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!
The NAN Project & COVID 19
It is pretty incredible how quickly things have changed for all of us at The NAN Project, and I suspect for most of you as well. I truly hope you have managed to find somewhere safe and comfortable to wait out this storm with loved ones and those close to you.
At The NAN Project, our work has been directly affected by the coronavirus – all of our classroom presentations are suspended, teacher professional development is postponed, peer mentor trainings are delayed – and though it might appear at first glance that The NAN Project would come to a grinding halt, this has NOT been the case. While this evolving situation has required us to take a giant step back from our typical peer-to-peer, in-class work and rethink how we do just about everything, our goal and mission have not changed in the slightest. We will continue to get our message out there about the importance of emotional well being and mental health supports for young people. I am so proud to say that our team has truly rallied to make the best of a difficult situation.
Pretty soon after Governor Baker, prudently closed down schools for the safety of everyone across Massachusetts, The NAN Project Team was right back at work (digitally) figuring out how we would support our communities and young people in this time of need. It didn’t take long to realize that the isolation and lack of structure many students are now facing would be extremely stressful, scary and unsettling. To combat this, our team is now producing online programming intended to create connectivity and reinforce the sense of routine and self-care among young people. In the coming weeks we will be rolling out both live streamed virtual content, as well as downloadable programs and resources for schools and communities across the Commonwealth (links to resource guides for 1) young adults and 2) caregivers/educators). We have started piloting these 30-60 minute programs with our amazing Peer Mentors (with whom we’ve remained in daily contact) and plan to begin offering it to student groups at our partner schools in the coming weeks.
While this has been a steep learning curve for all of us, I couldn’t be prouder of our team for all that they are accomplishing and the enthusiasm they bring to work each day. All this is to say that The NAN Project is going strong during this time of uncertainty.
I’d like to end by thanking you, the many friends of The NAN Project, for all the words of encouragement, suggestions, and ideas you have passed along to us. We thrive off of this positive energy and are extremely appreciative of your support during these strange times.
In addition to our beloved mantra There is Help and There is Hope, today I would like to add, Stay Safe and Stay Healthy.
Executive Director – The NAN Project
Nabil Douq- PM Spotlight
Nabil Douq has been a Peer Mentor with The NAN Project since last spring, bringing their creativity and sense of humor to every presentation and coaching day. Social Media Coordinator Tom sat down with Nabil to catch up on almost a year as part of the team!
Thank you Nabil, for doing this interview for the Peer Mentor Spotlight! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello Tom! Thank you for having me! My name is Nabil and I love video games and movies. I love helping out with The NAN Project and giving back in my own way. I also have a crazy cat who is evil, but I love him, and I like to give him hugs.
I know you’re really into video games and a big fan of movies and old films. What made you have an interest in both video games and movies? And what are your favorite video games to play and favorite movie?
I’ve always loved stories when I was little and I would read all the time. I like to see video games and movies as a way to tell a story. When it comes to movies and video games, I don’t like things that are all violence. I like things that prioritize storytelling, character growth, and that you would get from reading, but in a different medium. For example, one of my favorite movies is Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock. I could watch it whenever! I love it. For video games, there is one that really stands out to me – Final Fantasy 9. It’s a classic game, but it’s great!
What a great reason as to why you love movies and video games so much! What made you want to become a Peer Mentor for The NAN Project and how long have you worked for us?
I have been with The NAN Project since June of 2019. Even before my recovery process started, I had always wanted to help people by sharing my story, but I was never in a place where I could do it. This last year was when I was approaching three years in the recovery process, and I was thinking that it was finally the right time. I felt like I was in a place where I could share my story and do what The NAN Project does. I also had some friends that have gone through The NAN Project training and have gone out into schools and I thought that this would be my time to try it and it’s been great.
What has your experience as a Peer Mentor for the NAN Project been like?
It’s been pretty good! When I was a lot younger, I did theater so I am used to sharing, not stuff as personal as this, but going in front of people and speaking. I have never been embarrassed that I have mental health issues and I believe in sharing experiences with people, being open about it and not hiding it. These were two aspects being combined: being in front of people but also being honest and sharing. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.
Can you tell us one experience that really stood out to you while working with The NAN Project?
Yeah, I really enjoyed the Senior Peer Mentor Training we had in the summer of 2019. It was basic activities, but we a mix of different things to do each week. We did a lot of art stuff, DBT, story telling, yoga, and it was really cool to just get a ton of information. It also was a lot of fun!
What are some of your coping strategies that you use to maintain your own wellness?
A big one for me is writing. I write poetry and I write about how I feel. It’s different for me than journaling, but it gets thoughts out and even if I never show it to someone it’s out now and it’s not bottled up. I also really enjoy talking with people. It doesn’t always have to be “therapeutic talk,” but talking about video games and movies it distracts me and that can be helpful too. Movies and books and grounding skills that help me out as well.
Lastly, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future both personally and with The NAN Project?
Well, in terms of The NAN Project, I want to start expanding my work outside of this organization. I don’t want to go away from The NAN Project, I still want to help out in schools and stay connected with them because it’s a great place to work. A personal goal I have is to learn how to drive soon! That’s a big personal goal I have! I want to do it and feel like I’m in a place where I can, because I used to be so afraid of driving. Another goal I have is to just keep continuing in the recovery process. I have learned that being kind to myself and moving forward everyday can be my goal.
Thanks for chatting with us, Nabil!
Comeback Story Filming in Arlington
This February, Arlington Community Media Inc. (ACMI) hosted The NAN Project for an exciting day of filming and recording Peer Mentor Comeback Stories!
ACMI is an organization that is “dedicated to providing an electronic forum for the free exchange of information and ideas which reflect the talents, skills, interests, concerns, and diversity of the Arlington community.” They have two studios for filmmaking and a podcast recording booth that are open for the community to use. Additionally, they offer workshops and volunteering opportunities for those who are interested in film and technology. We were thrilled to be able to team up with ACMI for this project!
Our day at ACMI consisted of some basic introduction to videography and tips on filming. We worked with Jeff, ACMI’s Operations Manager, Katie, the Production and Media Coordinator, and some other staff and interns. Jeff and Katie showed us how to operate the cameras and gave us a run-down on how to set up the camera, microphones, and lights in the studio. Our Peer Mentors – Andrew, Shannon, and Evan – took turns practicing their stories in this new format, in front of the lights and cameras. We also had peer mentors helping out in the studio, by running the teleprompter and helping the interns with the audio soundboard. Everything went so well during the practice take that we decided to film the real take immediately after. The ACMI team filmed the Comeback Stories in a very personal style – it really makes the viewer feel like they’re talking to the Peer Mentor. Our Peer Mentors did a great job adapting to this technology, and having these Comeback Stories captured on film really tells their story of recovery in a creative way. Everyone really worked together very well, and we were excited to return to edit the footage.
The next week, Andrew, Ray Evan and I returned for our follow up day at ACMI, the team tried their hand at editing the footage. We worked with Katie and did some editing on Adobe Premiere Pro. We all learned how to fill in the green screen with other background colors or images and how to combine two shots into one clip and make cuts to get different angles. The folks at ACMi also showed us a trick to apply effects like a dissolve to start and end the final video. During our final session, we finished up the last of our edits and exported all of the files to create the final video. These videos will be useful examples to demonstrate a Peer Mentor’s Comeback Story, in classrooms, in training, or when introducing our programming to a new school!
The NAN Project really would like to thank Jeff, Katie, the interns and all of the staff at ACMI for working with us and imparting some of their knowledge, so that we now have a new way of sharing our stories!
Boston Peer Mentor Training – Jan 2020
In January 2020, The NAN Project held another four-day training in Boston for new Peer Mentors at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. We had a dozen young adults from all different backgrounds and towns all over Massachusetts sign up for this training.
Throughout the four days, the Peer Mentor trainees learned the QPR a suicide prevention technique, how to craft a Comeback Story and worked on their presentation skills. QPR is the mental health equivalent of CPR. It is non-clinical and meant to give learners the tools to help someone having a mental health crisis, just like CPR empowers people to keep a person with a critical physical ailment alive until help can arrive. This training teaches young people ways to identify the warning signs in a suicidal person, and how to get them to the correct help. We watched a video about Kevin Hines, a suicide prevention speaker who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, was also shown. Kevin speaks about his ambivalence towards suicide up until the actual attempt and how important it is to reach out to those who may be struggling. Kevin also talks about his struggle with mental health challenges prior to the attempt. There were many warning signs like how he lied about taking medications or opening up to his therapist. He also dropped his college classes and lost his health insurance. These were all the signs that he was struggling with a lot, and if only someone reached out to him and asked if he was okay it may have prevented his attempt. The meat of this training is the actual QPR – Question, Persuade, and Refer – three steps on how to save a life, after which we did role plays in small groups as a way to practice. Everyone left this workshop feeling a little more comfortable reaching out to a friend or loved one who might be struggling.
Some of the other components were helping the trainees tailor their stories of resiliency to our typical high school audiences as well as working on presentation skills. We also worked on some art therapy project, which is another medium we use when engaging students in the classrooms, when we’re not presenting Comeback Stories.
Peer Mentors usually present their Comeback Stories to high schoolers with the goal of opening up a discussion about mental health. There are three main components to a Comeback Story. The first is describing their background and experiences, so the audience connects to the presenter. Next we touch upon the “struggle” piece, or what the young person has overcome. By being so vulnerable and speaking frankly about their mental health challenges, the Peer Mentors create a safe space for students to take about this otherwise stigmatized subject. Lastly, the Comeback Stories highlight the strengths and supports that helped the Peer Mentors overcome their hardships and what gives them hope in the present.
The NAN Project hosts about six Peer Mentor trainings per year, with the next ones coming in Gloucester, Lowell, Lawrence and Malden.
Overall the training went very well and we are looking forward to working with some of the new Peer Mentors that have completed the training.
“I Am More” by Amy Kerr
In the winter of 2019/20, The NAN Project was introduced to an artist from Gloucester, Mass whose messaging of overcoming mental health challenges struck a chord with our own mission of getting people talking about this topic. We were asked by the Greater North Shore NAMI chapter to have several of our Peer Mentors attend and present at the opening of her “I Am More” exhibit in Danvers. Since then, we’ve stayed in closer touch and recently attended another opening, this of an expanded exhibit in Peabody’s North Shore Mall.
Amy Kerr, a pastel portrait painter started this journey in early 2017 after her own struggle with depression, which motivated her to begin the “I am More” project. She initially reached out to 16 local people from the North Shore area of Massachusetts and asked them if they were comfortable sharing their stories of struggle and resiliency. The art showing reminds us that we are more than our current life situation, health diagnosis or physical disability. Each one of Amy’s artistic and realistic portraits has a good meaningful and story behind it. Some of the topics that each individual has experienced are depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD and suicide.
One of the portraits is about a United States combat veteran who suffered from PTSD, depression and alcoholism. He describes coming back from war and the challenges he faced re-entering civilian life. The store talks about a retreat that he went on for combat veterans where he finally received the hope he needed and ends on the hopeful note of his entry to college and becoming a mentor for other veterans. This example personal resiliency, finding his purpose and inspiring hope for others very much resembles the Comeback Stories our Peer Mentors share with students.
The exhibit at the North Shore Mall includes 20 new photo-realistic portraits, each with a story of a Massachusetts resident and their own or their family’s words about their struggles with mental illness, disease or other situations that they have faced and overcome.
Amy has exhibited her show in Lawrence, Gloucester, Danvers, Salem and Worcester over the past year and hopes to bring it to Umass Amherst in Western Mass this spring, with a stop at the State House during mental health awareness month in May. To learn where she’ll be next, you can check out her blog at https://amykerrdraws.org/. We look forward to our next collaboration with Amy and the amazing work she is doing.
Fall 2019 Recap
This fall, The NAN Project presented in a few new schools, returned to past schools, and continued expanding our work with middle schools and universities. As we prepare for a new year and some busy months ahead, we can’t believe how much we’ve done in 2019!
As of this December, The NAN Project has reached over 9,000 students with our Peer Mentor Presentations or other suicide prevention training! Our team of Peer Mentors have traveled all across the state this fall, presenting in: Harvard, Salem, Melrose, Stoneham, Billerica, Medway, Plymouth, Milford, Hopedale, Somerville, Chelsea, Andover, Lowell, Tyngsborough, and Lawrence! Our team has returned to Phillips Academy, The Bromfield School, Milford, Greater Lowell Technical, and Andover High School to present comeback stories of resiliency to this year’s health classes! We’ve also began the school year with some new connections at Methuen and Melrose High School, and traveled south to begin work with Medway High School, Hopedale High School and MAP Academy in Plymouth. For a more in-depth article on our last visit to Lowell High School, read Sarah ’s article on the NAN Line Blog!
Not only have we done our typical presentation to schools, we’ve also provided trainings for faculty and some Peer Leadership students to provide them with more knowledge and skills related to mental health and how to help someone who is struggling. We have provided a non-clinical suicide prevention training to schools called, Question, Persuade, Refer or “QPR” to staff and students, in hopes that it will give them more confidence in finding students help when they need it. QPR is a training that teaches someone how to ask a person if they are thinking of suicide, give tips and tools on ways to help persuade the person struggling, and lastly bringing the person to the right support. We also trained Melrose High School’s faculty in Mental Health 101, which is a training Donna Kausek, our Clinical Director has recently offered to staff in schools. This training provides an overview of basic mental health challenges commonly seen in the classroom.
We have returned this fall to speak to the 7th and 8th graders over at Bromfield Middle School in Harvard. 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 themselves or a friend if they’re 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 also provide lots of candy!
Our founder, Ellen Dalton, Executive Director Jake Cavanaugh and Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola were featured on WCVB Channel 5 Boston’s nightly “5 for Good” segment, which covers people and organizations around Massachusetts that do uplifting work.! To read more, check out our article here.
We also held two Peer Mentor trainings in Salem and Lawrence where we trained 9 new young adults. These amazing youth learned how to tell their stories of resiliency and strength, while also undergoing QPR suicide prevention training and picking up skills to help them engage students in the classroom on the difficult topic of 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 cold months– we’ll be hosting more Peer Mentor trainings and continuing to spread the word about mental health! Check out our Peer Mentor Spotlight to learn more about these incredible individuals.
Greta Waag – PM Spotlight
This month, The NAN Project has featured Greta Waag in our regular PM Spotlight piece. Greta has been with us for almost a year, having joined us after several years as a Peer Specialist at Eliot. She brings experience, confidence and most of all lots of good positive energy to our team (along with a hint of quirkiness!).
Thank you, Greta, for taking the time to do an interview for the PM Spotlight. Tell us a few things about yourself and how long have you been working with The NAN Project?
I’ve been working with The NAN Project for just about one year. I am really motivated to get out in the schools and spread the message that it’s ok to talk about mental health and that there is help and there is hope. I have a strong background in DBT, something I’m really passionate about.
Hobby wise I’m so lame. I go for long walks on the beach (hahaha). I love the ocean I love to sail. I also love to do yoga, that’s a great to ground myself after a stressful week.
I remember that you were a Peer Specialist for Eliot a few years back. We knew each other from the Team Meetings and Peer Outings that we had. What made you get into Peer work back then?
I think peer work was something that I had always had calling for. I bounced around in multiple different jobs and different positions. One working as a mental health counselor with adolescents. Another working at a sober living home for adults. I liked all those jobs, but once I moved into peer work, it became clear that’s where I belonged. I was more comfortable working at the peer to peer level, rather than a hierarchial level (did I just make up that word??) I was able to use my life experience for the better good and to relate to what others are going through. In other jobs, the boundaries were stricter so I wasn’t able to use my experience.
I have a good memory of you bringing that frisbee game where you are on teams and either team tries to get the frisbee in the center of the barrels. How did you find out about that game? And have you known about it for a while?
The frisbee game is called Kan Jam and I saw people play it at the beach. I used to play ultimate frisbee competitively. We travelled nationally. Once I saw this new frisbee I knew I had to have it. It is a great game, because it emphasizes teamwork, which is always fun (giggle). Part strategy and part how you will match well with your partner. The game Kan Jam has strategy and you work together to try and win.
I remember that you were pretty good at Kan Jam and you were very good at explaining how to play it. It’s a good game that gets people to interact. Are there any other outdoor games you like to play?
I love Corn Hole which, a bean bag tossing game. Again, you play with a teammate. I used it as a bonding tool. My dad any I made the two ramps that you need to play the game with on our own. It was a good bonding time with my dad to make the two ramps for that game. It was great to have a common connection. It’s great to interact in a less pressured environment. That was fun. I also like to play Badminton and Bocce Ball. I love games. Being outside, hanging with friends.
I know that you have been with The NAN Project for a little while. How was it adjusting from being a Peer Specialist at Eliot to working with The NAN Project?
I was a Certified Peer Specialist with Eliot for six months. It definitely was an adjustment for me going from checking in with individuals one on one that were on my caseload to presenting to larger groups of students at schools. The good thing is I am able to reach more people with my story through The NAN Project and show that recovery is possible.
I remember back when you were a Peer Specialist for Eliot you always had great positive feedback and good input in the Team meetings. Where would you say this positive energy comes from and what inspires it?
I think my positive energy comes from wanting to make a difference. If I can make a difference in one life than that is worth it. I always wanted to stay positive because I wouldn’t want people to feel alone as I did when I was struggling.
It has been really great to interview you Greta for the PM Spotlight. Thanks so much for doing this interview. Lastly, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future both personally and with The NAN Project?
My hope with The NAN Project is to reach as many young students as possible and breakdown stigma that surrounds mental health. My personal goal is I would like to get back to school and get my Masters Degree in Social Work, so I can continue to help others in their times of struggle.
THANK YOU(!)…. to all our amazing Supporters this Fall
The NAN Project could not continue to provide our innovative mental health educational and awareness programming to students across Massachusetts without the generous support of organizations and funders. This fall, we took part in a fundraiser/awareness walk in Stoneham, a 5K run in Lowell and were honored with Tim Parziale selecting us to be the beneficiary of Cummings Properties annual a holiday employee donation! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
We truly couldn’t do this without this support, the generosity of our friends who joined us at the Night 4 NAN, and the grantors from CHNA 6, the Nashoba Valley Community Foundation, Winchester Hospital, the Tower Foundation, the Greater Lowell Health Alliance, Cummings Foundation and the Adelaide Breed Bayrd Foundation!
JL11 Donates Proceeds from Walk to TNP
October 26, 2019 several TNP Peer Mentors participated in the second annual JL11Fund Walk at Stoneham High School. The Walk honored James Luti, a wonderful young man who touched many lives and was a talented hockey player for Stoneham High School. James died by suicide in 2017.
The event included several organizations and speakers that promoted mental health awareness and suicide prevention. More than 300 students and families turned out to support JL11 and walk with the Luti family, including the Bruins mascot, Blades. The proceeds from the Walk were donated to The NAN Project. We are so grateful to the Luti family and the JL11Fund for their partnership and support in the fight to stop suicide.
Cummings Community Giving
Cummings Community Giving recognized The NAN Project again in 2019, for the 3rd year in a row! Thank you Tim and the Cummings Community for your ongoing support and encouragement in helping us help the communities Cummings Properties serves here in Massachusetts.
Donation from the Lowell Firefighters 5k Run
We are so thankful to the Lowell Fire Department for donating the money raised at their 5k run to support our suicide prevention and mental health education work throughout the Lowell community. We are continuing our partnerships with with CTI YouthBuild of Greater Lowell to train new peer mentors, Greater Lowell Technical High School & Lowell High School where we have been working to promote greater understanding around mental health, and finally the Greater Lowell Health Alliance which has facilitated many of these partnerships.