance use disorders and they want to make sure their fellow peers know that their group is all-inclusive and a very important program in their school.

Through-out the two training workshops, this mixed group of students learned about mental and substance use disorders, as well as stigma. They participated in several team building activities and by the end of the second day, new friendships were budding. To create a deeper bond, the group took part in ‘Common Ground,’ as well as partnering up with a peer they didn’t know very well. The girls also participated in our most meaningful activity, ‘Cross the Line.’ It didn’t take long for each participant to realize that they have a lot more in common with their fellow classmates than they thought before and that no one is alone.

After a full day of education and discussing the facts, these Eagles were ready to soar into project planning and sharing ideas. After a quick review and a few more team-building activities, the students shared their thoughts on what they’d like their peers and staff to know. They all agreed that #itsokaytonotbeokay. The students broke into small groups to work through their ideas and came up with several seasonal activities for the school-year.

A major event at South Park is their Winter Festivus. Capitalizing on this existing event, they will be hosting their first ‘truth booth.’ At this ‘booth,’ peers and staff can anonymously share their feelings on a custom-made snowflake. The students will then use the snowflakes as a decoration in their school and, more importantly, to display the impact of mental and substance use disorders. The group also plans on having seasonal truth booths through-out the year to continue to promote awareness and social inclusion.

They want to continue to promote social inclusion with a 1:4 day activity fair. To attract more males to participate, they decided to make a sort-of athletic competition and have a trivia 1:4 game toss. The 1:4 theme would be displayed on the bottles with the slogan, ‘Don’t bottle it up!’ After answering questions and tossing rings, they would be able to earn prizes.

With catchy slogans and fun prize ideas, we’re certain these projects will have a lasting impression on their school. Keep on soaring above stigma-we’re looking forward to your school projects!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

The sun shined though the huge glass windows in the Lounge at North Allegheny Intermediate High School in early November, welcoming students to their first training workshop. It’s NAI’s first year in the program (jumping on the bandwagon from NASH’s participation last year) and as the Fall leaves swirled around, signifying the change of the seasons, the students were eager to start changing the culture around mental health in their school.

Students shared a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun while learning and growing together. Students learned about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, and how to help their peers. They also got to know each other in fun games, such as Common Ground, that encourage them to build relationships with each other. Our teams act as ‘micro-cosms’ to their schools and the connections they make during the trainings will overflow onto their classmates as well, promoting social inclusion (one of our goals). The group left the first day with the education and experience to come back the following week to start planning projects to end stigma in their school.

Students were eager to share their ideas with the team and ‘dive right in’ the second training workshop. Students thought it was very important for their peers to know that many people (1:4!) are living with mental and/or substance use disorders and that they are not alone in their struggles. Another important focus was to share resources and encourage students to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re worried about themselves or someone else (another one of our goals).

We stress that students are not counselors and that weight is not theirs to bear, but there are things they can do to support a friend or family member, summed up in the acronym S.H.E.: provide support, hope, and encouragement. Youth can also continue to include students in daily activities, encourage their peers in their treatment and coping skills, and just be there for them. We don’t have to ‘fix’ things others are struggling with and it can be scary to sit in the silence, but sometimes, all someone needs is someone to sit with them in their struggle to remind them that they are not alone and that you are there for them.

The NAI team plans to implement a food and candy stand, host a 1:4 photo booth, and create a video to connect students to resources and adults to get help. Their slogan, ‘Tigers Talk about It!’ reminds their peers that #itsokaytonotbeokay and that #itsokaytogethelp. They want to normalize conversations about mental health in their school and help others on their journeys by uniting the student body in solidarity to end stigma.

We can’t wait to see your projects in action, stop by for some sweet treats, and learn about the changes you’ve made in your school with your passion and projects. Keep up the great work!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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CAPA: Stigma Stopping Stallions Return

CAPA: Stigma Stopping Stallions Return

Bright and early, the Creative and Performing Arts Academy high school students filled the library to participate in their second year of Stand Together.

Although some of these ‘unicorns’ (their mascot) had graduated, returning students and new students alike thrived in review games and discussions. The team retained a lot of the information about mental and substance use disorders and, more importantly, how to combat the stigma associated with these disorders. The group got to know each other further during our team-building activities and found ‘common ground’ with each other. Finding these similarities helped them come up with wonderful ideas to stop the stigma in their school and even talk to a peer they might not have connected with before their training.

The second workshop was even more eventful. Students participated in a Jeopardy-style review and shared their input on what they would like their peers and staff to know about the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders. They also had the opportunity to map out their ideas in mini-groups and piece together a line-up of powerful anti-stigma projects.

This year, the Stigma Stopping Stallions decided to revisit their art gallery idea, planning to host a space that displays not only art, but also information about mental and substance use disorders. This area will include an anonymous booth for peers and staff to post messages that could possibly be turned into an art piece in the gallery, as well. Another cool idea that will last for years to come are ‘mini-zines.’ Using the information they learned from the training, this group plans on designing and distributing a small, interactive magazine to present to their peers and faculty as an educational tool to spread the word about Stand Together and our message.

No battle is too big for these superheroes! CAPA, we’re excited to see all the creative projects you are working on this year to be implemented in your school!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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SciTech: Serious about Stopping Stigma

SciTech: Serious about Stopping Stigma

SciTech is ready to combat mental and substance use disorder stigma in their school! No stranger to the Stand Together program, this year students returned full steam ahead. With a mix of grade levels and experiences, this group of students spent two Fridays together, refreshing their knowledge of mental and substance use disorders, learning about each other, and planning projects for their school-mates. The team had been meeting before the training to really focus on what they’d like to see change in their school environment. Senior participants are really invested this year and determined to leave a mark in their high school before they move on to future endeavors.

This group has the energy and passion to really connect with their peers on a deeper level. After their first day of training and some review, the group generated ideas in mini-brainstorming sessions. Sparks of inspiration fueled their mission to really bridge the connection between students, teachers, and staff.

The SciTech Stand Together team discussed presenting educational sessions to their staff; they thought this would be more meaningful and impactful than having someone else come in and hold a professional development event. They also wanted a ‘grand-scale’ effort to increase social inclusion in their school; they decided to host an interactive and educational neon ‘glow dance’ for their student body to connect and learn while having a fun time. It’s clear this team is serious about making a change!

Welcome back, SciTech High! We cannot wait to see how your great ideas unfold into wonderful stigma-stopping projects in your school!

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West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West Allegheny High School is returning for its third year in the program and they continue to amaze us with their creativity, passion, and vulnerability. Half of their members returned this year, committed to continue their work to address stigma in their school. With a diverse group and a handful of staff support, this group is well on their way to another amazing year-and they’ve upped their game to Tier 3! There was no doubt in my mind they would rise to the occasion and blow us away with their ideas.

To decrease stigma, it’s important to increase education and awareness to break down the stereotypes and myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. One of the first things we stress is that these are diagnosable conditions (by a mental health professional) that occur frequently and over a long period of time. It’s not just the ups-and-downs of every day life; we all feel anxious and sad from time-to-time (we asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever felt this way in the picture above), but when it starts to affect someone’s daily life, that’s when it’s important to reach out for help.

In the HS curriculum in particular, we also discuss various diagnoses and definitions. Students learn about the eight most common mental health conditions and the similarities and differences among them. Although we don’t expect the students to memorize these disorders, we want them to be aware of the correct definitions so that they can address the stigma associated with specific ones. For example, most people use ‘OCD’ as an adjective, like it’s just about being ‘neat’ or ‘picky,’ but in reality, OCD is a disorder involving obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s not just that someone likes things a certain way, but they are following certain rules, rituals, and routines; things have to be a certain way. No matter the diagnoses, most disorders can be associated with five major signs and symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care, or WHAPP! (as we like to call it). Students recognize that when they notice these in themselves or someone else, it’s important to reach out to an adult they trust.

Students at West Allegheny also take part in an activity called Climate Change. In this activity, students think about the positive and negative characteristics of their school environment, what an ideal culture would look like, and think about how they can get there. One of Stand Together’s goals focuses on social inclusion-all students and staff are welcomed and included in the social fabric of the school. They used this idea to plan one of their projects the second day. (see below)

The team at West A has always been passionate about reaching their Freshman class as soon as they enter the building. For the past two years they have held a freshman assembly with information about mental health and Stand Together, games, and a recovery speaker. This year they’re going to take it a step further. After their assembly in the fall, this Spring, the students will be entering the health classrooms to spend three-yes, THREE!-days sharing information with their peers, engaging them in fun activities, and showing them a self-created film they will be producing that will include both students and staff sharing personal stories about their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. One of their advisors, Ms. D, is the health teacher and it was a natural connection to expand her unit with peer-to-peer instruction from Stand Together students. We always say, it’s one thing if an adult tells you something, but it’s quite another if you hear it from someone your age, someone you know…it has a much greater impact.

Students have also planned a Stop Stigma Speed Run (or Triple S Grand Prix) obstacle course for students in gym class. Participants will rotate through different activities learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma while engaging in fun activities and physical games. The team will also be painting a mural with silhouettes of the team and a pledge for their school to ‘end stigma’ by ‘creating a self and welcoming environment’ for students and staff, regardless of whether or not an individual has a mental health, substance use disorder, or any other difference or diagnosis.

We’re looking forward to see how great an impact this team makes at their school this year. We know they’re going to change the environment and even lives. See you soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS was another team that lost a large group of seniors from last year and is smaller than some of our other groups, but they definitely make up for it in passion and commitment. This group is only 10 members LARGE if you measure it by the size of their hearts!

One thing very special about this group is that they bring a wealth of personal experience to the table and aren’t afraid to #talkaboutit and be vulnerable with each other. Each individual’s experience was unique and we had some great discussions about stigma, the media, and how to combat it.

Are you ready to WHAPP?! (Rather, do you know the five signs?)

Like most teams, the Shaler HS group LOVED the buzzer games, but I’d say this was pretty intense! I’m glad we had lots of laughs playing Common Ground and thoughtful responses to the scenarios to balance it out. They had such a good time laughing and learning together and were ready to start their project planning filled with excitement and drive.

By the end of the second day, the group came up with several projects to reach their peers where they are (even if it means bathroom stalls), make connections and foster relationships with staff, and host a mental health a-WEAR-ness week to rally the whole school. They were also excited to use the LEAD/JED There’s Help All Around You posters to remind students that #itsokaytonotbeokay and #itsokaytogethelp.

We’re excited to see their projects in action this spring as they increase awareness, promote social inclusion, and start forming relationships with staff to encourage reaching out for help. 10 students, 3 goals, 3 project, and 2 advisors are ready to change their school-and the world!

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