A Different Kind of Summer with The NAN Project
While COVID may have slowed down many industries and left folks physically isolated, The NAN Project and our Peer Mentors kept hard at work and socially connected all summer! One of our major initiatives during the typically slower, sunny months of school vacation was our 2020 Senior Peer Mentor Training! The goal of these 8 weeks of workshops was to support our Peer Mentors, while also keeping them active and engaged, and prepping them for what was sure to be a very different school year ahead. It was also an opportunity to provide educational development to our incredible young adults by bringing in an array of outstanding guest speakers that helped us all build skills for use both at work and in our everyday lives. We invited a different guest speaker to each Wednesday of our two month training to talk about different topics related to mental health, social justice, emotional intelligence and much more!
Two of the outstanding presenters were current and former NAN Project staff – Rachely and Greta! Both covered different therapeutic methods that our Peers might find helpful in their recovery, and can also teach others about. Rachely introduced us to Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAP), and covered how to identify stressors, create a wellness toolbox, and develop a daily plan to maintain strong mental health. Greta educated us about Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFST), a type of therapy that looks at ourselves as different parts, and focuses on healing the wounded parts as a part of recovery. Learning about IFST helped our Peers think about their own recovery in different ways.
We also invited Jon Mattelman to present about anxiety, specifically, what it can look like in middle and high schoolers and how to support them if they are struggling. This was valuable because we work with young adults and knowing more about how they can experience anxiety will help us get them to the support they need.
Additionally, we had speakers talk about topics that were relevant to the pandemic and current events. We had Hannah, a grad student from Salem Statem, present a workshop titled “Beyond the Rectangle,” which covered what Peers can do to feel alive and happy during a virtual presentation (skills just about everybody can use these days). Thinking about self-care activities that they can do before, during, and after a virtual presentation will help our Peers approach their work in a way that feels rewarding and prioritizes their mental health. We also had Maryanne, a longtime friend from the Department of Mental Health’s YouForward in Lawrence, present a social justice training with the help of our Senior Peer Coordinator, Lizzie, and our Peer Coordinator, Shilpa. They spoke about how COVID-19 affects Black people disproportionately in what is called the Double Pandemic, what systemic racism is, and how to be a better ally to people of color. We had a really engaging group discussion with our Peers and they had many personal experiences to share.
In light of this pandemic, the importance of developing emotional intelligence and strength is important now more than ever. We brought in inspirational speaker Kurt Faustin to introduce us to the concept of emotional intelligence through a training titled “Learning the Ingredients to Become a Better You”. This covered the importance of how developing a supportive community and helpful coping skills can affect our lives positively and help us develop emotional intelligence. Our Peers really enjoyed Kurt’s enthusiasm and we look forward to having him back!
Another important piece of the training was our weekly small group work, where we created projects for Suicide Prevention Week. Each of the four groups did a wonderful job producing very unique ways of promoting mental health education and suicide prevention. Our first group focused on the importance of a trusted adult, and our Peer Mentor, Margaret, created a story about how a trusted adult impacted her life. Group two decided to examine how mental health is portrayed in the media and we will be posting their reviews on our social media in the coming week. Group Hope! created inspirational social media posts and a personal story about mental health and recovery, and our fourth group made beautiful artwork to raise awareness for suicide prevention. We are so grateful to our Peer Mentors for all of their creativity, hard work, and commitment. Make sure to keep a lookout on our social media over the next week so you can see all of their amazing content!
Nanner Virtual Hangouts
Our staff has been hard at work with a lot of different virtual projects over the past couple months! Our twice-weekly Zoom hangouts have been one of the more fun projects, allowing us to stay connected with our Peer Mentors during this period of physical distancing. Most times, we get between 15 and 20 folks to join for the one hour sessions, each of which has an intentional theme such as boundary setting, connection, creative expression, self care, and movement.
These Nanner Hangouts are more than just a time to hang with our team; we’re also piloting lesson plans each time. Using surveys our Peer Mentors fill out, we seek to ensure the content and objectives are both engaging and helpful. Once we have refined the lesson plans, and made changes based on the feedback, we upload the plans and accompanying slide shows to our website so that teachers can download them for free. We have also run a couple lessons for students, and expect this may be one of the main ways we’ll interact with schools in the fall.
If you know of a school that might benefit from using our lesson plans, point them to this page and they can check them out for themselves! Keep reading below to learn more about what these lessons cover and how we run our Nanner Hangouts.
This multi-session lesson covered a few different types of boundaries – rigid, porous, and balanced. A person with rigid boundaries tends to keep others at a distance, be hesitant to ask for help, and very protective of personal information. The lesson teaches that porous boundaries apply to people who tend to overshare, and who are dependent on others for opinions and put others’ problems before their own. It is often difficult for people with these boundaries to say “no.” Healthy, or balanced, boundaries are somewhere in the middle of all three types – a person with healthy boundaries will value their own opinion while considering those of others, communicate and assert their needs, and is able to accept when others say, “no.”
When Lizzie and Fernanda ran this Hangout, they also went into how boundaries can fluctuate between rigid, porous, and healthy, depending on the situation and type of people you are with. For example, if you are in a college interview, your boundaries might be more rigid – you wouldn’t necessarily talk about the meltdown you experienced last week because of stress. But if you were having the same conversation with a friend, talking about your struggles would be helpful and it can evolve into a deeper conversation.
There are many different domains of boundaries as well – physical, emotional, material, intellectual, and time. This Hangout focused a lot on interpersonal communication and emotional boundaries. This type of boundary focuses on when to share personal information and feelings, and communicating desired responses to those feelings. A balanced emotional boundary is one where everyone’s feelings are validated and respected. Finally, we reflected back upon our own balanced boundaries, and used what we had learned to have a discussion about creating and maintaining boundaries, which can become even more challenging during a period of physical distancing.
One of our Senior Peer Mentors, Greta, led us in a fun Nanner Hangout using the “clap” response emoji to answer questions. We answered everything from “Clap if you used a coping skill in the past week,” to “Clap if you’ve ever sung karaoke.” The mix of funny, lighthearted and more serious questions was great, and I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard since that day. Getting to know each other is something that we’ve all missed from our usual Nan Project work and I am enjoying learning the things I have in common with others that I was not aware of.
I led a creative expression activity where I posed two prompts and had participants answer in any way they wanted to. The prompts were focused on how our past experiences have shaped us and helped us grow. We gave advice to our younger selves and we thought about how we have grown in the past few years. Utilizing the Breakout Rooms feature on Zoom, we got into groups of three and discussed our responses. For the last part of the activity, we came back together and answered one more question about things we were looking forward to in the future. We used a cool program called Menti to create a word cloud with all of our responses in real-time. It was fun to focus on future goals, and it was a good motivator and mood-booster for us! Here is a picture of our word cloud!
We’ve been lucky to work with two art therapists throughout our hangouts, who have incorporated art and movement activities. Alex, led us in a few different movement activities, including yoga, stretching, and bringing awareness to where we feel stress in our bodies. We focused on tension and stress release, relaxation, and deep breathing. We also demonstrated how we walk when we are feeling positive as opposed to when we are having a bad day. That brought smiles to a lot of our faces, and also helped us recognize that our posture and body language can make a noticeable difference in how we feel!
To end our hangouts, we have been doing a variety of activities, like listening to empowering music, answering riddles, and meditating. We have had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit during these hangouts, and we are excited to share them with you!
Please check out our COVID-19 resources page for some great material. From myself and on behalf of everyone at The NAN Project, we sincerely appreciate your support, and we can’t wait to resume in-class presentations in the future.
The helpers are out there
I recently saw the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a look at the life of Fred Rogers (a.k.a. Mr. Rogers, the children’s TV character who wore button-down sweaters and sang the song of the same title as the movie). I didn’t really know what to expect, but I heard it was getting great reviews, and I like Tom Hanks’ movies, so I thought I’d give it a go.
It turns out that the light-hearted man we see in front of the camera was actually dealing with a lot of turmoil when the cameras turned off. These challenges gave him a lot of insight, and this movie shared a lot of his inspirational thoughts and wisdom. I loved the reminder that there are lots of good people and things in this world, an important thing to remember when it seems like we are only hearing about the bad things.
I came across a Mr. Rogers quote that really resonates with me, and I want to share it with all of you:
This quote gives me great comfort, because it reinforces the fact that the scary situation is being handled. The amount of people stepping up to help combat the virus – from healthcare workers to children making signs of encouragement and everyone in between – restores my faith in humanity. When we all work together to stand up to this virus, it will be eradicated and we will resume our typical daily lives. I want to remind you that there are helpers out there that want to support you. If you are having a difficult time with your mental health, please reach out to someone you trust. You can also check out our website for resources specific to COVID-19, as well as general mental health resources: https://thenanproject.org/covid-19-resources.
Mental Health & COVID 19
Early on in my journey to mental health recovery, I learned that, on a societal level, there is a big discrepancy between the way we treat mental health and the way we treat physical health. Think about this example:
Say you fall down and break your arm. You have a cast, which all of your friends want to sign. Maybe you get balloons or cards with well-wishes on them.
Now imagine that, instead of a broken arm, you are diagnosed with anxiety. The racing heart and fear you feel are very real and scary – but no one can physically see that. Your friends may not even notice that you are feeling these things. You are not sent cards or balloons with uplifting messages on them. Even when you do tell people about your diagnosis, they might not know how to react or what to say.
Now, let’s think about this difference in terms of the current COVID outbreak. I don’t know about you, but I have seen countless articles and news stories about the physical symptoms of this illness, where to get tested, precautions to take, and how to take care of yourself and others around you if you are sick. I have seen maybe two news stories about the mental health impact of COVID. Don’t get me wrong, the physical signs are important – but so is mental health.
If you have experienced a mental health issue, you have probably heard at least one clinician tell you not to isolate yourself from others – so this period of staying home and isolating yourself from others is counterintuitive of what we are told by our treatment providers. This can be scary and very lonely. I wanted to offer some ways to cope with this tough situation.
-Although we may not be able to meet in person, we can communicate with video chatting (think Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, etc.). Seeing the faces of your friends and family can really be a mood-booster!
-If you are not sick, spend time with others in your house (as opposed to isolating in your bedroom or another room in the house). I have found that jigsaw puzzles are a really good way to bring my family together, as well as working together to cook a meal (and, believe me, learning to cook will come in handy!).
-Ask a friend or family member if they want to watch the same TV show as you, and you can talk about it as you go. This can help you feel connected without actually being together! You could also play video games together, or read the same book!
This time will not last forever, even though it may feel that way right now. It is a long haul, and it can be emotionally draining. It may seem impossible to feel positive at this moment. From myself and everyone here at The NAN Project: Remember to HOPE (Hold On, Pain Ends).
Taking the “Un” out of Uncertainty
By Senior Peer Mentor, Alison Sabean
If you struggle with a mental illness, you may find that your symptoms are getting more intense. I have personally been more depressed, irritable, and anxious than usual – so I know that it’s a lot to handle (as if this social distancing/isolation stuff is not enough in itself).
You may feel like there is not much you can do about your symptoms, but there are little things you can do to help manage your illness. Creating some structure and routine to your day can give you a sense of normalcy and certainty, and help you stay on track with things you need to get done, like schoolwork.
- Here are some tips I have personally found useful:
- Make your bed in the morning after you get up.
- Make a to-do list every day. If you feel stuck coming up with things to do, put things on the list that you know you will do, or need to do (showering, eating meals and snacks, brushing your teeth, etc.). Crossing off an item on a list can give you a sense of accomplishment, which is so important in the creation of a routine.
- Outline the next day before you go to bed each night. That may look like an hourly schedule, a list of tasks broken up into morning, afternoon, and evening, or some other format. Be creative and find what works for you.
- Create a bedtime routine. Maybe that means setting an alarm on your phone for a certain time to start getting ready for bed, then brushing your teeth, washing your face, and doing a relaxing activity for a little while (like meditation, yoga, coloring, writing, etc.).
- Find a project to work on and devote a little bit of time to it each day. Do you need to clean out your bedroom closet? Is there an art project you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time? Maybe you have always wanted to learn another language, or learn how to cook. Clean out your email inbox and voicemails on your phone. Now’s the time to do these things!
- Find healthy coping skills that work for YOU and turn to them whenever the need arises. Watch a funny TV show, journal, sing, punch a pillow…the possibilities are endless! While we’re on the subject, another important coping skill is to limit your time watching the news. We can find ourselves fixating on the negative things going on right now, and that is not helpful to us.
Here at The NAN Project, we know that these circumstances are difficult to deal with, and we encourage you to reach out to someone if you are struggling. If you know someone who is struggling, take some time to check in with them. Ask them how you can help. If you are worried that the situation is more than you can handle, you should always bring it to an adult you trust, like a parent, school counselor, teacher, coach, or another person who can help.
Remember that you are not alone in this. There are a lot of people who feel just like you do, and we will all get through this together. Remember, There is Help and There is Hope!
The NAN Project & COVID 19
It is pretty incredible how quickly things have changed for all of us at The NAN Project, and I suspect for most of you as well. I truly hope you have managed to find somewhere safe and comfortable to wait out this storm with loved ones and those close to you.
At The NAN Project, our work has been directly affected by the coronavirus – all of our classroom presentations are suspended, teacher professional development is postponed, peer mentor trainings are delayed – and though it might appear at first glance that The NAN Project would come to a grinding halt, this has NOT been the case. While this evolving situation has required us to take a giant step back from our typical peer-to-peer, in-class work and rethink how we do just about everything, our goal and mission have not changed in the slightest. We will continue to get our message out there about the importance of emotional well being and mental health supports for young people. I am so proud to say that our team has truly rallied to make the best of a difficult situation.
Pretty soon after Governor Baker, prudently closed down schools for the safety of everyone across Massachusetts, The NAN Project Team was right back at work (digitally) figuring out how we would support our communities and young people in this time of need. It didn’t take long to realize that the isolation and lack of structure many students are now facing would be extremely stressful, scary and unsettling. To combat this, our team is now producing online programming intended to create connectivity and reinforce the sense of routine and self-care among young people. In the coming weeks we will be rolling out both live streamed virtual content, as well as downloadable programs and resources for schools and communities across the Commonwealth (links to resource guides for 1) young adults and 2) caregivers/educators). We have started piloting these 30-60 minute programs with our amazing Peer Mentors (with whom we’ve remained in daily contact) and plan to begin offering it to student groups at our partner schools in the coming weeks.
While this has been a steep learning curve for all of us, I couldn’t be prouder of our team for all that they are accomplishing and the enthusiasm they bring to work each day. All this is to say that The NAN Project is going strong during this time of uncertainty.
I’d like to end by thanking you, the many friends of The NAN Project, for all the words of encouragement, suggestions, and ideas you have passed along to us. We thrive off of this positive energy and are extremely appreciative of your support during these strange times.
In addition to our beloved mantra There is Help and There is Hope, today I would like to add, Stay Safe and Stay Healthy.
Executive Director – The NAN Project
Comeback Story Filming in Arlington
This February, Arlington Community Media Inc. (ACMI) hosted The NAN Project for an exciting day of filming and recording Peer Mentor Comeback Stories!
ACMI is an organization that is “dedicated to providing an electronic forum for the free exchange of information and ideas which reflect the talents, skills, interests, concerns, and diversity of the Arlington community.” They have two studios for filmmaking and a podcast recording booth that are open for the community to use. Additionally, they offer workshops and volunteering opportunities for those who are interested in film and technology. We were thrilled to be able to team up with ACMI for this project!
Our day at ACMI consisted of some basic introduction to videography and tips on filming. We worked with Jeff, ACMI’s Operations Manager, Katie, the Production and Media Coordinator, and some other staff and interns. Jeff and Katie showed us how to operate the cameras and gave us a run-down on how to set up the camera, microphones, and lights in the studio. Our Peer Mentors – Andrew, Shannon, and Evan – took turns practicing their stories in this new format, in front of the lights and cameras. We also had peer mentors helping out in the studio, by running the teleprompter and helping the interns with the audio soundboard. Everything went so well during the practice take that we decided to film the real take immediately after. The ACMI team filmed the Comeback Stories in a very personal style – it really makes the viewer feel like they’re talking to the Peer Mentor. Our Peer Mentors did a great job adapting to this technology, and having these Comeback Stories captured on film really tells their story of recovery in a creative way. Everyone really worked together very well, and we were excited to return to edit the footage.
The next week, Andrew, Ray Evan and I returned for our follow up day at ACMI, the team tried their hand at editing the footage. We worked with Katie and did some editing on Adobe Premiere Pro. We all learned how to fill in the green screen with other background colors or images and how to combine two shots into one clip and make cuts to get different angles. The folks at ACMi also showed us a trick to apply effects like a dissolve to start and end the final video. During our final session, we finished up the last of our edits and exported all of the files to create the final video. These videos will be useful examples to demonstrate a Peer Mentor’s Comeback Story, in classrooms, in training, or when introducing our programming to a new school!
The NAN Project really would like to thank Jeff, Katie, the interns and all of the staff at ACMI for working with us and imparting some of their knowledge, so that we now have a new way of sharing our stories!
Boston Peer Mentor Training – Jan 2020
In January 2020, The NAN Project held another four-day training in Boston for new Peer Mentors at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. We had a dozen young adults from all different backgrounds and towns all over Massachusetts sign up for this training.
Throughout the four days, the Peer Mentor trainees learned the QPR a suicide prevention technique, how to craft a Comeback Story and worked on their presentation skills. QPR is the mental health equivalent of CPR. It is non-clinical and meant to give learners the tools to help someone having a mental health crisis, just like CPR empowers people to keep a person with a critical physical ailment alive until help can arrive. This training teaches young people ways to identify the warning signs in a suicidal person, and how to get them to the correct help. We watched a video about Kevin Hines, a suicide prevention speaker who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, was also shown. Kevin speaks about his ambivalence towards suicide up until the actual attempt and how important it is to reach out to those who may be struggling. Kevin also talks about his struggle with mental health challenges prior to the attempt. There were many warning signs like how he lied about taking medications or opening up to his therapist. He also dropped his college classes and lost his health insurance. These were all the signs that he was struggling with a lot, and if only someone reached out to him and asked if he was okay it may have prevented his attempt. The meat of this training is the actual QPR – Question, Persuade, and Refer – three steps on how to save a life, after which we did role plays in small groups as a way to practice. Everyone left this workshop feeling a little more comfortable reaching out to a friend or loved one who might be struggling.
Some of the other components were helping the trainees tailor their stories of resiliency to our typical high school audiences as well as working on presentation skills. We also worked on some art therapy project, which is another medium we use when engaging students in the classrooms, when we’re not presenting Comeback Stories.
Peer Mentors usually present their Comeback Stories to high schoolers with the goal of opening up a discussion about mental health. There are three main components to a Comeback Story. The first is describing their background and experiences, so the audience connects to the presenter. Next we touch upon the “struggle” piece, or what the young person has overcome. By being so vulnerable and speaking frankly about their mental health challenges, the Peer Mentors create a safe space for students to take about this otherwise stigmatized subject. Lastly, the Comeback Stories highlight the strengths and supports that helped the Peer Mentors overcome their hardships and what gives them hope in the present.
The NAN Project hosts about six Peer Mentor trainings per year, with the next ones coming in Gloucester, Lowell, Lawrence and Malden.
Overall the training went very well and we are looking forward to working with some of the new Peer Mentors that have completed the training.
“I Am More” by Amy Kerr
In the winter of 2019/20, The NAN Project was introduced to an artist from Gloucester, Mass whose messaging of overcoming mental health challenges struck a chord with our own mission of getting people talking about this topic. We were asked by the Greater North Shore NAMI chapter to have several of our Peer Mentors attend and present at the opening of her “I Am More” exhibit in Danvers. Since then, we’ve stayed in closer touch and recently attended another opening, this of an expanded exhibit in Peabody’s North Shore Mall.
Amy Kerr, a pastel portrait painter started this journey in early 2017 after her own struggle with depression, which motivated her to begin the “I am More” project. She initially reached out to 16 local people from the North Shore area of Massachusetts and asked them if they were comfortable sharing their stories of struggle and resiliency. The art showing reminds us that we are more than our current life situation, health diagnosis or physical disability. Each one of Amy’s artistic and realistic portraits has a good meaningful and story behind it. Some of the topics that each individual has experienced are depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD and suicide.
One of the portraits is about a United States combat veteran who suffered from PTSD, depression and alcoholism. He describes coming back from war and the challenges he faced re-entering civilian life. The store talks about a retreat that he went on for combat veterans where he finally received the hope he needed and ends on the hopeful note of his entry to college and becoming a mentor for other veterans. This example personal resiliency, finding his purpose and inspiring hope for others very much resembles the Comeback Stories our Peer Mentors share with students.
The exhibit at the North Shore Mall includes 20 new photo-realistic portraits, each with a story of a Massachusetts resident and their own or their family’s words about their struggles with mental illness, disease or other situations that they have faced and overcome.
Amy has exhibited her show in Lawrence, Gloucester, Danvers, Salem and Worcester over the past year and hopes to bring it to Umass Amherst in Western Mass this spring, with a stop at the State House during mental health awareness month in May. To learn where she’ll be next, you can check out her blog at https://amykerrdraws.org/. We look forward to our next collaboration with Amy and the amazing work she is doing.
Fall 2019 Recap
This fall, The NAN Project presented in a few new schools, returned to past schools, and continued expanding our work with middle schools and universities. As we prepare for a new year and some busy months ahead, we can’t believe how much we’ve done in 2019!
As of this December, The NAN Project has reached over 9,000 students with our Peer Mentor Presentations or other suicide prevention training! Our team of Peer Mentors have traveled all across the state this fall, presenting in: Harvard, Salem, Melrose, Stoneham, Billerica, Medway, Plymouth, Milford, Hopedale, Somerville, Chelsea, Andover, Lowell, Tyngsborough, and Lawrence! Our team has returned to Phillips Academy, The Bromfield School, Milford, Greater Lowell Technical, and Andover High School to present comeback stories of resiliency to this year’s health classes! We’ve also began the school year with some new connections at Methuen and Melrose High School, and traveled south to begin work with Medway High School, Hopedale High School and MAP Academy in Plymouth. For a more in-depth article on our last visit to Lowell High School, read Sarah ’s article on the NAN Line Blog!
Not only have we done our typical presentation to schools, we’ve also provided trainings for faculty and some Peer Leadership students to provide them with more knowledge and skills related to mental health and how to help someone who is struggling. We have provided a non-clinical suicide prevention training to schools called, Question, Persuade, Refer or “QPR” to staff and students, in hopes that it will give them more confidence in finding students help when they need it. QPR is a training that teaches someone how to ask a person if they are thinking of suicide, give tips and tools on ways to help persuade the person struggling, and lastly bringing the person to the right support. We also trained Melrose High School’s faculty in Mental Health 101, which is a training Donna Kausek, our Clinical Director has recently offered to staff in schools. This training provides an overview of basic mental health challenges commonly seen in the classroom.
We have returned this fall to speak to the 7th and 8th graders over at Bromfield Middle School in Harvard. Our set up for middle schools are a little different from our regular curriculum, as we want middle schoolers to know and recognize the signs of different mental health disorders, and how to help themselves or a friend if they’re struggling. We adjusted the language we use to cater to the younger audience and made the program a bit more interactive to keep the kids moving. We also provide lots of candy!
Our founder, Ellen Dalton, Executive Director Jake Cavanaugh and Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola were featured on WCVB Channel 5 Boston’s nightly “5 for Good” segment, which covers people and organizations around Massachusetts that do uplifting work.! To read more, check out our article here.
We also held two Peer Mentor trainings in Salem and Lawrence where we trained 9 new young adults. These amazing youth learned how to tell their stories of resiliency and strength, while also undergoing QPR suicide prevention training and picking up skills to help them engage students in the classroom on the difficult topic of mental health.
None of these events could have happened without our incredible team of Peer Mentors! Thank you all for your continued efforts to bring your stories to classrooms across the state. If you’re wondering what our team will do over the cold months– we’ll be hosting more Peer Mentor trainings and continuing to spread the word about mental health! Check out our Peer Mentor Spotlight to learn more about these incredible individuals.