Welcome to those of you who have been loyal followers of my blog on mental illness, addiction and criminal justice reform. I will continue blogging on these topics from my new blog on this website. I hope you will continue to follow the blog and raise awareness about mental illness, addiction and criminal justice so that we can remove the stigma from these conditions.
I recently read about a group of 24 middle school students at West Mifflin Middle School, outside of Pittsburgh, PA, who have responded to a challenge from The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) to stop stigmatizing mental illness. The students meet after school every Thursday to brainstorm ways to make a difference in their school. They raised money for NAMI and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with cupcake sales and their annual glow dance.
They gave a presentation called Stand Together to the entire student body, over 1,200 students, on mental health and stigma. The audience took a survey before and after the assembly to see what they had learned from the presentation. The Stand Together students also hosted a movie night for students and parents to show the film I am Sam because of the strong message it portrays about people who are “different.”
The group chose the film because it addresses preconceived notions about a person with a disability and how often we recoil from or ignore that person. The students talked to the audience before and after the movie about how we, as a society, stereotype people who are different and how we have to do better.
One of the students, Olivia, age 13, said “My brain is an organ the same way as my heart. When I say something’s wrong with my heart, [doctors] come running. But when I say there’s something wrong with my brain, they run the other way.”
Joining the Stand Together group helped the students realize that certain words like “crazy” are hurtful and how bullying is part of stigmatization. Please take a moment to watch their YouTube video:
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has created a program called “Stigma Free” to fight stigma. The three steps include:
1. Live It! By learning about mental health and educating yourself and others.
2. Share It! By striving to listen, telling your own story on social media and seeing the person, not the illness.
3. Show It! By taking action on mental health issues, raising awareness and making a difference.
I hope that you will continue to post your comments on my blog so we can Stand Together with the middle school students in Pittsburgh!