October 7, 2020
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. 

Senior Peer Coordinator Lizzie MacLellan, live from home last Friday.

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.  

Peer Coordinator Shilpa Thirukkovalur offers her insights.

    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.

September 29, 2020
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! 

September 18, 2020
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.

Michael Phelps in The Weight of Gold

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. 

Lolo Jones at the 2008 Summer Olympics

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. 

Shaun White at the 2010 Winter Olympics

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. 

Jeret “Speedy” Peterson at the 2010 Winter Olympics

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.

September 9, 2020
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!

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Greta during our IFST Zoom training

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. 

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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!

April 27, 2020
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.

March 27, 2020
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!

September 6, 2019
Senior Peer Mentor Training 2019

Written by Sarah Dickie

This Summer, The NAN Project held our second Senior Peer Mentor Training Camp.  This six-week, twelve-part training covered a wide range of topics relating to mental health, suicide prevention, and self-care. As summer tends to be a slow time for the work we do, with high school students on break from school, these trainings have three purposes: to provide our Peer Mentors with work; to build on our presentation and suicide prevention skills; and to strengthen the relationships among our team.

Peer Mentors stretch into the pose in a Mindful Yoga session lead by Alex Norby.

Through our participation in this training camp, our Peer Mentors learned a lot about supporting youth struggling with their mental health. Meghan Diamon of Mindwise introduced us to SOS: Signs of Suicide, a series of universal, school-based depression awareness and suicide prevention programs designed for middle school and high school students, as well as their parents and teachers. SOS is similar to the Question, Persuade, Refer or QPR method that we teach: both involve “asking the question” – that is, asking if a youth is thinking about suicide – and encouraging the youth to seek mental health support. We also learned some “postvention” approaches for providing support to loss survivors after a suicide with Debbie Helms of Samaritans of Merrimack Valley. Later, Kelsey Taylor taught us all about Motivational Interviewing, a method of supporting an individual in taking steps toward changing harmful behavior. MI is appropriate for use by clinicians and us average folks, because of its focus on keeping power in the hands of the individual changing their behavior. Though we don’t work one-on-one with adolescents in our line of work, this method is valuable to us in our everyday lives as we help our colleagues and our loved ones in their recovery journeys.

Debbie Helms trains our team in Suicide Postvention.

Our team also enjoyed the opportunity through this training to improve our working relationships and practice our self-care. We began the summer with mindful yoga for anxiety relief, led by art therapist Alex Norby. This was a first for most of our Peer Mentors, and many found it so rejuvenating that they sought to add it to their personal routines. Later, Senior Peer Mentor Greta Waag taught us some self-reflection skills through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, a method that has helped her tremendously in her own recovery and one she’s very passionate about. Additionally, our team clinician Donna Kausek led us in a conversation about healthy work relationships, covering topics like effective communication, fostering mutual respect, and making and keeping boundaries – all skills that will prove invaluable to us in our work with The NAN Project and beyond.

Our Peer Mentors filled the board during Greta’s DBT Pros and Cons activity!

To break up the sometimes intense suicide prevention topics, we got to have some fun and flex our creativity with improvisational activities and artistic projects. Friend of The NAN Project and filmmaker Dan Perez de la Garza led us in a film studio workshop. Last year, Dan helped us create the vignettes about mental health that we’ve released on YouTube. He encouraged us to use film as a medium to express ourselves, given that our work in high schools has already made us storytellers. Building on this theme, Agatha from Salem State University lead us in some public speaking and storytelling exercises. We practiced concise phrasing with six-word stories and answering tough questions with no preparation in front of an audience, which pulled many of our Peer Mentors out of their comfort zones. Though it may have been hard to get through, this exercise showed us that we have the skills to power through an uncomfortable situation. Our team did lots of art, too: Alex returned to lead us in a group painting project for which we connected our individual canvases with one continuous line, illustrating how we are connected as The NAN Project team. Finally, art therapist Fernanda Lopez from Lawrence Arts House helped us to create a three-dimensional mural to represent our work. We used daffodils as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings in recovery, and arranged them around the word hope, which we hope to instill in the students who attend our presentations. We hung this mural in The NAN Project’s Lexington office as a reminder of our incredible journeys and of the great time we had together this summer. 


These beautiful flowers are now hanging in The NAN Project office at 125 Hartwell – thanks to this team of Peer Mentors turned artists, and help from Fernanda Lopez!

Following this extensive training, the wonderful group of young people who participated have all graduated to Senior Peer Mentor status.  Thank you to our guest instructors for taking time to come work with us; thank you to the Young Adult Vocational Program in Arlington for lending us a beautiful training space; and thank you to Eliot and the Cummings Foundation for the support to make these trainings happen. Our team is more prepared than ever to return to high schools this upcoming fall!

In this art activity lead by Alex, one continuous line connects our individual paintings together as one art piece.

July 31, 2019
Dear Evan Hansen

Earlier in July, a few of our senior staff had the privilege of attending the Tony Award-winning production of Dear Evan Hansen in Boston, thanks to the generous donation of an anonymous NAN Project supporter. Additionally, we were able to provide tickets to several teachers and guidance counselors from school districts we’ve worked closely with over the past year. We had a wonderful time socializing with our colleagues, soaking in the majesty of the beautiful Boston Opera House, and cultivating our mental health education and suicide prevention skills in a new setting. 

Greta, Elli and Sarah before ths show

The musical follows Evan Hansen, an awkward high school senior with an anxiety disorder, as he begins his school year and navigates his mental health in the aftermath of a peer’s suicide. Evan’s therapist has recommended that he practice positivity by writing letters to himself, detailing what will be good about each day. In the beginning, Evan’s single mother – a nurse by day and legal student by night – encourages him to make new friends, suggesting he break the ice by asking other students to sign the cast on his arm. Connor Murphy, presented as an angry outcasted punk that smokes marijuana before school, is the only person to do so, in big, bold print. Later the two have a confrontation in the computer lab where Evan is printing his letter to himself, in which he mentions how infatuated he is with Connor’s sister, Zoe. Upon finding this letter in the printer, Connor becomes furious and steals it. The next day Evan is called into the principal’s office to meet with Connor’s parents. We learn that Connor has died by suicide, and he was found with Evan’s letter in his pocket. Connor’s parents believe this to be a suicide note addressed to Evan and ask about his relationship with their son. Evan lets Connor’s parents believe that the two were good friends, as it seems to help them heal – but things quickly get out of hand, and Evan finds himself as the face of Connor’s memorial project.

Before the show, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) held a panel for educators and mental healthcare professionals to discuss the show’s impact on this generation of struggling youth, and different ways we can better our mental healthcare and suicide prevention efforts. Panelist and trauma clinician Marlene Kenney noted that young people today are approaching trusted adults with songs from the show’s soundtrack. Teachers, then, are looking to Dear Evan Hansen to better understand these students. Panelists agreed on the importance of holding space for conversations about mental health in the classroom – after all, most young people look to access mental health services within their schools, rather than beginning with daunting outside medical services. Research has shown that students who access mental health services in school, where they may already have supports in place, are also more likely to stick with treatment.  

The Panel Discussion before the show, featuring The NAN Project’s Ellen Dalton

One thing Marlene would change, had she been working with students like Evan and company, is the way Connor’s death was memorialized. To hold space in memory of a suicide creates a “well of sorrow,” she says, where people will go to think about death. She suggests that the best way to honor someone who has died by suicide is to remember them as they were in life, not by the details of their death. The panel also took issue with disparaging comments in the script about LGBT youth. Evan is teased by a friend because the stories of his fictitious friendship with Connor make it seem like the two were secret lovers, and the romance is explored for comedic relief. Panelists argued that this is insensitive to the fact that suicide rates are five times higher among LGBT youth. Additionally, the panel criticized the cast’s lack of diversity, citing that students of color are less likely to access mental healthcare.

Regardless of its faults, the show has certainly impacted youth struggling with their mental health, and it spoke to our senior staff, too. There were tears, especially when Evan opens up to his mother about his own suicidal thoughts. Senior Peer Mentor Greta said she would have latched onto the soundtrack in high school: touching on experiences such as loneliness, non-belonging, and depression, it would have made her feel seen. The MSPCC panel praises the story for its portrayal of some signs of suicide in high school students, like the social and physical aggression Connor displays prior to his death. The play also shows how peers of a student who has died by suicide can become involved with “competitive grieving” – for example, the way Connor’s peers tried to out-do one another with stories of how he impacted them, and how much they were suffering in his absence. In this way, Dear Evan Hansen allows us a realistic glimpse into the tragedy and healing surrounding a youth suicide, even when the behaviors we adopt to cope are inappropriate. Regarding conversations about mental health with young people, we think this trendy musical is a good place to start, and we urge the audience – young people, parents, and educators alike – to keep the conversation going.We are immensely grateful for the opportunity to see this amazing production and process its impact with our colleagues in education and mental healthcare. Thank you to our gracious anonymous supporter, to the MSPCC for an educational discussion, to the cast of Dear Evan Hansen for a beautiful show, and to The NAN Project team for continuing to make space for mental health education. There is help, and there is hope!

June 7, 2019
Spring 2019 Recap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 27, 2018
2018 Wrap Up

In the past year, The NAN Project has grown exponentially! We’ve trained more peer mentors, met new students and staff, and worked on projects directed by high school peer leaders.

Presentations

  • In 2018, The NAN Project lead over 50 presentations to schools, community groups, mental health professionals. We covered more ground than ever, with our first trips to Hatfield, New Bedford, West Springfield, Lowell and over 2 dozen other communities.
  • Over 2,500 new students and young adults heard our presentations, and 1,000 staff members and stakeholders received training on how to support the students and young people with whom they work
  • We we able to spread our message among more professionals and stakeholders by attending SuccessFest, Mass Suicide Prevention Conference, Provider Forum on Restraint and Seclusion Prevention, Youth at Risk, and the Teen Mental Health Summit.

Trainings

We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our incredible team of Peer Mentors, which expands at the end of every New Peer Mentor Training. This year, we held trainings at Tempo Young Adult Resource Center in Framingham, at ServiceNet in Holyoke (Our farthest west yet!) and two trainings at YouForward in Lawrence.

We also held our first Orientation Day, an informational session for interested young adults who wanted to learn more!

Coaching Days

Scattered throughout the year, we have several opportunities for our Peer Mentors to reconnect and further refine their stories and presentation skills. We fondly refer to these events as “Coaching Days.”

This year, we were able to hold Coaching Days at the following locations:

  • January 12 STEPS in Arlington
  • February 12 Young Adult Vocational Program (YAVP) in Arlington
  • February 16 TEMPO Young Adult Resource Center in Framingham
  • March 2, YouForward in Lawrence
  • April 20, YAVP in Arlington
  • May 7, YouForward in Lawrence
  • September 6, Eliot in Malden
  • September 9 ‘Art with Alex’ – Creating Centerpieces for A Night For Nan
  • October 19, YouForward in Lawrence
  • November 16,  Eliot CHS in Malden

To learn more about The NAN Project’s Coaching Day, click here!

During our not-so-busy summer season, our first Senior Peer Mentor Training Camp offered our Peer Mentors the chance to become trained in Botvin LifeSkills, Safetalk (suicide prevention training), Mental Health First Aid, as well as participating in some grounding and therapeutic art projects lead by Alex Norby. These trainings not only provided valuable information, but also sparked some incredible discussions as Peer Mentors shared how what they were learning related to their own lived experience. We are so glad to have been able to provide this training for our team, congrats to those who graduated as Senior Peer Mentors! To read out blog post about our training, click here

Peer Leadership Teams

2018 was also a big year for our Peer Leaders, the students who keep up mental health awareness in their communities every day.

  • We trained teams in Stoneham, Bunker Hill Community College, MassMentors, and Andover High School in QPR suicide prevention. This training teaches signs and clues that someone could be struggling,
  • Students at Phoenix Academy in Lawrence came up with the catchy name “NANIX” for their Peer Leadership Team when we first met with them last year just before summer break. When we came back together as a group this fall, students and their city had experienced disaster and loss, including the loss of a Phoenix Student and NANIX member. Students stepped up to make this project happen, and we have been very lucky to work with such a dedicated group of young people. To read more about this team and their project, click here!
  • We visited Stoneham High School Peer Leaders and held a discussion about the importance of grounding techniques, rounding out our meeting with a new favorite art activity of ours – creating grounding stones! Grounding Techniques are meant to keep us in the here-and-now, connecting us back to reality and away from overwhelming emotions. The stones we created with Stoneham PLT are meant to serve as reminders of what each student finds grounding; some decorated their glass pebbles with nature scenes, or representations of their coping skills.
  • Andover Museum Trip – We joined our Peer Leaders at Andover High School to view the Many Faces of Mental Health exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science. The purpose of this exhibit was to show that Mental Health cannot be easily seen with the naked eye, and many people you see even walking down the street may be struggling. The Peer Leaders were very receptive, and we enjoyed this wonderful day at the museum!

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