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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
Stand Together students had another phenomenal year and our team couldn’t wait to celebrate with and recognize them for all of their hard work to end stigma in their schools! I had the pleasure of working with many of our high schools this year and they blew me away with their passion, commitment, and courage.
This year’s projects were innovative, creative, and incredibly impactful. We trained nine high schools, seven completed projects, and six participated in the recognition event. Here’s what the students designed and implemented at their schools this year:
The Academy Charter School: The Academy chose a different approach to decreasing stigma in their school by creating a ‘safe space’ for students who might be struggling with something. This room was staffed by faculty and had many coping techniques available, including quiet music, comfy chairs, sensory objects, and inspirational MH images. In addition, the students promoted education and self-care with the faculty by giving out cups with coffee/tea, an awareness wristband, and a bookmark with the ST anti-stigma pledge on it. In working with the faculty, they hoped to increase their knowledge and change attitudes that would hopefully filter down to the students.
Taylor Allderdice High School (PPS): The students at Allderdice created and presented a mini-presentation about mental health and stigma to the freshman Civics classes. In addition, they worked with the art department to create a dragon (their mascot) painting. Students signed flames agreeing to ‘breath fire on stigma.’ This mural will remain a permanent fixture at the school signifying their solidarity in the fight against stigma. The Stand Together team finished their year with an 1:4 assembly, in which mental health and stigma was reviewed and the students were rewarded by pie-ing four teachers in the face for their participation in the year’s activities.
Propel-Braddock Hills High School: Propel HS has been in Stand Together for all five years! Switching things up from their typical ‘Black Out Stigma’ theme, this year the Stand Together students chose ‘BLOCK Out Stigma.‘ This theme utilized larger-than-life lego blocks for their projects that addressed all three of Stand Together’s goals: 1) ‘Block’ Stigma (education/awareness); 2) ‘Build’ Relationships (social inclusion); and 3) ‘Lego’ of Fear (ask-an-adult). Students did activities within their ‘crews’ (like homeroom) and during a ‘Block Party‘ during lunch. (All those puns!) PBHHS always comes up with out-of-the-box ideas that really get the student body interested and involved in Stand Together at their school.
Science & Technology Academy: Although SciTech’s group was small, they were mighty! Students were given cups of Lemonade for Change that had mental health facts on them. The team used the lemonade as an incentive to get their peers to visit their booth and learn about mental health in a casual environment. The team also made posters that were shared around the school to remind the students of what they had learned during the activities. They mentioned they could definitely see an impact with their students and that students were very receptive and interested in what they had to say. Sounds like a success!
Shaler Area High School: Although it was their first year in Stand Together, Shaler did a great job incorporating two goals into two projects. During lunch, the team had students ‘Take a Bite out of Stigma‘ by reading facts about mental health and substance use disorders and stigma (education/awareness) before receiving a cookie. Students also participated in a social inclusion, ‘No One is Alone.‘ Several prompts were provided on a large poster and students had color-coded post-it notes to anonymously respond to the statements if they applied to themselves or someone they know. These statements included such as: I have been personally affected by a mental illness; I have been personally affected by substance use; I’ve felt excluded or disadvantaged. Students also received a ‘sucker to stop stigma.’ This project was incredibly moving; the post-its filled the entire poster and it was powerful to see so many students being honest about their struggles, but also have the visual to see that they are never alone in what they’re going through.
West Allegheny High School: A first-year school like Shaler, West A. did fantastic projects that were presented the information in fun, free food projects that were meaningful and memorable. Students not only engaged in ‘food give-aways‘ (including cookies, HerSHEy kisses, and gum>>check out their other blog for the great slogans!), but also began and ended their project season with assemblies for the student body. The first included an overview of Stand Together and mental health and the last had students participate in a ‘Mental Health Jeopardy.’ Trainer Danyelle also shared her recovery story for the group. The team remarked that students really enjoyed the activities and are excited to continue participating in Stand Together next year.
West Mifflin Area High School: This is also WMHS’s fifth year with Stand Together. This year’s projects included an ‘I am…’ reflective mural, their annual Glow Dance so spread awareness about mental health and substance use disorders and suicide, and a Mental Health Fair, featuring a Celebrity Art Gallery, depicting and describing celebrities that are affected by MH/SUD. Students have promoted social inclusion in a Worry Monster, in which students would right down a struggle with anxiety and students could see that they are not alone ; the team also responded to these with uplifting messages of encouragement and hope. In addition, the school’s ‘Safe Haven’ program promotes relationships with adults by creating ‘safe classrooms’ and ‘safe teachers’ that are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and are willing and able to help students get the help they need.
Lacey and I are incredibly proud of all of our high schools and we look forward to working with you again next year! If you want to see more of these amazing projects, check out our YouTube Playlist, the individual school blogs, and the full-length Stand Together Student Project Reel 2018 below:
Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator
Stand Together, meet West Allegheny High School. This is the school’s first year in this program and I was blown away by the student’s passion for mental health and advocacy, as well as overcoming barriers to treatment. They were not afraid to voice their ideas and opinions and shared some really great knowledge and very humbling personal experiences. Bonus: multiple members of their mental health team at their school are all working together to support the group! Take a look at our workshops:
Right from the get-go it was evident that these teens knew what what up (stigma) and wanted to change it. Their responses to our ‘Mental illness is…’ and ‘Stigma is…’ activity were exceptional! I knew we were starting the day on a high note. Students also really enjoyed the empathy activity (‘Walking in My Shoes’) and had some amazing listening skills.
This group of students also tried out a new activity in the afternoon: Climate Change. Change is hard, but it’s important for our participants to be the ‘change agents’ in their school when it comes to breaking down stigma. But if you don’t know where you’re going, most road will get you there… The students started exploring what some of the positive and negative things about the current school ‘climate’ (environment) and also came up with what a ‘warm,’ inviting atmosphere would look like. Using this framework, they would brainstorm ways to promote a more socially inclusive environment in their school, especially in regards to mental health. This activity went very well and we’re definitely considering it making it an addition to our current programming next year!
The following week we returned for project planning and once again, the students really hit the ground running. They were so passionate and had many creative ideas. ‘Common Ground’ is always a favorite break activity. The students were so attentive and detail-oriented. Even though they’re doing ‘Lemonade for Change,’ their implementing their projects in three different ways, something that we’ve never seen before! I’m personally incredibly excited and hope to attend as many of them as I can! Who can turn down free Hershey kisses, gum, and cookies?! They want to focus a lot of their attention on de-stigmatizing going to see school mental health professionals! How cool is that?!
For a first year school, this group are real rock stars in the mental health revolution! Check out their projects…coming February 2018!!!
(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)