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!

March 26, 2020
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.

December 17, 2019
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! 

Peer Mentor Nabil Douq presenting to 7th grade students over at The Bromfield School, Harvard

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!

Peer Coordinator, Elli Peltola, presenting to students over at MAP Academy in Plymouth, MA

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. 

Eager 8th Graders in Harvard with many questions about mental health!

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!

Ellen Dalton, Elli Peltola, and Jake Cavanaugh on “5 For Good!”

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.

December 13, 2019
THANK YOU(!)…. to all our amazing Supporters this Fall

The NAN Project could not continue to provide our innovative mental health educational and awareness programming to students across Massachusetts without the generous support of organizations and funders. This fall, we took part in a fundraiser/awareness walk in Stoneham, a 5K run in Lowell and were honored with Tim Parziale selecting us to be the beneficiary of Cummings Properties annual a holiday employee donation! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We truly couldn’t do this without this support, the generosity of our friends who joined us at the Night 4 NAN, and the grantors from CHNA 6, the Nashoba Valley Community Foundation, Winchester Hospital, the Tower Foundation, the Greater Lowell Health Alliance, Cummings Foundation and the Adelaide Breed Bayrd Foundation!

JL11 Donates Proceeds from Walk to TNP

October 26, 2019 several TNP Peer Mentors participated in the second annual JL11Fund Walk at Stoneham High School.  The Walk honored James Luti, a wonderful young man who touched many lives and was a talented hockey player for Stoneham High School. James died by suicide in 2017. 

The event included several organizations and speakers that promoted mental health awareness and suicide prevention.  More than 300 students and families turned out to support JL11 and walk with the Luti family, including the Bruins mascot, Blades. The proceeds from the Walk were donated to The NAN Project.  We are so grateful to the Luti family and the JL11Fund for their partnership and support in the fight to stop suicide.

Tom hangin’ with the Bruins’ very own Blades!

Cummings Community Giving

Cummings Community Giving recognized The NAN Project again in 2019, for the 3rd year in a row!  Thank you Tim and the Cummings Community for your ongoing support and encouragement in helping us help the communities Cummings Properties serves here in Massachusetts.

Donation from the Lowell Firefighters 5k Run

We are so thankful to the Lowell Fire Department for donating the money raised at their 5k run to support our suicide prevention and mental health education work throughout the Lowell community. We are continuing our partnerships with with CTI YouthBuild of Greater Lowell to train new peer mentors, Greater Lowell Technical High School & Lowell High School where we have been working to promote greater understanding around mental health, and finally the Greater Lowell Health Alliance which has facilitated many of these partnerships. 


November 26, 2019
TNP on 5 For Good

The NAN Project’s CEO, 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. They were interviewed by anchor Erika Tarantal, which was aired on Thursday November 14, 2019 during the 7PM news. In the interview Ellen, Jake, and Elli discuss The NAN Project and the growing need for mental health awareness and suicide prevention programming in schools!

Ellen speaks passionately about losing her daughter to suicide and it’s the main driver for Ellen and her son Jake to start The NAN Project.  The episode went on to describe how The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors use their Comeback Stories as a way to provide mental health education and a message of hope to people who may be struggling.  Elli then talks about her battle with self-harm and how she uses coping skills to overcome this and other challenges.

   The show brought us lots of good publicity, and in the week since it aired, people representing schools across Massachusetts have reached out expressing an interest in bringing our programming to their districts.

We would like to thank WCVB Channel 5 for featuring The NAN Project on 5 for Good.

November 1, 2019
Recap on the Night 4 NAN!

On Thursday October 17th 2019 The NAN Project held the 6th annual Night for NAN at the Danversport Yacht Club for the third year in a row at this beautiful location.  The night kicked off right at 6:00 when the doors opened and guests started funneling in, eventually 250 in total!  They were met by the live 4-piece band headlined by Eliot’s own Keith Wales which set a mellow vibe for the start of the night.

Keith and his band greeting guests

Once past the band the attendees came across tables full of silent auction items containing everything from signed sports memorabilia to Caribbean vacations, elegant paintings to home woven quilts, and everything in between.  There was also a Fund-A-Cause table hosted by The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors where you can see how one’s generosity can directly support the work of these incredible young adults.  Next to the Fund-A-Cause was our Mental Health Jeopardy board that we usually bring to school health fairs and contains Mental Health related questions as well as myths and facts.  This turned out to be a big hit with the guests! Some folks even took part in our Rake for Cash Raffle where the winning prize was a rake full of lottery tickets.

At 7:00 the doors to the dining room swung open and the guests lined up for the impressive buffet spread, centered around the roast beef station, cooked up by the always skilled Danversport chefs.  Once everyone had taken their seats the evening’s program began.

Ellen delivering remarks

First up Ellen Dalton, The NAN Project’s Founder & CEO welcomed everyone to the Night for NAN and did an opening introduction where she talked about the accomplishments over the past year.  Jake then introduced the two star Peer Mentors, Ziona Rivera and Alison Sabean, who presented their Comeback Stories of resiliency.  Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola then took over the mic to encourage the guests to donate using the pledge cards on the table.  She was so persuasive that this year we had 10x as many fill out cards compared to 2018.  Finally it was time for Ellen to present the Friend for Life Award to the Commissioner of DMH, Joan Mikula for all the support she’s given The NAN Project over the past 4 years.  The program wrapped up with “thank yous” for all of our donors and supporters and the final Rake for Cash Raffle drawing, which was won by long time supporter Lindsay Nance (who we can only assume is now a millionaire after scratching some winning lottery tickets).

The NAN Project Team 2019

Overall the Night for NAN was a beautiful and successful evening and really honored NAN’s life.  It was a very special night for The NAN Project, which raised 150,00 dollars to support our continued work and everyone did agreat job and really came together to make it memorable.  We’ll see you again next year.   

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!

July 2, 2019
QPR in North Hampton

By Sarah Dickie

Earlier in June, the NAN Project sent a few members of our team to Western Massachusetts for certification in leading QPR training for suicide prevention. Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola and Senior Peer Mentors Sarah Dickie and Onix Jimenez trekked up to Northampton the night before to enjoy a stay in the beautiful hotel Ellery. Elli and Sarah, arriving early in the afternoon, passed the time with a scenic walk down Main Street in the shopping district. We explored local shops and had delicious hibachi for dinner, giving us a chance to spend quality time together and build our working relationship. 

Training proceeded on Thursday, June 6th at Hotel Northampton from 8am to 4pm. An impressive spread of pastries, fruits, and coffee greeted us as we entered the sunny conference room. Floor-to-ceiling windows draped in luxurious, intricate curtains surrounded tables topped with white satin-esque tablecloths. The elegance of it all was daunting. Our team was feeling a bit nervous, a little out of our league, maybe (as this was the first time any of us had taken a trip like this for work), but we were overwhelmingly excited to learn and flex our mental health muscles. 

Before training began, we had the chance to enjoy the provided breakfast and socialize with the other trainees: some social workers, some teachers, some nurses, some police officers. We got to share our mission with them and make some new connections with school staff before the upcoming academic year of classroom presentations. Despite our different careers, we had all gathered there with the goal of better equipping ourselves to prevent suicide, lending us a powerful feeling of unification. 

QPR – standing for Question, Persuade, Refer – is a strategy for suicide prevention which offers increased possibility of early intervention, stressing action and active follow-up with the struggling individual. Using this strategy does not require the at-risk person to ask for help, but instead encourages friends of the individual to ask about suicidal intent and offer support through the help-seeking process. Peer Mentors at the NAN Project learn this strategy as part of their onboarding, and many of our senior staff become certified to teach this material. 

Our trainer for the day was Sarah Gaer of the Riverside Trauma Center, a Master Trainer of the QPR Institute. She shared that she had lost her best friend to suicide as a young adult and had dedicated herself to the cause in her memory. Our team could tell that Gaer was incredibly passionate about the work, which impassioned us, too. While remaining sensitive to the heavy material, she also had a great sense of humor, and thought we ought to have some fun together — this put us more at ease. 

In the morning we covered suicide statistics, risk factors, and various warning signs that a suicidal person might show; and in the afternoon, we dove into model delivery of the QPR curriculum, how to properly use official QPR Institute materials, and a QPR “boot camp,” which had us practice answering potential tough questions from an audience of trainees. 

We each went home with a bag of goodies lovingly packed: a binder of training guides, a starter pack of QPR information pamphlets, and some reading on providing support to individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts. Additionally, these members of our team are officially certified to teach QPR. According to the QPR Gatekeeper requirements, this means we are able to recognize a suicidal person at risk, demonstrate increased knowledge of suicide intervention skills, and demonstrate the ability to persuade the at-risk person to seek help and stay alive. 

Following this certification, our team is better prepared to provide sensitive and well-informed suicide prevention training to new and seasoned Peer Mentors alike; and, to provide guidance to high school students who want to help their friends who might be struggling. Many thanks to all of our supporters: you help us to take advantage of opportunities like this and keep our Peer Mentors trained.

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