You Are Not Alone: What Local Experts Want You To Know About Suicide
Last Friday, The NAN Project Peer Coordinators Lizzie MacLellan and Shilpa Thirukkovalur sat down to speak virtually with Mayor of Cambridge Sumbul Siddiqui and psychiatrist Dr. Camilo Acuna from the Cambridge Health Alliance about suicide prevention, mental health, and COVID-19. Broadcast live on several social media channels, this conversation with local experts was meant to destigmatize mental illness and recognize the role each individual can play in preventing the suicide of a young person as part of the city of Cambridge’s Suicide Prevention Month efforts.
Mayor Siddiqui explains that the importance of this conversation is even more critical now: as we enter the seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are experiencing heightened anxiety and worsening depression due to social isolation, financial instability, and health concerns. Some of us may be experiencing these symptoms for the first time in our lives. The Center for Disease Control recently reported that a quarter of young adults ages 18 to 24 have seriously considered suicide during this pandemic.
When asked to weigh in on the impact of COVID-19 on young folks’ mental health, Lizzie refers to what we call “risk factors,” attributes or traits that make a person more likely to consider suicide. Lizzie explains that certain risk factors have been heightened by the pandemic, such as loneliness, aimlessness, and instability — especially for high school students, who are missing out on certain rites of passage and other coming-of-age experiences, now that many schools have gone remote. Lizzie also explains that the behavior of a person at risk might look different in COVID-times. The NAN Project teaches students to look out for a friend who is isolating from others. While we are all isolating for our physical safety, this might instead look like not showing up for virtual hangouts, not answering phone calls or texts, or an uncharacteristic absence from social media.
Lizzie advises viewers to look out for drastic changes in mood, behavior, or appearance, and to reach out right away to a person displaying these warning signs of suicide.
“Ask the question,” Lizzie insists, and what she means is it is vitally importantto ask a young person directly if they are thinking about suicide if you notice some of the warning signs. Most untrained individuals are hesitant to mention suicide to a young person in their life, for fear of putting the idea in the person’s head. The NAN Project teaches students that asking about suicide will instead give the struggling person an opportunity to open up about what they are feeling, which is the first step to getting support. The next step, Lizzie advises, is to take that information to a trusted adult.
On identifying a trusted adult, Shilpa says this is simply someone who makes the young person feel heard, validated, and safe. For Shilpa, this adult was her father. In a case where a young person feels uncomfortable to bring up a mental health concern with a parent, Shilpa suggests approaching a teacher, a coach, or the school guidance counselor.
Therapy is something this trusted adult might suggest. Dr. Acuna discusses the myriad of telehealth options available during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he is surprised how many young people have found this mode of therapy helpful — maybe because it is less intimidating for a youth to try therapy from the comfort of their bedroom, rather than in the unfamiliar environment of the therapist’s office. Of course he notes that teletherapy comes with its own accessibility issues, such as young folks not having access to a stable internet connection or a private place to talk.
Mayor Siddiqui asks her guests to suggest how LGBT youth and youths of color might go about finding a therapist who fits their needs. Shilpa says that while there aren’t enough therapists of marginalized groups, it is important for young people to find a therapist who respects their identity and their culture.
“It’s not something you should compromise when looking for care,” Shilpa says. “Many therapists are still learning, and are willing to educate themselves – as long as the respect is there.”
“It’s something the field still needs to work on,” Dr. Acuna agrees. “There’s a long legacy of racism, of misogyny, of homophobia and transphobia in the medical system, and mental health Is certainly not an exception, unfortunately.” Dr. Acuna advises young people to feel empowered to change providers until they find someone who makes them feel safe.
Given the undeniable importance of mental healthcare, the speakers emphasize that you don’t have to be a mental health professional to support someone at risk for suicide.
“Suicide prevention is something we can all do – you don’t have to have all the answers,” Lizzie says. A young person supporting their friend can make a call for them to a suicide hotline or a mental health professional, walk with them down to the school’s guidance office, or simply be with them while they make their own plan to reach out to an adult. Further, we can all educate ourselves about the signs and symptoms of a mental health concern, as well as work to become more comfortable discussing mental health.
Lizzie uses the example of someone with a broken arm: people would show sympathy, help them carry their bags, ask how they’re doing or what they need — without judgement.
“Mental health and suicide don’t have to be different,” she says.
Mayor Siddiqui and her guest speakers leave viewers with an important message: if you are struggling, you are not alone, you are cared for, and help is available.
The full video is available to watch here.
ED-SAFE: A Study in Suicide Intervention
Original study by Edwin Boudreaux, Carlos A. Camargo, Ivan Miller, & “the ED-SAFE investigators.”
As we continue to learn from home during this strange fall semester, The NAN Project brings to you a quick bit of suicide prevention science.
The ED-SAFE study, published in 2018 by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, echoes some truths about suicide prevention that The NAN Project brings to high school classrooms: 1) the first step in suicide prevention is detecting risk; 2) persistence is the key to supporting a person at risk; and, 3) intervention led by the person at risk is most successful.
ED-SAFE began in 2009 in response to a critical need for a suicide risk screener for patients in emergency departments. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, with one million people per year attempting suicide. Many individuals at risk for suicide are seen in emergency departments (“EDs”) for unrelated concerns. The ED-SAFE team argues that these are underutilized opportunities for suicide risk screening, and that to prevent suicide, ED-based screening and intervention for suicide risk must be developed. ED-SAFE aimed to test an intervention in which emergency departments screen for suicide risk using a standardized test, and initiate follow-up telephone contact with individuals who screened positive.
1,376 adult ED patients were enrolled in this three-phase study, the third of which produced the most enlightening results. Phase three had testing sites implement a three-component intervention for patients who tested positive for suicide risk: first, a second screening to determine the level of risk; next, a personalized safety plan, with a guide to local outpatient mental health resources; and lastly, a series of phone calls to the patient by trained mental health advisors for a full year following the initial ED visit.
It should be noted that treatment was not assigned to the patients (beyond check-in calls), nor were they pressured to comply with a treatment they had no part in developing – it was the patients’ decision to reach out for help using the provided resources. We know that it empowers the struggling person to lead their intervention, and that they are more likely to stick with a treatment they initiated.
Results of ED-SAFE’s phase 3 showed that universal suicide risk screening within emergency departments almost doubled suicide risk detection. We know that identifying a person at risk for suicide is the first step in preventing suicide. The NAN Project teaches “signs of suicide” in our classroom presentations and professional development workshops, enabling young people and the adults in their lives to recognize these signs in their loved ones. ED-SAFE also found that the multifaceted, long-term suicide prevention invervention tested in phase 3 reduced suicidal behavior in patients by thirty percent. Persistence is key when supporting someone struggling with thoughts of suicide: this communicates to them that we care. The NAN Project highlights this in our QPR suicide prevention training, in which we encourage participants to ask a struggling person “the question” – namely, are they thinking of suicide – and to be sure that they follow up later on.
The results of ED-SAFE demonstrate that a multi-component, persistent, patient-led suicide intervention is most successful. The research team predicts that their efforts will inform and accelerate the adoption of best practices for suicide prevention across diverse health settings, which would save countless patient lives.
The official Psychiatry Issue Brief on The ED-SAFE study can be found here.
As we work to become better supports to ourselves and the people in our lives, let us keep these findings in mind. And remember that there is help, and there is hope!
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Margaret Parkhurst
This month, The Nan Project would like to highlight Margaret Parkhurst in our Peer Mentor Spotlight! Margaret has been working with us for over a year now, and her story leaves her audiences with a message of hope. She has presented her story numerous of times to schools all across Massachusetts! Thank you Margaret for being apart of this Peer Mentor Spotlight!
1. Hi Margaret! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to interview you for the Peer Mentor spotlight! I want to start off by asking you how you heard about The NAN Project (TNP) and why you decided to apply?
I found out about The NAN Project kind of on my own. I was on an email listing from another organization called “GIFT” and TNP happened to be featured on the bottom of that email. I looked into it and I thought it was a good fit for me. I have had some public speaking experience in the past so I knew I could thrive in it. I especially love to help and inspire others, so I knew this would be exactly what I was looking for to be able to achieve that.
2. Thank you! That was a great answer. It has been over a year now that you’ve been working for TNP! Time flies! What has been your overall experience with us? What have been the challenges or rewards?
I would define it as being incredible! This job came to me at a time when I needed The Nan Project. I was starting to go down a bad path again and I stumbled across this opportunity and it really changed my life and helped me. It reminds me every time I speak that ‘I am okay,’ and that I am strong enough to help others to make sure they’re okay too. I also find this job as a privilege. Unlike other jobs, TNP cares about us. Other jobs don’t care about someone’s mental health but you guys care about our mental health. I specifically appreciate how you guys understand if we’re having a rough day. I’m never obligated to share if I don’t feel ready.
3. For readers who may be unfamiliar with your story, can you highlight some of the coping skills you’ve learned over the years to take care and overcome your mental health challenges?
First of all, I love to ride horses. I have been riding for 20 years now! The specific horse I’m riding currently is very sensitive. She can sense my emotions and if I’m in a bad mood, she senses it and becomes a pain in the butt! I also do acupuncture; I own a dog walking business; I use grounding techniques with nature; and, I have recently started holistic therapy!
4. Wow Margaret! You have so many coping skills in your tool belt! I know in your story you talk about your dog, Chester. Can you tell the readers a little bit about him and why you find him so therapeutic?
I got Chester two days after being in a residential treatment facility for seven months. My parents rewarded me with him. We had got him in hopes that he’d become a service dog for me, but we came to find out he doesn’t like people! He loves me though. He has also caught on to my emotions and has helped stop panic attacks. He also likes to do stupid things or annoy me to get me out of a funk. My family and I joke that he could pass the service dog training if only he liked people!
5. That’s funny! Chester sounds like a very silly dog! Could you tell me what you thought was your most meaningful/ favorite presentation and why?
One school that stuck out to me had a class full of students that didn’t speak English. They had to have a translator come into the class to assist our presentation. It was eye opening to me because even though those students didn’t speak English, they still wanted to engage in the conversation around mental health
6. What do you hope for in the future?
I hope that in the future The Nan Project can reach more schools to be able to start this conversation around mental health. Especially right now, while the world is turned upside down. People who didn’t experience mental health struggles before the pandemic are definitely experiencing some sort of mental health issue now.
7. And lastly, what are you grateful for right now?
I’m grateful for the experience TNP has given me. This job has really helped give meaning to my life. During COVID-19, I have been especially grateful for what TNP has done to keep the Peer Mentors active. They’ve had consistent zoom meetings weekly with the Peer Mentors, and that has been very helpful on my mental health. I am a person who likes structure and COVID-19 took that away from me. When TNP started to do weekly zoom meetings with the Peer Mentors, it made me feel better knowing that I had a priority to do.
Well thank you Margaret for being able to do this Peer Mentor Spotlight with me! It was a pleasure speaking with you!
Thank you Elli for using me as your peer mentor to spotlight!
The Weight of Gold: Athletes and Mental Illness
The NAN project knows that in a society where depression and suicide are still heavily stigmatized, fostering honest discussion about mental health can literally save a life. When our Peer Mentors open up about their journey back from a dark place, we send the message that no one who struggles is alone, and that recovery is possible.
These are sentiments of HBO’s new documentary The Weight of Gold, a must-watch for sports fans and mental health advocates alike. The film investigates the connection between elite athleticism and psychological struggle, drawing on the experience of several Olympic competitors. There is an assumption that their global fame and incredible skill mean that these superstar athletes are confident, fulfilled, and happy — Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time and the film’s narrator, says this is part of what makes mental illness so difficult for his peers to talk about. The hour-long feature invites us to consider how Olympians are uniquely at risk for suicide, and how we can do better by them and those close to us who may be struggling.
The athletes featured in HBO’s film all agreed that training for the Olympics requires a powerful, sometimes toxic hyper-focus on sport.
“I didn’t develop outside interests,” recalls Jeremy Bloom, two-time Olympian and world-champion American skier. “I had a singular focus on my sport.”
“I thought of myself as just a swimmer, not a human being,” Phelps adds. He had no confidence in himself outside of his sport.
The athletes agreed that when it came to training, all other things were secondary: hobbies, education, and even relationships. We know that lacking a support system is a major risk factor when an individual is considering taking their life.
Adding to this harmful emotional environment is the incredible criticism Olympic athletes face, from the media, from fans, and from themselves.
“I was driven by [thinking I was] inadequate,” Bloom remembers. “Every day, I wasn’t good enough.”
Lolo Jones, an American track and field athlete, can relate. The moment she hit a hurdle at her first Olympic competition was immortalized on global television and haunted her for years.
“I had no one to help me through that,” she laments.
There is an immense pressure for Olympic athletes not only to perform physically, but to appear in control of their emotions. Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic figure skating silver medalist, recounts how she fell twice in the first thirty seconds of her performance. It was difficult for her to hold herself together, but she felt it was her responsibility.
“You need to show the world that you are strong,” Cohen explains. “And so if you were to say, like, oh, I have mental issues, like, that just cracks the facade of trying to show the world that you’re impervious.”
We know that too many struggling individuals are feigning wellness to preserve their careers, their relationships, their image – surely there is even more pressure to do so when one is broadcast live to every corner of the world.
If the heat of the Olympic spotlight was not enough to test one’s emotional regulation, a new challenge looms when athletes return home.
“After every Olympics, win or lose, I’ve felt a dramatic emptiness,” three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White explains. “Just because your whole world is built around this one day… after the Olympics, there’s this incredible crash.” After competing, White reckoned with near-unbearable feelings of isolation and aimlessness.
Many athletes struggle so intensely with post-Olympic depression that they turn to reckless and self-destructive behavior, and some consider taking their lives. Phelps recalls thinking there was only one way to ease his pain after his second DUI arrest in 2014. He didn’t realize at the time that he wasn’t the only retired Olympian who considered suicide.
Jeremy Bloom recalls the time Jeret “Speedy” Peterson confided in him that most days he did not want to be alive.
“I thought of Speedy as someone who is so happy and so successful,” Bloom said.
Peterson ended his life in 2011. He is far from the only Olympian to complete suicide – Phelps calls it an “epidemic.”
One might ask why these struggling athletes did not seek help. Phelps attributes this partially to the Olympians’ conviction that they can make themselves unbeatable if they just work at it. The stigma that prevents so many struggling individuals from admitting to their pain also weighs heavily on superstars like Phelps and his peers.
Though such an immensely important issue calls for more than a single hour-long feature, The Weight of Gold is an honest, tender, informative step in the right direction. The conversation is not over: Phelps urges the Olympic institution to take action; he encourages athletes to speak up and seek help; and he teaches viewers that anyone, no matter how talented, famous, or wealthy, can struggle with their mental health.
“It’s as much a part of my life as being a husband or a father,” Phelps says of his healing.
If record gold-medal-winning Olympian Michael Phelps can recognize his depression and embrace professional help, let us all feel empowered to seek what we need to heal, too.
A Different Kind of Summer with The NAN Project
While COVID may have slowed down many industries and left folks physically isolated, The NAN Project and our Peer Mentors kept hard at work and socially connected all summer! One of our major initiatives during the typically slower, sunny months of school vacation was our 2020 Senior Peer Mentor Training! The goal of these 8 weeks of workshops was to support our Peer Mentors, while also keeping them active and engaged, and prepping them for what was sure to be a very different school year ahead. It was also an opportunity to provide educational development to our incredible young adults by bringing in an array of outstanding guest speakers that helped us all build skills for use both at work and in our everyday lives. We invited a different guest speaker to each Wednesday of our two month training to talk about different topics related to mental health, social justice, emotional intelligence and much more!
Two of the outstanding presenters were current and former NAN Project staff – Rachely and Greta! Both covered different therapeutic methods that our Peers might find helpful in their recovery, and can also teach others about. Rachely introduced us to Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAP), and covered how to identify stressors, create a wellness toolbox, and develop a daily plan to maintain strong mental health. Greta educated us about Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFST), a type of therapy that looks at ourselves as different parts, and focuses on healing the wounded parts as a part of recovery. Learning about IFST helped our Peers think about their own recovery in different ways.
We also invited Jon Mattelman to present about anxiety, specifically, what it can look like in middle and high schoolers and how to support them if they are struggling. This was valuable because we work with young adults and knowing more about how they can experience anxiety will help us get them to the support they need.
Additionally, we had speakers talk about topics that were relevant to the pandemic and current events. We had Hannah, a grad student from Salem Statem, present a workshop titled “Beyond the Rectangle,” which covered what Peers can do to feel alive and happy during a virtual presentation (skills just about everybody can use these days). Thinking about self-care activities that they can do before, during, and after a virtual presentation will help our Peers approach their work in a way that feels rewarding and prioritizes their mental health. We also had Maryanne, a longtime friend from the Department of Mental Health’s YouForward in Lawrence, present a social justice training with the help of our Senior Peer Coordinator, Lizzie, and our Peer Coordinator, Shilpa. They spoke about how COVID-19 affects Black people disproportionately in what is called the Double Pandemic, what systemic racism is, and how to be a better ally to people of color. We had a really engaging group discussion with our Peers and they had many personal experiences to share.
In light of this pandemic, the importance of developing emotional intelligence and strength is important now more than ever. We brought in inspirational speaker Kurt Faustin to introduce us to the concept of emotional intelligence through a training titled “Learning the Ingredients to Become a Better You”. This covered the importance of how developing a supportive community and helpful coping skills can affect our lives positively and help us develop emotional intelligence. Our Peers really enjoyed Kurt’s enthusiasm and we look forward to having him back!
Another important piece of the training was our weekly small group work, where we created projects for Suicide Prevention Week. Each of the four groups did a wonderful job producing very unique ways of promoting mental health education and suicide prevention. Our first group focused on the importance of a trusted adult, and our Peer Mentor, Margaret, created a story about how a trusted adult impacted her life. Group two decided to examine how mental health is portrayed in the media and we will be posting their reviews on our social media in the coming week. Group Hope! created inspirational social media posts and a personal story about mental health and recovery, and our fourth group made beautiful artwork to raise awareness for suicide prevention. We are so grateful to our Peer Mentors for all of their creativity, hard work, and commitment. Make sure to keep a lookout on our social media over the next week so you can see all of their amazing content!
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Andrew Christopher
This month The NAN Project would like to feature Andrew in our regular PM Spotlight section. Andrew has been with the NAN Project after completing the last Peer Mentor training back in January of 2020. Andrew brings a lot of positivity to The NAN Project as well as some great ideas and lots of unique knowledge.
1). Tell us how you learned about TNP and why you decided to join? How has your time with the NAN Project been ever since you completed the training?
I actually first learned about The NAN Project about four years ago when I was approached by Ellen Dalton when I was working for Eliot Community Human Services at the time in a different role and at the time I actually passed up the opportunity and I’m coming to regret that as it seems like a great organization. So far, my time with The NAN Project has been great, it’s been very rewarding. You get to work with some very nice people and get to do worthwhile work as well.
2). For our readers who haven’t had the chance to hear your story, can you highlight some of the supports you used to overcome your mental health challenges?
Certainly. Growing up I was a kid that had some issues. I was bullied. I have a few learning disabilities. The support systems that really helped me was a school counselor, a therapist and my parents mostly. My counselor advocated for one thing that really helped me – I got to take my tests in another room to limit distractions. They have all been crucial in getting me where I am today.
3). I know you mention your love of sports in your Comeback Story. What is your favorite to play? And what is your favorite to watch?
Hockey has always been my favorite sport both to watch and to play. During this time I’ve actually been watching some old game I’ve never seen. They were there before my time, but still very fun to watch. The Summit Series between the USSR and Canada from the 70’s I found very interesting in particular.
4). You mentioned in your Comeback Story that quitting sports was probably one of the biggest regrets in your life. What made you get into sports and what was the first sport that you did?
It really is one of the bigger regrets in my life I would say. I had always been someone that played sports. I come from a family that was very much into athletics and I grew up playing hockey. I essentially learned to skate as I learned to walk and after that I got into baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball all at different times. Hockey and lacrosse are definitely the most fun to play though. Sports was a good outlet, where mental health didn’t matter. It wasn’t something that came up on the field, which I liked as a kid.
5). Were there any other jobs that you had in the past prior to working with The NAN Project that was related to Mental Health?
Yes, I actually worked for Eliot Community Human Services as a Peer Specialist in a group home for about five years called The Avenues Home. I got to work with some great kids, and through working with them, learned about myself.
6). What would you say was the most meaningful presentation that you did? And why?
One of the afternoon presentations we did in Methuen High School. I would say we had a very good group of kids that day. They were very active listeners and they had very good questions. I feel like my story related to more than a handful of kids in the room which is always very rewarding, even if you have two kids responding to your story that it’s a win – but it seemed that there seemed to be eight or nine at the time that was a really cool feeling for me.
7). You mention being an avid reader in your Comeback Story. Can you tell us about a book you’ve recently finished, or about your favorite author.
A book I’m currently reading is about a French guy in the first World War called Poilu. It’s his four years of notebooks from serving in the first World War. It’s an interesting read. One of my favorite authors though would be Kurt Vonnegut. I read just about everything he wrote before he passed away. What he wrote was always funny, smart and witty; there are no just not many writers of his quality, I think, with his humor.
8). Lastly, what is one thing that you feel grateful for in your life now?
The health and wellness of my family, especially during this time. I’ve been very thankful during the Covid crisis no one in my family has come down sick or anything. My brother still lives in Brooklyn so we’ve all been very worried about him. So, I’m very thankful for everyone that I know dearly that are healthy at this time.
Thanks for sitting down to chat, Andrew!
To read more Peer Mentor Spotlights, click here!
Nanner Virtual Hangouts
Our staff has been hard at work with a lot of different virtual projects over the past couple months! Our twice-weekly Zoom hangouts have been one of the more fun projects, allowing us to stay connected with our Peer Mentors during this period of physical distancing. Most times, we get between 15 and 20 folks to join for the one hour sessions, each of which has an intentional theme such as boundary setting, connection, creative expression, self care, and movement.
These Nanner Hangouts are more than just a time to hang with our team; we’re also piloting lesson plans each time. Using surveys our Peer Mentors fill out, we seek to ensure the content and objectives are both engaging and helpful. Once we have refined the lesson plans, and made changes based on the feedback, we upload the plans and accompanying slide shows to our website so that teachers can download them for free. We have also run a couple lessons for students, and expect this may be one of the main ways we’ll interact with schools in the fall.
If you know of a school that might benefit from using our lesson plans, point them to this page and they can check them out for themselves! Keep reading below to learn more about what these lessons cover and how we run our Nanner Hangouts.
This multi-session lesson covered a few different types of boundaries – rigid, porous, and balanced. A person with rigid boundaries tends to keep others at a distance, be hesitant to ask for help, and very protective of personal information. The lesson teaches that porous boundaries apply to people who tend to overshare, and who are dependent on others for opinions and put others’ problems before their own. It is often difficult for people with these boundaries to say “no.” Healthy, or balanced, boundaries are somewhere in the middle of all three types – a person with healthy boundaries will value their own opinion while considering those of others, communicate and assert their needs, and is able to accept when others say, “no.”
When Lizzie and Fernanda ran this Hangout, they also went into how boundaries can fluctuate between rigid, porous, and healthy, depending on the situation and type of people you are with. For example, if you are in a college interview, your boundaries might be more rigid – you wouldn’t necessarily talk about the meltdown you experienced last week because of stress. But if you were having the same conversation with a friend, talking about your struggles would be helpful and it can evolve into a deeper conversation.
There are many different domains of boundaries as well – physical, emotional, material, intellectual, and time. This Hangout focused a lot on interpersonal communication and emotional boundaries. This type of boundary focuses on when to share personal information and feelings, and communicating desired responses to those feelings. A balanced emotional boundary is one where everyone’s feelings are validated and respected. Finally, we reflected back upon our own balanced boundaries, and used what we had learned to have a discussion about creating and maintaining boundaries, which can become even more challenging during a period of physical distancing.
One of our Senior Peer Mentors, Greta, led us in a fun Nanner Hangout using the “clap” response emoji to answer questions. We answered everything from “Clap if you used a coping skill in the past week,” to “Clap if you’ve ever sung karaoke.” The mix of funny, lighthearted and more serious questions was great, and I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard since that day. Getting to know each other is something that we’ve all missed from our usual Nan Project work and I am enjoying learning the things I have in common with others that I was not aware of.
I led a creative expression activity where I posed two prompts and had participants answer in any way they wanted to. The prompts were focused on how our past experiences have shaped us and helped us grow. We gave advice to our younger selves and we thought about how we have grown in the past few years. Utilizing the Breakout Rooms feature on Zoom, we got into groups of three and discussed our responses. For the last part of the activity, we came back together and answered one more question about things we were looking forward to in the future. We used a cool program called Menti to create a word cloud with all of our responses in real-time. It was fun to focus on future goals, and it was a good motivator and mood-booster for us! Here is a picture of our word cloud!
We’ve been lucky to work with two art therapists throughout our hangouts, who have incorporated art and movement activities. Alex, led us in a few different movement activities, including yoga, stretching, and bringing awareness to where we feel stress in our bodies. We focused on tension and stress release, relaxation, and deep breathing. We also demonstrated how we walk when we are feeling positive as opposed to when we are having a bad day. That brought smiles to a lot of our faces, and also helped us recognize that our posture and body language can make a noticeable difference in how we feel!
To end our hangouts, we have been doing a variety of activities, like listening to empowering music, answering riddles, and meditating. We have had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit during these hangouts, and we are excited to share them with you!
Please check out our COVID-19 resources page for some great material. From myself and on behalf of everyone at The NAN Project, we sincerely appreciate your support, and we can’t wait to resume in-class presentations in the future.
The helpers are out there
I recently saw the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a look at the life of Fred Rogers (a.k.a. Mr. Rogers, the children’s TV character who wore button-down sweaters and sang the song of the same title as the movie). I didn’t really know what to expect, but I heard it was getting great reviews, and I like Tom Hanks’ movies, so I thought I’d give it a go.
It turns out that the light-hearted man we see in front of the camera was actually dealing with a lot of turmoil when the cameras turned off. These challenges gave him a lot of insight, and this movie shared a lot of his inspirational thoughts and wisdom. I loved the reminder that there are lots of good people and things in this world, an important thing to remember when it seems like we are only hearing about the bad things.
I came across a Mr. Rogers quote that really resonates with me, and I want to share it with all of you:
This quote gives me great comfort, because it reinforces the fact that the scary situation is being handled. The amount of people stepping up to help combat the virus – from healthcare workers to children making signs of encouragement and everyone in between – restores my faith in humanity. When we all work together to stand up to this virus, it will be eradicated and we will resume our typical daily lives. I want to remind you that there are helpers out there that want to support you. If you are having a difficult time with your mental health, please reach out to someone you trust. You can also check out our website for resources specific to COVID-19, as well as general mental health resources: https://thenanproject.org/covid-19-resources.
Mental Health & COVID 19
Early on in my journey to mental health recovery, I learned that, on a societal level, there is a big discrepancy between the way we treat mental health and the way we treat physical health. Think about this example:
Say you fall down and break your arm. You have a cast, which all of your friends want to sign. Maybe you get balloons or cards with well-wishes on them.
Now imagine that, instead of a broken arm, you are diagnosed with anxiety. The racing heart and fear you feel are very real and scary – but no one can physically see that. Your friends may not even notice that you are feeling these things. You are not sent cards or balloons with uplifting messages on them. Even when you do tell people about your diagnosis, they might not know how to react or what to say.
Now, let’s think about this difference in terms of the current COVID outbreak. I don’t know about you, but I have seen countless articles and news stories about the physical symptoms of this illness, where to get tested, precautions to take, and how to take care of yourself and others around you if you are sick. I have seen maybe two news stories about the mental health impact of COVID. Don’t get me wrong, the physical signs are important – but so is mental health.
If you have experienced a mental health issue, you have probably heard at least one clinician tell you not to isolate yourself from others – so this period of staying home and isolating yourself from others is counterintuitive of what we are told by our treatment providers. This can be scary and very lonely. I wanted to offer some ways to cope with this tough situation.
-Although we may not be able to meet in person, we can communicate with video chatting (think Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, etc.). Seeing the faces of your friends and family can really be a mood-booster!
-If you are not sick, spend time with others in your house (as opposed to isolating in your bedroom or another room in the house). I have found that jigsaw puzzles are a really good way to bring my family together, as well as working together to cook a meal (and, believe me, learning to cook will come in handy!).
-Ask a friend or family member if they want to watch the same TV show as you, and you can talk about it as you go. This can help you feel connected without actually being together! You could also play video games together, or read the same book!
This time will not last forever, even though it may feel that way right now. It is a long haul, and it can be emotionally draining. It may seem impossible to feel positive at this moment. From myself and everyone here at The NAN Project: Remember to HOPE (Hold On, Pain Ends).
Taking the “Un” out of Uncertainty
By Senior Peer Mentor, Alison Sabean
If you struggle with a mental illness, you may find that your symptoms are getting more intense. I have personally been more depressed, irritable, and anxious than usual – so I know that it’s a lot to handle (as if this social distancing/isolation stuff is not enough in itself).
You may feel like there is not much you can do about your symptoms, but there are little things you can do to help manage your illness. Creating some structure and routine to your day can give you a sense of normalcy and certainty, and help you stay on track with things you need to get done, like schoolwork.
- Here are some tips I have personally found useful:
- Make your bed in the morning after you get up.
- Make a to-do list every day. If you feel stuck coming up with things to do, put things on the list that you know you will do, or need to do (showering, eating meals and snacks, brushing your teeth, etc.). Crossing off an item on a list can give you a sense of accomplishment, which is so important in the creation of a routine.
- Outline the next day before you go to bed each night. That may look like an hourly schedule, a list of tasks broken up into morning, afternoon, and evening, or some other format. Be creative and find what works for you.
- Create a bedtime routine. Maybe that means setting an alarm on your phone for a certain time to start getting ready for bed, then brushing your teeth, washing your face, and doing a relaxing activity for a little while (like meditation, yoga, coloring, writing, etc.).
- Find a project to work on and devote a little bit of time to it each day. Do you need to clean out your bedroom closet? Is there an art project you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time? Maybe you have always wanted to learn another language, or learn how to cook. Clean out your email inbox and voicemails on your phone. Now’s the time to do these things!
- Find healthy coping skills that work for YOU and turn to them whenever the need arises. Watch a funny TV show, journal, sing, punch a pillow…the possibilities are endless! While we’re on the subject, another important coping skill is to limit your time watching the news. We can find ourselves fixating on the negative things going on right now, and that is not helpful to us.
Here at The NAN Project, we know that these circumstances are difficult to deal with, and we encourage you to reach out to someone if you are struggling. If you know someone who is struggling, take some time to check in with them. Ask them how you can help. If you are worried that the situation is more than you can handle, you should always bring it to an adult you trust, like a parent, school counselor, teacher, coach, or another person who can help.
Remember that you are not alone in this. There are a lot of people who feel just like you do, and we will all get through this together. Remember, There is Help and There is Hope!