Phoenix’s Peer Leaders finish Mural of Resiliency
The NAN Project has been fortunate to work with the staff and students of Phoenix Academy since the spring of 2017. Our most recent project is a mural created by their Peer Leadership Team, known as NANix, and has been an especially inspiring and healing opportunity for us all. (To read about Peer Leadership and our Peer-to-Peer Model, check out What We Do.)
Phoenix has hosted several peer mentor presentations of comeback stories to their students, as well as staff training in QPR suicide prevention. Last June, we met with a group of students who were interested in becoming more involved and promoting mental health in their school and in their community. Since its founding, this group of students, who decided on the name NANix (a combination of NAN Project and Phoenix Academy) has brought energy and big ideas to the table. We founded NANix, set up some goals for the next school year, and were excited to meet up again once classes began after summer break.
In September, one of the founding members of NANix, Leonel “Leo” Rondon, was lost in the gas explosions of Merrimack Valley. When we came together again as a group, Phoenix students expressed their desire to work on a project that would both honor Leo and celebrate their community’s resilience and ability to support each other, even through incredible struggle. They chose to paint a mural.
For this kind of project, we had to enlist the help of Art Therapist Fernanda from Lawrence Art House (LA House.) With her guidance, students were soon encouraging each other to contribute to the mural and taking ownership of the creative decisions and direction of their piece.
Over the course of a few months, we transitioned from brainstorming about the purpose of the mural, to sketching elements, to choosing quotes and reference material, and finally beginning to layer paint on the canvas. All throughout this process, students displayed incredible teamwork, respect for each other, and openness to each other’s ideas and feelings. Though creating a mural was an entirely new experience for many of the students, as well as for our own Peer Mentors, we were all able to witness the therapeutic power of art.
The final mural design encompasses a landscape of Lawrence, complete with the Ayer Clock Tower and Merrimack River, with a tree symbolizing regrowth on its banks. A banner flies from the clock tower displaying a quote from Leo, “I was given this life because I was strong enough to live it.” which NANix chose this quote to honor him, and because it embodies their resiliency and perseverance, in the face of loss, trauma, anxiety and depression.
We are so grateful for the involvement of everyone who worked on the mural, from the students who came to school early to finish in time, to those who simply picked up a paintbrush and added a single spot of color.
We look forward to meeting with the NANix team again soon, and deciding on our next project together.
A Look Inside The NAN Project: What is a “Coaching Day?”
All of The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors (PMs) must complete a four day training before being certified to go out and work in the schools and communities we serve; but their coaching is far from over! The NAN Project frequently holds Coaching Days — a paid opportunity for any of our PMs to update their comeback stories, refresh their presentation skills, or learn new mentoring techniques. This plays a crucial part in maintaining safe messaging and public speaking skills, and is an important part in preparing our Peer Mentors for their work promoting mental health awareness.
A typical Coaching Day consists of The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors joining us at a young adult drop-in center, facilities around the state, including Malden, Lawrence and Arlington, often where we have previously held New Peer Mentor Trainings. On these occasions old and new Peer Mentors alike meet up and share their personal stories and experiences of working in the schools. We check in with all the young adults to see where they are at and how they have been, followed by icebreakers for everyone to get comfortable with each other. We then dive into work on refining their ever-changing stories of recovery by honing in on their story’s core message, often followed by work practicing art therapy techniques that we can then bring into the classrooms.
This November we focused our efforts on editing our comeback stories for our upcoming presentations. We started by asking the group to name the central message of their story, for example, are you speaking to destigmatize depression? To educate about psychosis? To show young adults that they’re not alone if they’re experiencing anxiety?
Here were some of our PM’s answers:
“It’s OK to be different. There is a place for you in the world.”
“No matter how low you may feel, you are never alone; and the bravest thing you can ever do is seek help.”
Redefining our goals and purpose allowed us to take a second look at our comeback stories, and ask ourselves how we could adjust our stories to better emphasize the points we were trying to make.
In small groups, PMs took turns reading their current drafts, while their peers took constructive notes on where to add details, or sections that could be repurposed for longer versions of our stories. While the Comeback Story is never complete, many of our PMs left feeling as though they had improved their own greatly.
Thank you to all of our amazing Peer Mentors for the hard work they do. We’re excited to debut their hard work in our many upcoming presentations!
A Night for Nan 2018
A Night for NAN 2018
On the 18th of October, we held our annual fundraising gala, A Night for Nan at the Danversport Yacht Club. This celebration is always a great opportunity to connect with our community and our supporters, to recognize the work we have done and re-energize for the year ahead. This year was our biggest event so far!
Over 200 supporters, Peer Mentors and their parents, friends, and family members filled the dining room to show their love and enjoy the wonderful meal provided by Danversport. The silent auction tables that lined the walls were busy until the final moments of the night, thanks to eye catching prizes like a weeklong getaway to Turks and Caicos, date night packages, and pieces of art created by our supporters and even some of our peer mentors! New to the program this year was our Fund-a-Cause table, run by our peer mentors and detailing what the guests’ donations would go towards. Guests also caught a glimpse of our most recent video project, 13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Suicide.
We could not end the night without recognizing one of our most vocal supporters. Senator Joan Lovely, who has been an advocate for The NAN Project, connecting us to schools and inviting us to speak at the State House this September for Suicide Prevention Awareness Week. Thank you, Senator Lovely, for being our ‘Friend for Life.’
As always, the stars of the show are our peer mentors and their incredible comeback stories. This year, Senior Peer Mentor Onix Jimenez and Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola shared with us their inspiring journeys through real challenges in their mental health, and the successes they have achieved today. Though they are just two members of our team, Elli and Onix represented the core of what we do, and gave the attentive audience a feel for the classroom experience. (To read more about Elli and Onix, check out their interviews in our Peer Mentor Spotlight!)
We both surpassed our initial fundraising goal and almost doubled the amount from 2017. In all, we raised $147,000 to continue our work and expand our reach. With the successful fundraising underway, we’re more confident than ever in the ways we wish to grow and our plans for the coming year. The funding we received will help us bring our message to more schools, train more young people, and launch our next big project… a middle school curriculum. After many of our contacts expressed the sentiment that their youngest students or family members were also struggling, we have begun careful consideration of how to reach an even younger classroom. Just as we conducted focus groups, discussion, and met with clinicians to develop our high school model, we are starting the process from the beginning for younger students!
Thank you to all of our supporters for making this big event such a success! Specifically, Kate M, BIMSHA, Capital Lease Group, Ltd., Starkweather & Shepley Insurance Brokerage, Inc., Marsh and McLennan, The MENTOR Network, eHana LLC, Hosted Telecom Solutions, JOS Staffing, Charles & Selena Senatore, SyncHR, Tier1Net Inc., Telco Systems, AAFCPAs and all our other individual and corporate supporters!
If you couldn’t make it to our event or have a chance to donate, there’s still time!
Legislative Briefing at the State House
The NAN Project presents at the Massachusetts State House!
On September 13th, The NAN Project traveled to the State House to present as part of our observance of National Suicide Prevention Week. Our goal for this legislative briefing was to show our representatives the kind of impact that peer support and stigma-free conversations can have to help those who are struggling.
We were given the opportunity to speak because several of our legislators understand the importance of talking about mental health and that suicide is a public health crisis, especially among young people. As the number of lives lost annually to suicide grows, it is more urgent than ever that we foster collaboration between government, community health organizations, educators, non-profits, schools, advocates and all the other stakeholders involved in the field of mental health.
Both our founder Ellen Dalton, and Deputy Commissioner of Child, Youth and Family Services, Emily Sherwood spoke on the needs that brought us to the State House, and the lessons learned about suicide prevention from their years of work in the fields of mental and behavioral health. “We get the conversation going – in a supportive, non-judgemental way. We identify trusted adults within the school who can help and we leave students with a message of hope,” Ellen related when talking about The NAN Project’s model.
There are so many avenues to inspiring hope and connecting support to those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. As illustrated by the powerful Comeback Stories of our Peer Coordinator Mike Amendolare and Peer Mentor Belle Cole, starting a conversation about suicide is one of our most important tools to reduce the isolation, stigmatization, and confusion that many young people who are struggling face.
We thank Senators Friedman and Lovely and State Representatives Denise Garlick , Paul Tucker, and Michael Day for their support and sponsorship of this briefing. As always, we owe a special thanks to Senator Joan B. Lovely for her compassionate call to action. We are also so appreciative of the audience at the state house, who shared their own stories and touched us with their understanding.
To learn more about the problems facing our young people, and how The NAN Project works to tackle the issue of mental health, check out What We Do!
Signs of a friend in crisis & Resources to help them
By Kelley Campbell & Kayla Scott
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
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 http://namimass.org/resources/compass
Additional online resources:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: http://afsp.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://www.sprc.org/
National Institiute of Health: https://nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml
The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: http://www.sptsusa.org
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/
Screening for Mental Health (SOS) https://mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/youth
Enjoy the holidays!
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.