Fighting stigma – CSB awards mini-grants to six youth-led projects

Positive Minds Live Positive Lives poster Positive affirmation Post-It notes written by students

"Positive Minds Live Positive Lives" poster and student affirmations on display in schools.

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) has awarded mini-grants for six projects, all planned and led by young people, which aim to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues among their peers. Each of the projects will be implemented by September 30, 2015.

Funding for the CSB's new mini-grant program for youth-led projects is from a regional suicide prevention grant from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

"The purpose of the program is to empower and educate our youth, so that they know how to recognize a mental health concern in themselves or someone else, and won’t hesitate to get help," says Jamie MacDonald, Director of CSB Wellness, Health Promotion, and Prevention Services.

The six grants were awarded to:  

  • Falls Church High School Safe Place Club – The Safe Place Club is a support group to help students with their struggles. Safe Place members may not be the group of friends that teens normally associate with, however it is a group of nonjudgmental people who will sit with, listen to, and care for others. Safe Place members will wear buttons on their backpacks, as a subtle hint that the person wearing it is a "friend to everyone." The Safe Place Club will sponsor fun activities such as anti-stress days and seminars with speakers.
  • Gum Springs Computer Clubhouse – Teens will work with mental health professionals to gather information about the stigma associated with coming forward with mental illness. With best practices from experts on how to reach someone that may be experiencing mental illness, the participants will develop short, informative and compassionate Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Messages will be produced in different formats, including flyers, audio and video. Teens will promote the messages through social media and advocate for their PSAs to be included on morning news shows at local middle and high schools. The PSAs will let teens know that if they are struggling, or if they suspect that someone that they care about is suffering, help is available and effective.
  • Josh Anderson Foundation – Students and the counseling staff at Oakton High School and Carson Middle School implemented a "Stress Less, Laugh More" campaign the week of May 26-29 to educate, engage, and aid students in learning how to proactively deal with stress and anxiety. Both schools provided materials on stress management, while engaging students through activities such as the ‘Stress O’Meter,’ where students place a sticker on the ticker that denotes how stressed they are, as well as a "How do you relax?" poster and a "What makes you happy?" poster for students to fill in. Both schools also encouraged spirit days such as "Pajama Day" and "Flip Flop Day."
  • Madison Matters (Madison High School) – During the week of May 26, students raised mental health awareness by handing out wristbands and having an essay contest about mental health. They also put up three huge chalkboards around the school asking questions about mental health to facilitate "visual conversations" among students. Librarians recommended books on mental health topics and students painted a mental health mural with the student hand prints which will be added to every year that the campaign runs. Students tweeted the hashtag #MADiSONmatterS to encourage students to recognize the positive attributes in their peers and to tag someone else in their post to pass along the encouragement. Students were provided information on resources available to them within the school, such as the school psychologist, and where they can access support. Faculty and students participated in panel discussions to facilitate conversation and create a safe environment.
  • Quander Road School – Students in "Ms. Bottle's Gardening Group," a personal development class dedicated to mitigating depression and anxiety through environmental activities and education, will develop and produce a video project that challenges viewers to respond to mental health concerns with the same care and support as they would for other life threatening health conditions. The approach will use humor and irony to help educate teens about the very real dangers of untreated mental health conditions.
  • Washington Christian Counseling Institute Youth Council – This project used social media and promotional items to engage four local Korean-American church youth groups and Korean-American students in four local high schools. With an awareness of unique cultural nuances, the project sought to educate with accurate information about mental illness and normalize the conversation to reduce stigma. The project provided facts concerning mental health, information about how to identify mental health problems, how to seek help, and how each individual can advocate for the mental health of themselves as well as their peers.

"One in every five people in the U.S. experiences a mental health disorder every year," says MacDonald. "Mental health disorders are common and treatable, but people are often reluctant seek help because of the misunderstanding and stigma they may experience due to their diagnosis."

By providing some resources to youth-led projects, the CSB seeks to inspire young people to be the driving force for a positive culture change to eliminate the stigma around mental illness.

June 29, 2015

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