Posts Tagged voice


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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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the Academy: Intense, Driven, and Vocal

the Academy: Intense, Driven, and Vocal

This was the Academy’s first year in Stand Together and I was so impressed with their willingness to dive right in and get started on stopping the stigma related to mental illness and substance abuse. Their Stand Together group was comprised of all high school students that are seen as leaders of the school. Throughout the training, I saw exactly why these students were chosen to lead their school. They all had such a drive and weren’t afraid to voice how they were feeling.

DSCN0837On the first day, we discussed what exactly mental illness and substance abuse are. The group discussions were intense and filled with thought-provoking responses. We also played Stop the Stigma Bingo, which let the students and adults see how much they had in common and to display how we all are more common than we are different. Another activity that the students really enjoyed was Where Do You DSCN0838-2Stand, where the facilitator says statements and the students must decide if they agree or disagree with it. All the students were ready and able to explain why they either agreed or disagreed. They respected each other’s opinions and truly practiced listening to one another without interruption.

DSCN0866-2On the second day, the students engaged in project planning. I was amazed to see how in tune they were regarding what the students at their school would be interested in and what they wouldn’t respond to positively. They were able to come up with some creative ideas that would be possible to implement within their school to reach our goal of reducing stigma.DSCN0842

Fantastic job the Academy students! I cannot wait to see the positive impact each one of you has on your school. Your courage to educate and spread awareness is something to be proud of. Also, a big shout out to the school advisors Ms. Turkovic and Ms. Sroka! This program wouldn’t be possible at their school without them.

 

 

(written by Lacey, Project Trainer)

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