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 DHS News November 2013     


Group Members “Stand Together” to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma

Dedicated work by a volunteer Department of Human Services (DHS) stakeholder committee has resulted in a $100,000 grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation to move a mental illness anti-stigma project forward in nearly a dozen middle and high schools in the region.

The eight members of the stakeholder group worked for 18 months on their own time to get the anti-stigma project going, said Michael Gruber, OBH Systems Transformation Specialist in the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), who organized the group. It consists of representatives from DHS provider agencies and people who have themselves experienced ostracism and discrimination as a result of their illnesses.

“We were very excited to hear about the grant,” Michael said. “The committee members were really committed to doing something about stigma toward people with mental health illnesses. They saw the potential to help shape youth perception about people and to help them grow up without holding a stigma toward people with mental illness.”

The nonprofit Pittsburgh Cares received the grant, which will fund the campaign, called Stand Together.  The money will fund training and public service projects completed by students at Pittsburgh Perry High School, Pittsburgh South Brook Middle School, Propel Braddock Hills High School, South Allegheny Middle and High School, South Park High School, West Mifflin Area Middle and High schools, and Woodland Hills Junior High School.

Stand Together will formally get underway this month and continue for two years. Michael said the fact that it is starting so soon after getting the grant – issued in September – is a testament to the dedication of the stakeholder group.  Pittsburgh Cares applied for the grant in the spring and the stakeholders continued to work on the project for months afterward, not knowing if the grant would come through.

When it did, so much work had been completed by the stakeholders committee that Stand Together was ready to go, Michael said. Teachers will select 20 to 25 students at each school to participate and they will develop project proposals by mid-January.

DHS will contribute in-kind services to the project, including data collection and providing a content expert to answer questions at trainings.

Stand Together has as goals decreasing negative attitudes and beliefs among adolescents about peers and adults with mental disorders and/or substance use disorder; decreasing social distance between the groups; and encouraging adolescents to speak to an adult when they are concerned about a peer exhibiting possible signs of mental illness or substance use disorders.

Students will train, conduct research, develop a community service project and more. They will apply for mini-grants of $100 to $1,000 from Pittsburgh Cares to fund their projects.

Jamie Harris, Director of Advocacy Programs at Mental Health America Allegheny County, who chaired the stakeholder group, said the project’s fit with Pittsburgh Cares was perfect.  The group carefully considered its goals and outcomes, and Pittsburgh Cares’ role as a leader regionally in educational projects and its continuing relationships with school districts meant Stand Together could move forward quickly and easily.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Jamie said. “The partnership makes it more likely the project will be able to grow and develop.”

She praised Mike and the stakeholder group.

“I think Mike Gruber did an incredible job of driving this project. It was really fantastic to work with him and the other members of the committee who were really committed to this.”

People who have experienced the stigma of mental illness who would like to speak in workshops may contact Mike at Michael.gruber@alleghenycounty.us. To be a blogger on the Stand Together website, standtogether.pittsburghcares.org, contact Holly McGraw-Turkovic at hmcgraw@pittsburghcares.org.



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