August 22, 2018
Survey Results are in!

As we sift through the data collected by our summer intern Maria Mongiardo, we want to take a moment to share the results.

The online survey created by our summer intern reached approximately eight hundred residents of Massachusetts and beyond was designed to capture participants’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to mental health. We hope to use the information below to tailor our efforts to the unique context of our communities, and assess the effectiveness of our programs.

The Takeaways

  1. Over half of the respondents to our survey reported having a mental health diagnosis. 97% of participants reported that someone in their life was affected by mental illness, and 80% reported a family history of mental illness.
  2. Fortunately, 87% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported accessing support for their concerns. However, accessing support is not so straightforward. A startling 76% of participants have experienced barriers to getting the help that they need, including the fear of shame or stigma, not being taken seriously, and trouble finding a professional. While we respect the resilience of those who get support despite the difficulty, it should not be so hard.
  3. Though respondents’ attitudes, beliefs, and demographic factors showed some variation, one question almost earned a unanimous positive response. 97% “wish there was more mental health awareness/services in [their] school or school district.”
  4. Luckily, a majority of the participants already knew some important truths about mental health. Over half of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that most mental illnesses are treatable, and 94% agreed or strongly agreed that people with mental health diagnoses can live productive lives. 98% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that it is important to learn about mental illness.
  5. One item of the survey asked, “If I had a mental illness, I would not tell any of my friends or family.” About 27% of our participants reported they were unsure if they would tell, but 19% agreed or strongly agreed that if they were diagnosed, they would not share that diagnosis with a single person in their life. Many of our peer mentors describe in their stories exactly how important it was for them to reach out and find someone in their lives who could talk about mental health. Whether it was a parent, a close friend, or a sibling, many of us can not imagine recovery without the support of a loved one.
    Why wouldn’t they reach out? We don’t know for certain, but it probably relates to the 30% of participants who agreed or strongly agreed that they would feel embarrassed or ashamed to tell someone that they had a mental health diagnosis.

We are already fighting to reduce this 19% on two fronts; by telling our own stories of connection and by educating others on how to be a support to those experiencing mental health challenges.

  1. Now compare our answers to a similar question, “If any friends or family of mine had a mental illness, I would tell them not to tell anyone.” How did our respondents predict they would support a friend who struggling? Less than 6% agreed or strongly agreed that they would advise their peers to stay silent, and 75% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this course of action.

Our participants were three times more likely not to tell anyone about their own mental health than they were to tell a friend or family member to do the same. The responses on how to handle one’s own mental health crisis were scattered, and no level of agreement reached a majority. However, when asked to think about a loved one in the same situation, three quarters of our participants knew they couldn’t ask their loved one to keep it hidden. Our participants wouldn’t shame their friends or family, but would feel shame if they themselves were in the same place. This is the power of stigma, of our tendency to see mental health challenges as personal weaknesses, especially in ourselves.

  1. Just over half of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that they would use mental health services if they were provided by their school or employer.

Attitudes, Beliefs and Age

Because our Peer-to-Peer model is based on shared experience/assumptions/culture of an age group – do different generations hold different beliefs about mental health? For the purposes of our analysis, we split the sample into two age groups; below 25 years of age, and above.

When asked to rate their current mental health, 80% of adults over 25 reported their mental health as “Good,” “Very Good,” or “Excellent.” In comparison, only 22% of the under 25 age group reported “Good,” “Very Good” or “Excellent.” The most common response, 41% of the under 25 age group reported having poor mental health.

When asked about their ability to access emotional support, both age groups felt confident that they knew someone who could help. An encouraging 90% of adults over 25 reported that they knew someone who could help them if they needed emotional support, but only 76% of the under 25% group.

A greater percentage of young adults reported having faced barriers accessing mental health services, compared to just half of the over 25 age group.

Younger than 25 age group more likely to be unsure if they agreed or disagreed with biological basis of mental illness, parents to blame. The younger age group answered that they were unsure if Masschusetts and Massachusetts public schools provided enough support to those with mental health challenges about twice as often as the older group reported being unsure.

This paints a picture of the young adults we surveyed – reporting poorer mental health, fewer supports, less sure about the truths which may destigmatize mental health, and facing more barriers to receiving the help they need.

Attitudes, Beliefs, and Diagnosis

Because over half of sample identified as having a mental health diagnosis, we have the opportunity to compare the attitudes towards mental health of those with and without a diagnosis.  Unfortunately, 76% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported facing barriers to receiving mental health services. Approximately 65% of those who reported a mental health diagnosis agreed or strongly agreed that they would use mental health services provided by their employer or school in times of mental health challenges.

We are so thankful to everyone who took the time to complete or promote the survey. We’ve only begun to understand all of the ways that this data can inform our work in suicide prevention and raising mental health awareness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So about the process of making a movie.

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

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

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

WATCH IT HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kelley Campbell & Kayla Scott

Hey Everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a few warning signs…

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

Helping someone who is self-injuring…

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

Some things to avoid if possible…

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

Some positive coping skills to help…

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

Some Supports

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

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

 

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

 

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

September 6, 2017
A NIGHT for NAN recap

By Senior Peer Mentor Ridha Abidshah

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

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

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

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

June 23, 2017
Welcome to the NAN Line!

Hey friends!

If you’re here, that means you’ve taken an interest in The NAN Project, for which we are so grateful! Everyone at The NAN Project is excited to have you guys involved with our organization and interested in learning how together we can reduce the stigma around mental health and help prevent suicide!

This blog will keep you updated around what’s going on in The NAN Project. To begin with, I’d like to talk about what the NAN Project is all about and what we aim to achieve. 

The NAN Project is an organization dedicated to reducing suicide by promoting the conversation around mental health and emotional well-being. There is an urgent need to open up this discussion as numbers around suicide are staggering – we lose over 40,000 Americans each year to suicide; it is the second leading cause of death among young people; over 1 million people attempted to end their lives in the United States in 2016.

The NAN Project was founded in 2015 by Ellen Dalton and Jake Cavanaugh with the goal of providing relief and resources to those affected by mental health concerns and/or suicide. It has been a steep learning curve, but after almost two years we have really gotten the ball rolling. We are now provided our services to over a dozen schools across Massachusetts and have many exciting events and projects taking place simultaneously.

The NAN Project is always looking to recruit individuals who have personal experience with mental health issues and who share the same dream of helping others who are struggling! As a NAN Project member, we head in to local schools to share our comeback stories with students, speaking about ways that they too can help themselves find healing and ways to cope amidst their own battles! This opens up the topic and makes talking about mental health concerns something that everyone feels more comfortable doing. To learn more details, check out our website www.thenanproject.org.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will be revealing our newest project that we are working really hard to have completed by August! It is our hope that this project will help provide hope to high schoolers who are struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts. 

Thanks for reading, friends! Come back soon!

Your fellow NANNer,

Heather Rotman 

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Emergency Help - Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)