Posts Tagged substance use disorders


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North Hills Stand(s) Together: #onetribe

North Hills Stand(s) Together: #onetribe

When we presented Stand Together a year ago (can you believe it?!) at North Hills HS, the answer was a quick and resounding YES! The SAP team leaped at the opportunity to better the mental health environment of their school and provide the youth with a positive means of talking about mental health. In addition, we had a lot of support from the administration; the school’s principal was previously at one of our other ST schools! We knew it was going to be a great year from the start.

Even before the ST team met to complete their training, they had already completed an activity. At the first home football game of the season, mental health facts were shared on the sound system before the game and the student section had an impactful visual: a banner with various stigmatizing words was ripped to signify the end of stigma at their school with the start of the Stand Together program. Students also held up a Stand Together banner to symbolize their school’s solidarity. (#onetribe) What a great way to kick off the year! (pun intended)

After the activity at the game, the students continued their momentum by preparing for their first project: peer-to-peer presentations to be facilitated the week after the training! Students introduced themselves and the Stand Together program and had created a PowerPoint slideshow with information and a Kahoot! game. Their peers learned the definitions of mental illness and stigma and factual information to counter some of the myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. The group wanted their peers to know that they’re not alone and it’s okay to get help.

Individuals can’t choose to have a mental and/or substance use disorder, but WE can choose to help. STAND UP, don’t stand by!

The group continued the year by sponsoring a ‘trunk’ at their community ‘Trick’or’Trunk’ halloween event to become visible to and support their community. They also hosted a Star Wars themed mindfulness event during their school’s wellness week. After focusing on self-care, the team engaged their peers in an interactive event for both students and faculty. Students wanted their peers to be aware of the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders in youth by creating paper chains that were displayed around the school. Three chain links were white for everyone one red link to help students visualize the 1:4 ratio of those affected by these disorders. (Red and white are the school’s colors.) On each link, students were encourage to anonymously share how mental and substance health disorders have affected their lives. The chain also represented how the school was ‘Stand-ing Together,’ no matter their experiences or differences (#onetribe). A great number of students participated in this activity and the chains were on display for everyone to see for several weeks.

Unfortunately, North Hills didn’t get to finish all the projects they wanted to get to this year because of Covid-19 – but that didn’t stop them from pressing forward and continuing their efforts to end stigma! The students and advisors created a moving video of themselves sharing support and mental help tips for this challenging time. They wanted to remind their peers and others that they are not alone, remind them of Stand Together’s mission, and encourage their peers to take care of themselves in various ways, including pet therapy, time outside, motivation, and how to ‘stand together,’ even ‘while standing apart.’ Students were reminded to ‘stay home, but ‘stand together,’ One of my favorite parts was at the end when advisor Ms. Wrabley held up a poster with the following tips, forming the acronym SPEAK UP!:
-Start with family
-Phone a friend
-E-mail your counselor
-Ask for help
-Keep trying
-Use resources
-Phone #1-888-You-Can (Resolve Crisis Line)

North Hills High School had an AMAZING first year and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next year. This will be difficult to top, but we know they’re up for the challenge! We certainly are #NHproud! See you in the fall!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Alcohol Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

Alcohol Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

Although Stand Together isn’t an ‘anti-drug campaign’ per se, we do discuss substance use disorders and their impact on the individuals that develop them. Alcohol is everywhere-on TV and social media and, for many youth, in their homes. It’s widely accepted because it’s legal and readily available and it’s heavily romanticized as a ‘right of passage,’ the ‘college way,’ or (and yes, I’m lame and use this word) ‘the cool thing to do.’ But the reality of the situation is that alcohol can be just as dangerous and deadly as any other substance and just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe or can’t become a problem.

I’m not going to bore you with a slew of statistics, but I wanted to note a few things I think are important to know about young adults and alcohol use.
-11% of all alcohol consumed is by under-aged youth
-18.6% of youth start drinking before the age of 13
-34.9% of teenagers have had a least 1 drink in the last 30 days
-25% of teen car crashes involve an impaired, underage driver
-Young adults that start drinking before age 15 are 4x more likely to develop substance use disorders than those who start at age 21
Clearly alcohol use by youth and young adults is a problem-and that’s why it’s important that we #talkaboutit!

A good place to start is to identify the reasons why people abuse (mis-use) or develop an addiction (dependence) on alcohol. Sometimes individuals may use substances to escape or deal with negative feelings, they might have an underlying mental health condition, use them to decrease social anxiety, or just to ‘fit in.’ Social and other media can pressure individuals into trying or using alcohol. The importance of getting good grades/into a good school, achieving in sports, or just the stress of everyday life can take its toll on an individual, especially if they already are at risk of developing or have an underlying mental health condition. If alcohol or other substances are readily available or someone sees them being used in the home, a young person could think that this is ‘normal’ and/or engage in the behavior, even at an earlier age. Right now, the coronavirus has people stuck at home experiencing loneliness and life changes far greater and more rapidly than ever before. The more stressors and risk factors an individual has in one’s life, the more likely they are to use alcohol and/or develop a substance use disorder. On an everyday basis we all encounter things that affect our mental health-how we deal with them is important.

Regardless of the reason an individual drinks, an alcohol use disorder can cause impairment in living, including health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. This includes lack of control, changes in behavior, and risky use, such as binge-drinking. Just as a mental illness affects many parts of an individual’s life, so does a substance use disorder, but it occurs with the use of a substance. And, like mental health conditions, a substance use disorder of any kind (including alcohol) can stem from biological, psychological, and environmental factors. No wonder its use is so prevalent!

Mental health and substance use disorders are clearly closely related and can not only have the same causes and effects, but also some of the same signs (remember W.H.A.P.P.*). Sometimes, individuals with a mental health condition use substances to mask the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing due to the disorder. This is called self-medicating. Often, it’s easier to use substances because someone might be afraid to or unable to get help and these substances-especially alcohol-are readily available. Many individuals that ‘self-medicate’ develop substance use disorders as a result of long-term use; this is called co-morbidity, or co-occuring disorders.

A lot of youth use alcohol and many young adults start drinking in high school or college. Although ‘experimentation’ is considered a part of the human experience (and by no means are we advocating this is okay), it’s important to be able to recognize that someone could be developing a substance use disorder. There are two kinds of disorders: abuse and addiction. An individual that abuses (or misuses) alcohol may engage in binge-drinking or excessive use (‘getting drunk’), but they’re still able to stop using; they are still in control and their use can fluctuate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences: DUIs, hang-overs/black-outs, reckless behavior, promiscuity, and violence can all occur ‘under the influence.’ When an individual experiences withdrawal and tolerance without use, they are said to have developed an addiction (or dependence). An individual at this stage will drink every day, multiple times a day, and ‘crave’ or need the substance to perform daily tasks. Addiction is considered a disease because it physically changes and individual’s body and they depend on the alcohol to function. Without alcohol, the individual could experience physical symptoms, such as over/under-sleeping, shaking, cravings, and gaining/losing wait, as well as psychological symptoms (depression, anxiety, panic, etc.).

It’s important that when you notice any or all of these signs in yourself or someone you know that you reach out to an adult you trust to get help. I know it can seem embarrassing or that you’re going ‘behind someone’s back,’ but we want people to live a successful, meaningful life-without the use of alcohol-and you could save someone’s life. The person could deny that they have an issue or are struggling; this occurs frequently. If this happens, you can still talk to an adult and be there for your friend, letting them know that you care about them, you’re there for them, and you’re there to listen whenever they’re ready to talk. (For more suggestions, check out our handout. << link)

The good news is that alcohol and other substance use disorders are treatable, there is hope, and recovery is possible. Treatment and recovery are unique to each individual and may include:
-individual or group therapy/counseling
-peer support/groups
-mental health services
-self-care (coping skills, exercise/healthy eating, spirituality, etc.)
No matter the modality, treatment addresses the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. With treatment from mental health professionals and the support from family and friends, individuals can have happy, healthy lives, YOU can connect an individual to an adult you trust to get that help and support them along their recovery journey (S.H.E.*).

Underage drinking and substance use affect everyone, just like mental health disorders. The more we educate ourselves and others, decrease the stigma associated with having these conditions and seeking help, and engage trusted adults when we’re concerned, we can prevent alcohol abuse and addiction and get individuals that are struggling the assistance they need to live a successful, meaningful life. Remember-we’re all in this together. You play an important role in connecting with your peers-take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and reach out. You could change that person’s life!

*W.H.A.P.P. (the five signs: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, poor self care)
S.H.E. (how to help: provide support, hope, and encouragement) (link to handout)

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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TJHS Poppin’ the Stigma in 2020

TJHS Poppin’ the Stigma in 2020

Thomas Jefferson High School (West Jefferson School District) got right into action ‘popping the stigma’ about mental illness and substance use disorders in their first year in the program.

As I entered the lively lunchroom, Stand Together advisors and student members were spotted hosting a table decorated with popcorn flyers and a pledge poster for their peers to sign. Since it is their first year, they decided to focus on sharing who they are as a group, as well as some of the basic information. This activity focused on the ratio of youth who are affected by mental health and/or substance use disorders (1:4). The team was ready and excited to engage with other students and staff members.

Is there a better way to ‘pop’ the stigma than with popcorn?! The Stand Together team had prepared the popcorn and filled the bags ahead of time, but they also had an active popcorn machine on site to lure students to participate with the tantalizing smell of a buttered treat. For the four lunch periods, the team rotated making announcements to their peers about the Stand Together mission and why their fellow classmates should come and get popcorn-AND learn about mental health. A generous donation of popcorn was given to TJHS by the Pittsburgh Popcorn Company. There was plenty for all the students and every teacher and staff member was gifted a bag of popcorn in their mailbox!

If they don’t come to you, go to them! We meet people where they are!

Two to three Stand Together members went around the lunchroom, coming to their peers and inviting them over to the popcorn stand; they also gave them more information about the program, the event, and mental health. While at the tables, students and staff learned that by signing the pledge, they were taking a ‘stand’ on ending the mental health stigma in their school and creating a safer and more welcoming environment.

The ST group passed out purple and green bags with a 1:4 ration sticker to seal the bag. Get this: those students and staff who got a green bag of popcorn provided a visual representation all across the room, a massive sea of one green bag to every three purple bags to show that so many people (25% in fact) are affected by mental and/or substance use disorders. I mean, come on! What a great way to set the foundation in your school, TJ!

TJHS is also very excited to roll-out an online Kahoot! game for their whole school to participate in virtually. In our current circumstances, it is very important-if not imperative-to stay connected. This team is doing just that, all while promoting mental health education and wellness practices for their school community. The group can also be followed on Instagram at @standtogethertjhs and their counseling department at @tjhscounselors. Check them out for mental health facts, inspirational messages, and wellness tips! You’ll be glad you did!

Way to go, Thomas Jefferson HS! Keep up the good work-we can’t wait to see your Kahoot!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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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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S. Allegheny Soars Above Stigma

S. Allegheny Soars Above Stigma

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

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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!

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Dorseyville MS: ‘What does the fox say?’ STOP STIGMA!

Dorseyville MS: ‘What does the fox say?’ STOP STIGMA!

Am I the only one that remembers that bizarre song? But I’m so excited to welcome Dorseyville (Fox Chapel) Middle School to the Stand Together program this year. This roaring group of almost 30 ‘foxes’ (their mascot) are ready to talk about mental and substance use disorders and ‘bark away’ stigma. (Yes, more fox puns…I couldn’t resist! – Don’t worry; they won’t be using this ridiculous phrase in their projects.)

The Dorseyville school and advisors were on-board from the very beginning. At our first meeting, there was a resounding Yes! to start a Stand Together chapter in the 2019-2020 school year. With administration, all the counselors, and a teacher advisor on-board, they were ready to jump in and hit the ground running! They easily hand-picked a large group of students to participate in the training. I was impressed with the balance of genders and variety of students they chose, including a handful of students that were not afraid to self-disclose their own experiences with mental illness.

This group was passionate from the get-go! Although it was a large group, students weren’t afraid to speak up and be heard among their peers, especially when it came to busting some of the myths and sparking conversations about examples of stigma and its negative effects on themselves and those around them. Some of the students were slow to warm-up, but eventually became comfortable with sharing in the group and were just as invested as their teammates. They learned so much so quickly-review was a blast! They really *sparkled!* (One of our review games is called Sparkle.)

The second workshop was where the students really *shined!* (see what I did there?) The students were so excited to share their ideas that I could barely get through the process discussion and examples! There were so many things that wanted their peers to know and so many ways they wanted to do so. By the end of the day, we settled on three projects with a spare if they have time at the end of the year. Lots of hands make the work light and lots of brains make the ideas flow freely!

This year, the team plans on hosting a snack stand, video/assembly, and 1:4 sticky note project. They started off thinking about doing donuts, but with 1000# students in their school, that could get pretty expensive! So they settled on brownie and lemon bites, which is a more manageable and fun alternative. Even though they’re a younger group (both in age and experience), they’re not shy about standing up in front of their peers and sharing their stories. They are also lucky enough to have a ‘Maker Space’ in their school and hope to design a fun take-away for the assembly. And, of course, the group is getting shirts to they can represent their team as they boldly stand-up to stigma by educating their peers, increasing awareness of mental and substance use disorders and stigma, and challenging myths and misconceptions that perpetuate stigma.

Welcome to the club, Dorseyville! We’re already impressed with your wealth of knowledge, wit, and willingness to share what you’ve learned and experienced with your peers. We can’t wait to see your projects in action and see the changes you make in your school and communities!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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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!

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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!

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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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