May 22, 2018
Watch 13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk about Suicide

13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk about Suicide is a movie project that came about in response to the Netflix series. In mid-2017, teachers in many of the schools we work in started asking us how to address this series, which many of their students were talking about. It was a double edged sword. On the one hand, it opened up the topic of suicide to a huge segment of the population where previously it had been such a taboo subject. However, after watching the series, we had a couple major issues, which I’m sure many of you had as well.

First, we felt they sensationalized and almost glorified Hannah’s suicide by giving her a voice after her death. This is an extremely unsafe portrayal which could lead a young person who may be struggling with any number of risk factors –bullying, depression, sexual assault – to think that suicide could be a viable solution to their problems, or worse, a way to be remembered or means of “getting back” at their classmates. For a kid in or near crisis, this show could be both upsetting and dangerous.

Second, the series barely touches on the mental health issues that around 90% of people who die by suicide are struggling with. The show implied that those around her were guilty of her suicide, when we know that it is the individual themselves that makes the decision to end their life. The fact that Hannah’s mental health was barely mentioned reinforced the feeling that there is little hope for a young person who may struggling with a mental health concern in conjunction with the other traumas she endured. Yet we know, mental health is treatable, and suicide is preventable. This series did not impart this message to us and we wanted to change that.

Finally, the series painted an incredibly bleak picture of the supports a young person can turn to in times of need. Guidance counselors were unhelpful, at best. Parents didn’t understand and were reluctant to broach some difficult topics. Friends were flaky and offered bad advice. We want to show that in reality, there are many supports you can turn to if you are concerned for yourself or a peer. You’ll notice that within, or at the end of each of the 13 vignettes, there is a support listed (hotlines, coping skills, individuals), and we hope that young people will gain an understanding of the vast array of resources you can reach out to within your school or community.

More importantly, the final vignette outlines in 3 clear steps, on how to respond to a peer in crisis. If students, young people or anyone who views this takes just one thing away from this film, we hope it’s the empowerment to reach out to a friend in crisis and 1) Ask them directly, “are you ok” “are you thinking about suicide?” 2) Step back and listen and validate what they are going through, and 3) Get that person to a trusted adult or support.

So about the process of making a movie.

The vignettes were designed over the last 9 or so months with input and feedback from our amazing Peer Mentors, as well as the peer leadership teams we work with at Stoneham and Andover High Schools. A variety of different formats were used in an attempt to reflect the different ideas our peer mentors had. Some, such as one where a young man comes out as gay to his family used actors; some were silent and focused on stats; others were based on the Peer Mentors’ own lived experience. We hope the variety adds to the experience.

Finally, I’d like to thank the organizations that provide the support that allowed us to create this project, including DPH, DMH, Cummings Foundation and Eliot Community Human Services. I’d also like to thank Dan Perez for his amazing work directing, scripting and a million other things he did to prepare this work that you are about to see. There is no way we could have done this without him. Most importantly, I’d like to thank all of our Peer Mentors and Peer Leaders who acted in and helped direct, edit and pull together this movie. They are the core of The NAN Project and we wouldn’t be here without them.

We hope you find this film educational and more importantly, useful, in your work with young people. We’d love to hear your feedback and how you’d use this tool effectively when working with students.  Enjoy!


March 9, 2018
Opioid Task Force

On January 12th & 18th Ellen Dalton introduced The NAN Project to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Opioid Task Force meetings in Lowell and Medford. This was a huge step for us, seeing as there were representatives from all over Middlesex County attending. The DA Marian Ryan has been amazing about promoting community based organizations to combat the opioid crisis, and fully understand how this crisis overlaps greatly with mental illness. After all, there is a link between drug use, depression, and suicidality.

We made many great connections at the Task Force meetings, opening the doors of communication with the Greater Lowell and Middlesex County Departments of Health, as well as the Police, Fire, and Emergency Services Departments. Our next steps are to bring our programing into the schools of Lowell and throughout Middlesex County.

The NAN Project will be presenting at the next Middlesex District Opioid Task Force meeting in Framingham at the end of March. We will continue and try our hardest to advocate about mental health and the resources available in our communities.

13 Reasons to Fly


We wanted to take the time to point out something that is pretty cool. The NAN Project’s own Peer Mentor, Isabelle Cole, has accomplished quite a feat. In the wake of confusion regarding The Netflix Thirteen Reasons Why series, Belle felt compelled to start an initiative on promoting positivity and life. Her project, 13 Reasons to Fly has now officially become a DMH promoted, non-profit organization. (Impressive right?)

I had the chance to talk with Belle and ask her a few questions

Why did you Join the NAN Project?
My friends over at DMH recommended that I speak with Kim Bisset, they said she’s really great at helping youth come up with their “comeback stories”. I reached out, and she mentioned The NAN Project’s peer mentoring program. I instantly wanted to be involved and a few weeks later, I attended their peer mentoring workshop. Their mission is so similar to my own.

Would you give us a little background on your non-profit, 13 Reasons to Fly?
I started 13 Reasons to Fly back in June in response to all the negativity surrounding the netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. Originally, I just wanted to flip the script and create something positive. Instead of focusing on 13 Reasons to end your life, why not 13 Reasons to live, and hold onto hope? That’s where it all began, I was knee deep in my own recovery but was tired of hiding what I was going through. I was tired of the very thing I was in the hospital for being glorified and stigmatized.

What would you say is your main objective of 13 Reasons To Fly?
My overall goal is to stamp out the stigma that surrounds mental illness. We want to start the conversation and help remove the shame that comes with a diagnosis or treatment. We also hope to give people peer support so that they see they are never alone. I want people to feel like they are loved and believe they are enough.
Is there any other project that we should be looking out for?
My age makes it difficult, as I am still in school, but plan on doing the GIFT training over the summer. We are also working on a campaign within 13RTF called The Body Project which focuses on self esteem issues and emphasizes body positivity. Other than that, I am staying active with church, sports and a leadership/community service organization, Project 351.

What gives you hope?
The opportunity to help others. I live each day with the hope that I can make a difference. I want to use my lived experience to help other youth who are struggling with similar issues I did. I have met so many inspiring youth out there that love my message, want to stay connected, and even want to help, they give me help

January 30, 2018
A Night of H.O.P.E.

Our Night of HOPE at Raw Art Works in Lynn last Thursday evening was amazing! Congratulations to everyone in the HOPE (Helping Other People Endure) Group for pulling off this inspiring evening where they screened a bunch of short films and then hosted a panel discussion about mental health, in front of an audience of 150+!! We couldn’t be prouder! They did an outstanding job fielding questions about mental illness, strategies to respond to a peer in crisis, and how they found the strength to talk about their struggles and resiliency! We also had 15 youth serving community organizations attend and distribute information about the resources available to young people and their families in Lynn.

The Night for HOPE was the culminating event of a six month project titled “There is Help & There is Hope: Promoting Mental Health Awareness through Art”. Back in the summer of 2017, The NAN Project was awarded a grant from the North Shore Community Health Network to improve mental health awareness and reduce stigma among youth, their families and the greater Lynn community. We have been collaborating on this project with Raw Art Works (RAW), a Lynn based organization that provides therapy through art for at risk youth. Together we applied a peer-to-peer model where young people use their lived experience to open up the conversation around mental health and educate the community about locally available resources.

This group, which became HOPE, began in September after we identified a group of peer leaders within RAW that were interested in educating their community about mental health. The 10 young adults went through a 4 day Peer Mentor training that covered the risks, signs and proper response to a peer or loved one who may be struggling with their mental health or feeling suicidal. The training then focused on helping the peers develop their Comeback Stories, which detail the mental health challenges that they and their families have faced, and how they found the supports and hope to persevere.

HOPE met on a weekly basis, to share and refine their Comeback Stories, create art that promotes dialogue around mental health, and to prepare for the mental health fair.  You can see some of the art in the attached pictures, including posters made using the printing press with inspiring messages and figurines promoting awareness.

The Night for HOPE at the end of the project on January 25 was a huge success, with attendance of over 150 young people, there families and community supporters. We enjoyed inspiring art, good conversation and each others company.  Congrats to all at RAW for the amazing night.

Thank you to all the community based youth serving organizations who took part in the health fair that followed the presentation, including Massachusetts Department of Children & Families – Regional Office, DMF, Children’s Friend & Family Services SocietyNaglyThe Artful Life counseling center & studio, La House, The Safe Project, YWCA North Shore Rape Crisis Center, Eliot Mobile Crisis Team, Haven Project, The Food Project, Lynn Community Health Center & their School Based Teams, and Lahey Health Behavioral Services!

You can also see some of the videos we screened by following THIS LINK.

January 16, 2018
Join The NAN Project & RAW for A Night for Hope!

Join us for the culmination of our collaborative project -There is Help & There is Hope: Mental Health Awareness through Art – on January 25th, when we will host a 2 part event for the Lynn community at RAW. First, HOPE (our group of Peer Leaders at RAW) will screen several short films that touch on different aspects of mental health and were produced by The NAN Project and RAW students. The Peer Mentors will follow this with a discussion about mental health and the supports available in their community. Next, a number of community based mental healthcare resources from Lynn will be showcased. We expect around 10 local providers to take part and provide informational materials to the attendees.

What: A Night for HOPE – Screening films & showcasing mental health care providers

When: Thursday, January 25 from 6 to 8pm

Where: Raw Art Works, 37 Central Sq., Lynn

How: Free event, open to the public

Background to the Project:

In the summer of 2017, The NAN Project was awarded a grant from the North Shore Community Health Network to improve mental health awareness and reduce stigma among youth, their families and the greater Lynn community. We have been collaborating on this project with Raw Art Works (RAW), a Lynn based organization that provides therapy through art for at risk youth. Together we are applying a peer-to-peer model where young people use their lived experience to open up the conversation around mental health and educate the community about locally available resources.

The collaboration began in September by identifying a group of peer leaders within RAW that were interested in educating their community about mental health. This group, which became known as HOPE- Helping Other People Endure – went through a 4 day Peer Mentor training. This covered education on the risks, signs and proper response to a peer or loved one who may be struggling with their mental health or feeling suicidal. The training then focused on helping the young adults develop their Comeback Stories, which detail the mental health challenges that they and their families have faced, and how they found the supports and hope to persevere.

HOPE now meets weekly, as we continue to share and refine their Comeback Stories, create art that promotes dialogue around mental health, and prepare for our upcoming mental health fair.

At the end of this project, we believe the Lynn community will have a greater knowledge of the supports and resources available to them, as well as a better understanding of the mental health challenges young people face and how best to respond to them.

Flyer for H.O.P.E.’s Mental Health Fair at RAW.2

November 22, 2017
Signs of a friend in crisis & Resources to help them

By Kelley Campbell & Kayla Scott

Hey Everyone!

With the holidays coming up there’s a lot to look forward to, but the holidays can also bring on a lot of stress and anxiety.  This can bring up some tough emotions and sometimes the possibility of some negative coping skills.

We thought it would be good to address some of these and remind you that there are positive coping skills and resources we can use instead.

Self-injury is when someone intentionally hurt themselves physically WITHOUT the intent to die by suicide.  While self-injury isn’t a suicide attempt, individuals that have been self-harming for an extended period are at a higher risk for suicide ideology and possible attempts.

Self-harm is used as a negative coping skill and shares many of the risk factors of other negative coping skills – trauma, abuse, poor family communication, isolation, anxiety, bipolar and depression.  This is not a complete list as self-injury can be a response to anything that causes emotional distress or pain.

For most self-injurers, the act of causing harm to oneself is an actual act to preserve their life by giving them a coping skill in order NOT TO attempt suicide.

Self-harm is NOT about trying to get attention.  Actually, most people who self-harm are ashamed, depressed and generally do not want anyone to know what they are doing and will go to great lengths to hide it.  Self-injurers don’t want to die, they want the pain to stop and are desperately trying to find a way to do that.

Just a few warning signs…

  • Inappropriate dress for the season, such as long sleeves, hoodies or long pants worn consistently in summer.
  • Unexplained scars, scratches, bruises, burns or other marks.
  • Odd or unexplainable items such as razor blades, matches/lighters or other items.
  • Emotionally and Physically distant.

Helping someone who is self-injuring…

  • CALMLY ask them if they are hurting themselves and if they are contemplating suicide.
  • Once it is established that this is NOT a suicide attempt listen to them.  Ask what is making them hurt so much that they feel they need to hurt themselves.
  • Assess the level of danger.  Do their injuries require medical attention?  If so seek medical attention immediately
  • Ask questions … ask the person if there are certain triggers that seem to make this worse? Where on your body do you tend to injure yourself? What is making you hurt so deeply that you feel you need to hurt yourself?  Ask simple questions that encourage them to share their experience.
  • It is important to engage the person in the conversation about what some of the possible consequences may be to their behavior and what the next steps may be in order to find more positive coping skills.
  • Don’t judge them.  Remind them that you are their friend and love them and want to help them.  Help them to seek professional help.

Some things to avoid if possible…

  • When you ask them about their self-harming behavior try not to panic.  Try to keep a calm tone of voice and body posture.  It may be hard to see what they have don but remember for them to be hurting themselves means they are in an extreme amount of emotional pain.  Actively listen to what they are telling you.
  • Let them talk.  Try not to talk over them or minimize their pain with your own but do let them know you understand they are hurting and you are there to help.
  • Do not use phrases like get over it, your disappointed in them, what are you doing that for? are you crazy, etc.  We want to stay away from negative comments and support them the best we can.

Some positive coping skills to help…

  • Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
  • Write down your feelings and then rip them up
  • Hit pillows or cushions, or have a good scream into a pillow or cushion to vent anger and frustration
  • Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut, or hold an ice-cube in the crook of your arm or leg
  • Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel
  • Put elastic bands on wrists, arms or legs and flick them instead of cutting or hitting
  • Have a cold bath or shower
  • Go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board
  • Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
  • Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
  • Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay

Some Supports

If anyone finds themselves or someone they love struggling and not really knowing where to find some support the following will be helpful.

    • Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255) – If you need help and want someone to talk to
    • Samaritans call OR text :  1-877-870-4673 – If you are feeling isolated, Desperate or uncertain about anything in your life.  The Line is open 24/7
    • Emergency Services Program/Mobile Crisis Intervention:  1-877-382-1609 – In MA for immediate crisis evaluation call this number and enter your zip code;  you will get the number of the closest ESP/MCI that serves you.
    • For the Crisis Text Line, text “Listen” to :  741-741
    • Peer Support Line:  1-877-733-7563 (Peer-Line) Open between 4 PM and 8PM any day of the week.  A person who has been through the recovery process, in English and Spanish


  • If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or crisis please 911 or go to your local emergency room immediately.


  • NAMI COMPASS:  1-617-704-NAMI (6264) or toll free at 1-800-370-9085 – For assistance navigating the mental health system in MA call this number or visit


Additional online resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Suicide Prevention Resource Center:

National Institiute of Health:

The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide:

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention:

Screening for Mental Health (SOS)

Enjoy the holidays!

September 6, 2017
A NIGHT for NAN recap

By Senior Peer Mentor Ridha Abidshah

The Night for Nan fundraiser was truly a night full of hope. Everything from the environment to the atmosphere was full of heart and the spirit of giving. The room was full of such wonderful people working and wanting to make a difference and help the cause of promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention in our local schools.

Being a Senior Peer Mentor attending the event, I felt as though I was a celebrity or superstar, not to mention we were all given pink stars to wear making us stand out. My fellow peer mentors and I were thanked several times for all that we do and for being there to support The NAN Project. Being thanked by everyone made me feel so appreciated and valued.

The spirit of giving was definitely present and the silent auction was a hit, raising over $12,000. Altogether, A Night For NAN raised over $75,000! The speeches by Ellen Dalton (co-founder), 3 peer mentors (Mike A, Kayla S, and Lizzie M), and Senator Joan Lovely were extremely heartfelt and some in the audience even started tearing up. Overall it was an amazing night for an amazing cause, in the company of such wonderful people.

I am proud to call myself a Senior Peer Mentor for The Nan Project as we work together to eliminate the stigma of suicide and mental health. Bringing all these voices alive and above a whisper.

August 17, 2017
A Night for NAN

Save the Date – October 19, 2017 from 6:00 to 9:00pm at Danversport Yacht Club

On behalf of The NAN Project, I am delighted to invite you to our first annual Night for Nan! This fundraiser and celebration of Nan’s life will be held at the picturesque Danversport Yacht Club, so please Save the Date – Thursday, October 19th from 6:00 to 9:00. The evening promises to be a fun filled event with presentations from our amazing Peer Mentors, a raffle, food, drinks, a silent auction and much more, all in support of The NAN Project’s mission to spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention in schools across Massachusetts.

The Night for Nan will raise money to train and employ The NAN Project’s amazing group of Peer Mentors. These young adults have been coached over the past year to present their Comeback Stories of struggling with mental health concerns and finding paths to recovery to local high schools. The support we provide helps these young people both therapeutically and financially, while delivering a message of hope to the students who we reach. In 2017 alone, The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors presented their powerful stories in ten high schools, reaching over 1,000 students across Massachusetts. The NAN Project supplemented these presentations with professional development to more than 200 faculty members on the risks, signs and responses to students in crisis. We have already had some amazing items donated to our auction, and are extremely appreciative of your generosity in supporting this important cause. With your help, we believe we can reach even more students in the 2017-2018 school year.

August 2, 2017
Stigma and the Misuse of Mental Health Terminology

I can’t believe it’s already August! I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful summer weather we are having here in Massachusetts.


In today’s blog, we take on the improper use of mental health related terms. Enjoy!


We live in a society where all too often words associated with serious mental illnesses are misused and thrown around. While most people do not do this with malicious intent, there is a lack of education around what it truly means to suffer from a mental illness, and why these words matter. Below are three ways in which I’ve heard mental health related terms improperly used, followed by descriptions of what these terms truly mean. Note that we are not seeking to fully define each disorder; rather, we are providing some of the most common symptoms of each one merely for reference and educational purposes.


  • “That’s so OCD”


What the stigma means: “I have to keep everything super organized. If a poster’s slightly tilted, it bothers me, and I have to fix it”.


What OCD really is: OCD is a disorder categorized by intrusive, unwanted and disturbing thoughts that can cause individuals to ruminate, and feel guilt and shame. Often these thoughts will cause individuals to act (compulsions) to get rid of the thoughts. Types of OCD stretch farther than a fear of germs and a need to be organized, though these most certainly can be symptoms. Other categories of OCD fall under the category of relationships, morality and guilt, superstitions, religion, intrusive thoughts, perfectionism, hoarding, Body Dysmorphic disorder, Body Focused Repetitive behaviors, checking, and contamination to name some.


Example: Layla gets an intrusive harm thought stating that her brother is going to get into a horrible accident and die. Responsively, she proceeds to call her brother every 7 minutes, because she believes that if she dosen’t, she won’t be able to keep him safe, or prevent him from dying.


  • “I’m so depressed”.


What the stigma means: “I really wanted to go out with my friends tonight, but instead I’m caught up at work. I’m so upset I have to miss out.”


What depression really is: Depression causes a shift in a person’s energy, quality of life, and sense of self–often one that isn’t outwardly apparent due to the lengths that many will go to mask their struggles. Symptoms can include low-self esteem, changes in sleep patterns (excessive sleeping or not sleeping at all), changes in eating patterns (excessive overeating or undereating) a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, self-loathing, an inability to concentrate or remember, social isolation, and uncontrollable outbursts of anger or tears, to name some. Depression can also cause one to experience suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.


Example: Kelsey used to be an active part of her school’s dance team. When depression suddenly hits her, she stops attending practice, and starts hiding in her room. She keeps her door locked, and sleeps 14+ hours a day. She can’t bring herself to eat, and finds herself starting to feel weak, and exhausted constantly.


  • “I’m so bipolar”.


Stigma: “I’ll buy a shirt and love it, but then two days later I’ll decide I hate it.”


What bipolar disorder really is: Bipolar disorder is divided into Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Bipolar I disorder comprises of changes in mood and behavior ranging from depression to mania, while those with Bipolar II disorder experience intense waves of depression, but less extreme mania (hypomania). During manic or hypomanic episodes one can experience symptoms of impulsive behaviors with little thought for consequences, limited need for sleep, excessive energy or restlessness, the ability to complete an excessive number of tasks in a short amount of time, and dissociative thought patterns. Depression can cause one to cry, have a negative outlook on life, make poor eye contact with others, as well as the symptoms listed in the previous section.


Example: Kaylene is really stressed about getting into college. Her bipolar I disorder triggers her mania, and she stays up for the next 2 days, completing a total of 35 college applications. Eventually, her tiredness catches up to her, and she crashes. Upon awaking, she starts questioning if she’s even smart enough to get into college at all, and becomes severely depressed, not eating or leaving her room for the next few days.


If you ever hear someone misusing a term associated with mental illness, kindly correct them–not aggressively, but rather in a way that promotes education. Refer them to resources where they can learn more about symptoms associated with mental illness, or, if you yourself have personal experience with this and feel able, explain how this sort of stigma has affected you, or someone you know. Words are very powerful, so it’s important that others use them properly.


Thanks for tuning in, friends!


Much Love,


Heather Rotman

June 30, 2017


Happy Friday friends of The NAN Project!

I hope you all have exciting plans for the weekend! It’s supposed to be beautiful, and it’s a great time to go to the beach, take a stroll through nature, or to explore a place you’ve never been before! Engage in any activities that bring you joy, because self-care is extremely important!

I joined the NAN Project about a month ago, and would just like to express how much of a blessing it has been interning with this exceptional organization. I have made so many beautiful friendships, and everyone has welcomed me with love, warmth, and open arms. Thank you all for being the kindest of souls!

So now, it’s time for some exciting news! Drumroll please…

Sure of you may have heard through our Facebook page, but if you haven’t, The NAN Project is ecstatic to announce having been named one of 100 local nonprofits to receive a grant of $100,00 through Cummings Foundation’s “100K for 100” program. ! We are so excited to have been selected from out of 400+ organizations for this grant. With this grant, The NAN Project will be able to continue to establish our school based, peer-to-peer model that provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention programming to additional high schools throughout Massachusetts.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, with the rate rising every year, and nearly one out of four teens struggle with depression during their high school years. The numbers associated with mental illness and suicide are staggering, and we need to talk about these difficult topics with our children,” states Ellen Dalton. “Mental illness is treatable and suicide is preventable if we raise the conversation above a whisper – this is what The NAN Project provides, a safe place for the community to discuss mental health concerns and learn how to access the available supports.”

The $100K for 100 program supports nonprofits that are not only based in, but also primarily serve Middlesex. Essex and Suffolk counties. This year, the program is benefitting 35 different cities and towns within the Commonwealth.

Through this initiative, Cummings Foundation aims to give back in the area where it owns commercial buildings, all of which are managed, at no cost to the Foundation, by its affiliate Cummings Properties. Founded in 1970 by Bill Cummings of Winchester, the Woburn-based commercial real estate firm leases and manages more than 10 million square feet of space, the majority of which exclusively benefits the Foundation.

Enjoy your weekends, everyone!

See you next week!

Your fellow Nanner,

Heather Rotman

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