Allegheny County, Pa.
Stand Together is an Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) Office of Behavioral Health anti-stigma initiative that trains, inspires, and equips middle and high school youth to act against stigma toward peers with mental and/or substance use disorders. Stand Together seeks to reduce negative attitudes and beliefs, promote social inclusion, and promote help-seeking behavior by youth. Each school identifies an adult advisor to champion Stand Together and selects approximately 20 students, comprised of student leaders as well as students who have lived experience with mental and/or substance use disorders, who comprise the core team. After undergoing training, these students write a grant proposal to the DHS Office of Behavioral Health and are awarded up to $1,000 to implement their project. Projects are entirely student-driven from ideas to implementation, with advisors serving as coaches. After the student projects are completed, the DHS Office of Behavioral Health sponsors a recognition event at the Heinz History Center in which each school showcases its project through presentations and displays to the other schools. In the first three years of the project, data collected from a standardized survey tool administered to the core team students immediately after training and at the end of the school year demonstrated increased learning of factual knowledge about mental disorders, more positive attitudes toward peers who have mental disorders, and an increased willingness to interact with peers with mental disorders in a variety of school and social settings. Students projects are changing change the culture at their schools in that talking about mental health and substance use issues is no longer a taboo subject and more students are reaching out for help than before the project started. Advisors, teachers, and school principals are reporting increased acceptance and inclusion of students with these disorders due to Stand Together.
Ms. Sue Martone
Assistant Deputy Dir., Office of Behavioral Health