July 17, 2019
The NAN Project on Chronicle

The NAN Project was again featured on Chronicle, this time as part of their coverage of Suicide Prevention organizations and resources for National Suicide Prevention Week. Special coverage is given to our recently completed film, “13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Suicide.” Watch the segment here!

July 15, 2019
Filming with MindWise

The NAN Project Team spent the afternoon filming with MindWise to create a new, updated video for their SOS Signs of Suicide school-based curriculum. We used a couple of our peer mentors for the video, while they were being asked questions about their journey to recovery and how they stayed strong. Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola was also recorded for her own segment, for a deeper dive into her story. 

We cannot wait to see the final product! Thank you to MindWise for letting us be apart of your video that will be broadcasted to thousands of students all across America!

‘The Promise of Hope’ with Malden Access TV

This March, a team of our Peer Mentors reflected on their recovery for the first episode of ‘The Promise of Hope,’ a segment filmed for Malden Access TV. We had a blast working with the staff of MATV, as well as the film crew – all young adults themselves and students of Malden High School and Middle School!

To watch the episode, click here or watch below!

July 2, 2019
QPR in North Hampton

By Sarah Dickie

Earlier in June, the NAN Project sent a few members of our team to Western Massachusetts for certification in leading QPR training for suicide prevention. Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola and Senior Peer Mentors Sarah Dickie and Onix Jimenez trekked up to Northampton the night before to enjoy a stay in the beautiful hotel Ellery. Elli and Sarah, arriving early in the afternoon, passed the time with a scenic walk down Main Street in the shopping district. We explored local shops and had delicious hibachi for dinner, giving us a chance to spend quality time together and build our working relationship. 

Training proceeded on Thursday, June 6th at Hotel Northampton from 8am to 4pm. An impressive spread of pastries, fruits, and coffee greeted us as we entered the sunny conference room. Floor-to-ceiling windows draped in luxurious, intricate curtains surrounded tables topped with white satin-esque tablecloths. The elegance of it all was daunting. Our team was feeling a bit nervous, a little out of our league, maybe (as this was the first time any of us had taken a trip like this for work), but we were overwhelmingly excited to learn and flex our mental health muscles. 

Before training began, we had the chance to enjoy the provided breakfast and socialize with the other trainees: some social workers, some teachers, some nurses, some police officers. We got to share our mission with them and make some new connections with school staff before the upcoming academic year of classroom presentations. Despite our different careers, we had all gathered there with the goal of better equipping ourselves to prevent suicide, lending us a powerful feeling of unification. 

QPR – standing for Question, Persuade, Refer – is a strategy for suicide prevention which offers increased possibility of early intervention, stressing action and active follow-up with the struggling individual. Using this strategy does not require the at-risk person to ask for help, but instead encourages friends of the individual to ask about suicidal intent and offer support through the help-seeking process. Peer Mentors at the NAN Project learn this strategy as part of their onboarding, and many of our senior staff become certified to teach this material. 

Our trainer for the day was Sarah Gaer of the Riverside Trauma Center, a Master Trainer of the QPR Institute. She shared that she had lost her best friend to suicide as a young adult and had dedicated herself to the cause in her memory. Our team could tell that Gaer was incredibly passionate about the work, which impassioned us, too. While remaining sensitive to the heavy material, she also had a great sense of humor, and thought we ought to have some fun together — this put us more at ease. 

In the morning we covered suicide statistics, risk factors, and various warning signs that a suicidal person might show; and in the afternoon, we dove into model delivery of the QPR curriculum, how to properly use official QPR Institute materials, and a QPR “boot camp,” which had us practice answering potential tough questions from an audience of trainees. 

We each went home with a bag of goodies lovingly packed: a binder of training guides, a starter pack of QPR information pamphlets, and some reading on providing support to individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts. Additionally, these members of our team are officially certified to teach QPR. According to the QPR Gatekeeper requirements, this means we are able to recognize a suicidal person at risk, demonstrate increased knowledge of suicide intervention skills, and demonstrate the ability to persuade the at-risk person to seek help and stay alive. 

Following this certification, our team is better prepared to provide sensitive and well-informed suicide prevention training to new and seasoned Peer Mentors alike; and, to provide guidance to high school students who want to help their friends who might be struggling. Many thanks to all of our supporters: you help us to take advantage of opportunities like this and keep our Peer Mentors trained.

Attending a Social Justice Workshop at DPH Suicide Prevention Conference

By Sarah Dickie

At the beginning of May, a few of us at The NAN Project had the privilege of attending the 18th annual Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference at the Sheraton in Framingham. The goal of the conference is to increase awareness of suicide as a public health issue by hosting discussions about advancements in the field through various workshops and exhibition tables. In addition to providing an opportunity for us to raise awareness about The NAN Project’s mission, the conference allowed us to expand our own knowledge about how to best carry out our work. I attended a workshop lead by the Mass Coalition for Suicide Prevention’s Alliance for Equity. It focused on the intersection of social justice and mental health: how racism and other systems of oppression impact not only suicide risk, but treatment of the survivor. 

Our instructors began by proposing three “shared agreements” for the discussion: make space, share the air, and embrace discomfort. These meant to encourage participants to prioritize the most marginalized voices, and for those with social privilege to hold back, but remain present. I would argue that these are excellent agreements for the wider discussion of suicide prevention, too. Speaking as a white person myself, it’s easy to feel guilty and dismiss the danger when confronted with the realities of racism. Likewise, it’s easy for straight and cisgender folks to do the same when discussing LGBT discrimination. As dedicated leaders of suicide prevention, it’s a duty of ours to consider the social privileges we have, and how oppression contributes to the issue of mental health — even when, and especially when, it’s uncomfortable. 

When the presenters opened the floor to participants, they had a lot to say about how people of color are treated in mental health care, and likewise how mental health is treated in their communities. One East Asian woman on the floor explained the pressure from her parents to earn good grades and make money, markers of success that are valued by her family’s culture. Her experiences with anxiety, which hindered her ability to do these things, were brushed under the rug. The culture dictated that she “be good” and “stay quiet” instead of opening up. One presenter, a bisexual East Asian woman, agreed that when she spoke out about her struggle in her youth, she felt “othered” in her community. If there were people like her, they weren’t talking about it.  

Professionals in mental healthcare added that they see racial disparities in their work environments every day. For one, youth who access care for mental health concerns in the greater Boston area are mostly white, despite a more diverse general population. This is likely a result of the toxic intersection of stigma and discriminatory care. 

“It depends what your color is, what treatment you’re going to get,” one older Black woman said. She went on to explain that Black folks who are mistreated in mental health care facilities are faced with the choice of whether or not to pursue justice, as within other arenas of their lives. She said that the stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” has dissuaded her peers from doing so. Not only does racism inform the treatment experience for a person of color, but it also informs how and how often that person will talk about it. 

Inequity in mental health treatment is a dangerous reality, a symptom of the discrimination that persists in healthcare as it does in the wider world. We know that mental illness is often a result of trauma — we might not know that oppression is trauma. Day after day, marginalized people face the hostility of a racist world. The stress of this builds up, and can result in complications like heart disease and psychological disorder. This is why the Alliance for Equity dubs non-whiteness as a “forever risk factor”: something only social change can combat. Social determinants — like discrimination, education, wealth inequality, and risk of violence — makeup 80% of an individual’s overall health, according to the MCSP. In our efforts for suicide prevention, the Alliance for Equity advises that we “keep the conversation going”: talk about mental health; work to incorporate diverse perspectives; and consider how societal forces impact risk.  

June 7, 2019
Spring 2019 Recap!

This spring, The NAN Project presented in a number of new schools, returned to past schools, met with community organizations and began working with Middle Schools as well.

Our Senior Peer Mentor Ziona presents her Comeback Stories to a health class at Lowell High School.

Our team of Peer Mentors traveled across the state this winter and spring, into a number of schools that had never hosted The NAN Project before! We met with after school groups The Power of Know and Youth Health Leadership in Revere High School, and the Phoenix program at Framingham High School. We presented to all of the sophomore health students at Lowell High School, and the juniors at Greater Lowell Tech as well! For a more in-depth article on our visit to Lowell High School, read Sarah’s article on the blog!

Peer Mentor Greta presents her Comeback Story to students at Malden High School.

We also returned to several schools that have seen our presentations before. Outside of our traditional stomping grounds of Greater Boston, our Peer Mentors told their comeback stories to health classes in Acton-Boxboro and Milford High School. On the North Shore, we revisited Medford High School, and recently, Andover High School.

Not only did The NAN attend at schools and after school groups, but we also met with different organizations within the Massachusetts community. In the early spring, we collaborated with the Malden Access Television station, also known as MATV, to produce a short PSA discussing the work we do. As they host classes for students on how to use television equipment, the students and our Peer Mentors worked closely to create a video based on mental health. The NAN Project has also partnered with other community
groups such Lowell’s Boys & Girls Club and CTI YouthBuild. as well as LEAP for Education in Salem, Cenerboard in Lynn, and at the First Congregational Church in Methuen.

Peer Mentors play Mental Health Jeopardy with students from Salem Middle School.

As we know students can start to struggle with mental health disorders at a young age, we have designed a middle school curriculum to spread the message on mental health. The first middle school we shared at with the new curriculum was Bromfeild Middle School, out in Harvard Massachusetts. Our set up for middle schools are a little different from our regular curriculum, as we want middle schoolers to know and recognize the signs of different mental health disorders, and how to help if themselves or a friend is struggling.  We adjusted the language we use to cater to the younger audience and made the program a bit more interactive to keep the kids moving. We just met with the Galvin Middle School, located in Wakefield, to come up with a project we can do with the students to spread awareness on mental health!

None of these events could have happened without our incredible team of Peer Mentors! Thank you all for your continued efforts to bring your stories to classrooms across the state. If you’re wondering what our team will do over the summer – we’ll be training! The second round of our Senior Peer Mentor training will be held on Tuesdays this summer in Malden.

Peer Mentor Spotlight: Jocelyn Cote-Pedraza

Jocelyn has been working for The NAN Project since last spring, and in the year that she’s been with us, she has grown so much! Jocelyn’s story is one of resilience and determination, of overcoming stereotypes and rising through adversity. I had a chance to sit down with Jocelyn, and chat about life, coping skills, and her work with The NAN Project.

Hi Jocelyn! Thank you for letting me interview you for the PM spotlight!

Hi Elli! Thank you for having me!

No problem! I want to start off by asking you to talk a little bit about yourself, and how did you hear about TNP:

Okay! I am 22 years old and I was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. I currently work part-time for The NAN Project, and I’m also a rape crisis counselor and a sexual assault advocate. I attend Middlesex Community College, and I am studying business. I heard of The NAN Project through the GIFT training I attended, as The NAN Project and GIFT work very closely. I’ve been working for The NAN Project for a little over a year now, and it’s very important work for me. As a child i felt i was born to be a leader instead of a follower. I enjoy being apart of something bigger than myself and making an impact on others.  Since working with human services, I have found my niche.

Wow! You have a lot going on for you right now, I’m glad you’re keeping busy! So now that you’ve worked for The NAN Project for over a year now, what has your overall experience been like with us? Have you had any challenges or rewards?

Yeah, I can start with the challenges. I grew up in a culture where talking about your struggles were frowned upon and mental health was acknowledged but not addressed. I was told to keep everything in private and “what’s said in the house, stays in the house.” For a while I had a hard time expressing my my feelings and emotions, making it hard for me to advocate for myself. I kept everything inside. When joining The NAN Project, I still felt that it was difficult to talk about what my childhood. But with some time, I started to open up and I decided to share more information on my life and struggles. I’m constantly evolving in moving forward with my journey, and I’m starting to feel more confident sharing my newest version of my comeback story. One reward I got from this job was having one student from Medford High School come up to me afterwards to tell me he resonated with my story. He told me he struggled with some of the same things I did, and then he thanked me for sharing. This was really rewarding because I felt that if I could connect with at least one person, then my line of work has been fulfilled.

Wow! That’s amazing how far you’ve come since you started working for us. When you aren’t working, what do you like to do in your free time? What are some things you like to do for fun?

I enjoy doing a lot of things outside of work. For example, I have a passion for working on my own personal cars in my down time.. I’ve turned this hobby into my upcoming business: Pedraza Performance. I also enjoy attending jazz nights, comedy clubs and poetry, as I feel that these activities keep me afloat.


Jocelyn presenting her Comeback Story at Lowell Technical High School last week.

I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.

Like I said earlier, I really like working on cars, even on an “off” day. It’s very therapeutic for me because my mind views it as a puzzle. Each car I would view as challenge: to diagnose, analyze, and further assist the situation. When I’m not working on cars, I also really like to spend some time in the outdoors. I enjoy hiking, biking, and spending time on a lake. Getting outside of the city gives me a break from my busy life. On top of these coping skills, I like to use positive self-talk to remind myself that I got this.

You have very cool coping skills! I have one more question for you. What do you hope for in your future?

I’m currently in the process of pursuing my future. Im attending workshops and seminars to purchase my first home. I’d like to further expand my business and open a dealerships that gives 10% of my profit to a non-profit organization that helps people in recovery because, i know how hard the journey of recovery could be. Asking for help can be the hardest first steps, but acknowledging and validating one’s journey can be life altering for someone who may be struggling.  

Thanks Jocelyn, for all of your work with us over the past year, and for sitting down with me today. I can’t wait until Pedraza Performance is up and running!

February 26, 2019
Sarah Dickie PM Spotlight Interview

Sarah came on board with The NAN Project in February of 2018 after completing a Peer Mentor Training at the TEMPO drop-in center in Framingham. Since then, she’s been crushing it with us!  Sarah’s main message is about her struggle with parental abuse, and how that led her to having poor body image issues, and severe anxiety. She has a great message about how beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and how she powered through her struggles. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah and ask her a few questions and this is what she had to say!

 

Hi Sarah! Thank you for coming out to do this!

Thank you so much for interviewing me. I feel honored!

 

You’re welcome! I want to start off by asking you to briefly talk a little bit about yourself. What  do you like to do in your free time?

I’ll first start off and say that I am a senior at Framingham State, and my major is Sociology with a minor in Psychology. I also live in Framingham, with my boyfriend and our big cat named Bunnie. In my free time, I like to draw, journal, find new music, play lots of video games and lastly I am trying to teach myself to play the ukulele… with some success! (laughs)

 

That’s so cool you’re teaching yourself to play the ukulele! I was wondering what your overall experience has been like working for The NAN Project.

It’s really different from any other job I’ve ever had and I feel like this is actually a really good fit for me. The biggest challenge I face is that I have actually always been really nervous of public speaking, which can make it hard sometimes to step in front of the crowd. I feel like I always have my face in my paper (laughs), but each presentation makes it a little easier to talk in front of a crowd. The reward from this job is that I feel like it’s fulfilling. It’s important for me to be doing this.

 

I totally agree with you, Sarah. I was excused in high school from all public presentations because it would scare me so much…but look where we are now!

Me too! (chuckles)

 

What motivates you to keep working with us? What about the job makes it worth coming back?

A couple things makes it worth coming back. It’s really rewarding and important work, like I said before and I really think that’s one reason why I keep doing presentations. We’re making a difference by  doing this work and it matters to people. Also, I learn more about myself by writing my comeback story and condensing all that I’ve been through into a cohesive narrative. It put some things into perspective for me and I feel like I know myself better, so that’s also been rewarding as well.

Thanks Sarah, that was a good answer!

Thanks Elli, I say smart things from time to time! (giggles) 

 

I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.

I really do like to journal. I like to write about how I’m feeling and stuff that happens to me throughout my day-to-day life. I like to draw as a distraction to my mind, and I also use breathing exercises. For example, I like to breathe in for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. I also use grounding a lot and lastly, my cat is a good resource when I’m upset. He probably doesn’t know that, but I really like to sit with him or put my face in his fur; it’s really soothing.

 

Okay last question: What do you hope for in your future?

A couple things. The first is that I really want to be comfortable with myself. It sounds like a small thing but it’s really hard for me to love myself. I’m working on it, it’s definitely better than it was but I’d really like to say that I genuinely love who I am. I’d also like to have a career in mental health, whether that be mental health education or mental health support. That’s really the direction I want to go. Lastly, I would really like to live in Boston!

 

Alright! Well thank you Sarah for answering these questions, and good luck!

Thank you Elli!

 

Tragedy and Hope at Lowell High School

By Sarah Dickie

We put our whole hearts into everything we do here in the NAN Project, but our presentations at Lowell High School in January were especially important to us. Last fall, LHS sophomore Anna Aslanian ended her life, leaving friends, family, and faculty to wonder what they could have done to prevent it. Given the stigma surrounding mental illness, mental health is a topic often left untouched in schools, and students who are

Elli Presenting to Sophomores             

struggling may not know what resources are available to them or how they can ask for help. Our mission is to open up this conversation: our Peer Mentors share their own experiences with mental illness in what we call a Comeback Story, focusing on the symptoms they showed, their coping strategies, and the resources they accessed to help them care for themselves. Lowell High School acknowledged the need for this conversation and brought us in. Over three full days of presentations in mid-January, our Peer Mentors got the chance to speak with all twelve sophomore health classes, accompanied by school counselors and social workers who used the time to introduce themselves as resources for the students.

According to an article in the Lowell Sun, Anna showed signs of poor mental health before taking her life. Her family reported in interviews that Anna had an increasingly negative outlook leading up to the start of her sophomore year. To her family’s surprise, Anna suddenly quit the field hockey team, and withdrew from most other social activities shortly after. This isolation suggests that Anna had been struggling with something emotionally, but articles published following her death puts the blame solely on bullies and the school’s inaction. This seems to be an oversimplification of a tragic event. Rarely is there only one factor to blame for a person’s suicide: often there is an emotional struggle which is exacerbated by the external environment, like the harassment that Anna faced at school and online. The articles discussed local anti-bullying initiatives and how these fell short and failed students, but Anna’s mental health was not given the same consideration. Likewise, coverage on the supports available to Anna and other LHS students was insufficient. These articles also released parts of notes Anna left in the months before her suicide, which we consider a dangerous mistake. Giving this press to Anna’s note suggests to students that taking one’s own life is the way to be remembered, or the way to “get back” at bullies. This can be particularly dangerous for other students who may be struggling and wish to have their “voice” heard.

Though it can be especially difficult to talk about mental health after a loss like this, Lowell High School created an open and welcoming space for us to address it together. The sophomores were very receptive to our Peer Mentors’ stories: many were eager to relate what they had learned to their own experiences, and others had insightful questions about how they might approach friends they thought to be struggling. Several more students came forward privately with concern for themselves or a peer.

   Sarah presenting her Comeback Story

“I feel many of the students came away from the Peer Mentor presentations with a better understanding of how widespread mental health challenges are, and also how many resources are out there for them,” The NAN Project’s Director Jake Cavanaugh said of the students at LHS.

Our presentations at Lowell High School reached over three hundred students. We taught them the signs of depression and anxiety they could look for in themselves and their peers, as well as steps they could take to help peers they believe to be struggling: first, ask how the peer is feeling; then, listen, and validate their struggle; and finally, for high-risk peers, tell a trusted adult. We know that in the weeks following the presentations, at least two students who were struggling with suicidal ideation either sought help themselves or had a friend reach out for them. We are hopeful that students will hold onto the conversations we began together, and continue them with their friends and family. We’ll be back at Lowell High School in the spring, preaching our mission There is help, and there is hope!

December 27, 2018
Phoenix’s Peer Leaders finish Mural of Resiliency

The NAN Project has been fortunate to work with the staff and students of Phoenix Academy since the spring of 2017. Our most recent project is a mural created by their Peer Leadership Team, known as NANix, and has been an especially inspiring and healing opportunity for us all. (To read about Peer Leadership and our Peer-to-Peer Model, check out What We Do.)

Phoenix has hosted several peer mentor presentations of comeback stories to their students, as well as staff training in QPR suicide prevention. Last June, we met with a group of students who were interested in becoming more involved and promoting mental health in their school and in their community. Since its founding, this group of students, who decided on the name NANix (a combination of NAN Project and Phoenix Academy) has brought energy and big ideas to the table. We founded NANix, set up some goals for the next school year, and were excited to meet up again once classes began after summer break.

Students create an outline of their design.

In September, one of the founding members of NANix, Leonel “Leo” Rondon, was lost in the gas explosions of Merrimack Valley. When we came together again as a group, Phoenix students expressed their desire to work on a project that would both honor Leo and celebrate their community’s resilience and ability to support each other, even through incredible struggle. They chose to paint a mural.

For this kind of project, we had to enlist the help of Art Therapist Fernanda from Lawrence Art House (LA House.) With her guidance, students were soon encouraging each other to contribute to the mural and taking ownership of the creative decisions and direction of their piece.

Over the course of a few months, we transitioned from brainstorming about the purpose of the mural, to sketching elements, to choosing quotes and reference material, and finally beginning to layer paint on the canvas. All throughout this process, students displayed incredible teamwork, respect for each other, and openness to each other’s ideas and feelings. Though creating a mural was an entirely new experience for many of the students, as well as for our own Peer Mentors, we were all able to witness the therapeutic power of art.

The final mural design encompasses a landscape of Lawrence, complete with the Ayer Clock Tower and Merrimack River, with a tree symbolizing regrowth on its banks. A banner flies from the clock tower displaying a quote from Leo, “I was given this life because I was strong enough to live it.” which NANix chose this quote to honor him, and because it embodies their resiliency and perseverance, in the face of loss, trauma, anxiety and depression.

We are so grateful for the involvement of everyone who worked on the mural, from the students who came to school early to finish in time, to those who simply picked up a paintbrush and added a single spot of color.

We look forward to meeting with the NANix team again soon, and deciding on our next project together.

With this mural, students remember the people they have lost in the school, and in Lawrence, but it is also about our growth and rebirth. Dark colors transition into lighter shades, a tree grows even through adversity, and even the birds with significant challenges (a dark green for mental health, a lighter green as Leo’s favorite color) are able to fly.

 

 

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