Community Effort: How to Use Work to Put Mental Health Stigmas to Rest

“Are you ready?”

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a Glade Run vehicle, watching Tara Harvan, the Glade Run Transitions Program Coordinator, help our Transitions students get settled in the car. The students are dressed in their Transitions Program work shirt, ID badge, and mud boots. We are on our way to the Adventures Farm, which is a small local farm on Glade Run’s main campus where our students can learn soft skills needed for employment after high school.

“Are you ready?”, she asks the students again. With smiles and laughter from the back seat, we set off.

The Glade Run Transitions Program is an innovative curriculum developed by experts who believe that students are most successful when purposefully engaged in self-directed and experiential learning. As part of the program, Glade Run staff work with students and their parents to develop an individualized curriculum that will teach each student the life skills needed to successfully live independently in their community after high school. Students are provided with guidance as they engage in skill development, meet employment goals, and improve independent living skills.

The students who participate in the program are not your average high school students. All of our students are referred to Glade Run from over 50 local school districts in Western Pennsylvania and come to Glade Run with one or more mental, emotional, or behavioral health diagnoses. Many of these students also have a dual diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in addition to their other mental health issues. For our students, learning basic life skills is an important and necessary step towards helping them live independently in their communities as adults.

Glade Run’s primary focus is offering critical and strategic mental health services to the local community. However, the stigma against mental health dramatically hinders our work by keeping individuals who may need our specialized services from reaching out in their time of need. Consequently, Glade Run has made a commitment to help end the mental health stigma in Western Pennsylvania.

As part of this effort, Glade Run encourages local businesses like the Adventures Farm to participate in our Transitions programming by offering opportunities for part time work and mentorship to our students. Not only does Transitions provide supportive services to our students, it can also be a great way for local businesses to meet their employment needs while including disadvantaged populations in the community in their workforce.

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Aeron, a student in the Transitions program lends a hand at Adventures.

The benefits of this inclusion are endless. For many of our students, who have been repeatedly told they are different and incapable of “real” work, getting to work alongside community members as an employee provides them with self confidence that can make all the difference in them feeling capable and valued. Additionally, they are able to learn both job and life skills as they learn to dress for work, complete assigned job duties, and manage their personal spending.

For individuals who are not affected by a mental, emotional, or behavioral health issue, performing simple tasks can be taken for granted. For the youth in the Glade Run Transitions Program, however, successfully completing even small tasks means taking one step closer to reaching therapeutic and educational goals.

At the Adventures Farm, I was fortunate to see the difference this program makes in person. Students were mentored by an Adventures employee and were able to utilize a farm environment to gain soft skills needed for employment. Students learned to follow a feeding chart schedule to feed the horses, harness and turn the horses out into the pasture, clean stalls, and feed and water the chickens and sheep. Some students found each job a challenge and needed extra support to complete their job duties. Others excelled at their job tasks, impressing the mentors, transition coach, and fellow peers. Every student found working with the animals at the Adventures Farm a thrilling experience and an opportunity to gain independence and employment skills.

Glade Run would like to see every community make the same commitment to end the stigma against individuals with mental health diagnoses by including them in their businesses. The possibilities for inclusion are countless, and the benefits are innumerous.

We’re ready to end the mental health stigma. Are you?

About the Author

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Angelica Perry is the Grant Writer/Professional Writer for Glade Run Lutheran Services in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Originally from New Mexico, Angelica graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Technical Communication with Honors from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico. In her free time, she enjoys reading, crafting, and dancing. She moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in March 2015 to launch her career in nonprofit work and mental health advocacy.

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