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.   

July 2, 2019
Attending a Social Justice Workshop at DPH Suicide Prevention Conference

By Sarah Dickie

At the beginning of May, a few of us at The NAN Project had the privilege of attending the 18th annual Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference at the Sheraton in Framingham. The goal of the conference is to increase awareness of suicide as a public health issue by hosting discussions about advancements in the field through various workshops and exhibition tables. In addition to providing an opportunity for us to raise awareness about The NAN Project’s mission, the conference allowed us to expand our own knowledge about how to best carry out our work. I attended a workshop lead by the Mass Coalition for Suicide Prevention’s Alliance for Equity. It focused on the intersection of social justice and mental health: how racism and other systems of oppression impact not only suicide risk, but treatment of the survivor. 

Our instructors began by proposing three “shared agreements” for the discussion: make space, share the air, and embrace discomfort. These meant to encourage participants to prioritize the most marginalized voices, and for those with social privilege to hold back, but remain present. I would argue that these are excellent agreements for the wider discussion of suicide prevention, too. Speaking as a white person myself, it’s easy to feel guilty and dismiss the danger when confronted with the realities of racism. Likewise, it’s easy for straight and cisgender folks to do the same when discussing LGBT discrimination. As dedicated leaders of suicide prevention, it’s a duty of ours to consider the social privileges we have, and how oppression contributes to the issue of mental health — even when, and especially when, it’s uncomfortable. 

When the presenters opened the floor to participants, they had a lot to say about how people of color are treated in mental health care, and likewise how mental health is treated in their communities. One East Asian woman on the floor explained the pressure from her parents to earn good grades and make money, markers of success that are valued by her family’s culture. Her experiences with anxiety, which hindered her ability to do these things, were brushed under the rug. The culture dictated that she “be good” and “stay quiet” instead of opening up. One presenter, a bisexual East Asian woman, agreed that when she spoke out about her struggle in her youth, she felt “othered” in her community. If there were people like her, they weren’t talking about it.  

Professionals in mental healthcare added that they see racial disparities in their work environments every day. For one, youth who access care for mental health concerns in the greater Boston area are mostly white, despite a more diverse general population. This is likely a result of the toxic intersection of stigma and discriminatory care. 

“It depends what your color is, what treatment you’re going to get,” one older Black woman said. She went on to explain that Black folks who are mistreated in mental health care facilities are faced with the choice of whether or not to pursue justice, as within other arenas of their lives. She said that the stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” has dissuaded her peers from doing so. Not only does racism inform the treatment experience for a person of color, but it also informs how and how often that person will talk about it. 

Inequity in mental health treatment is a dangerous reality, a symptom of the discrimination that persists in healthcare as it does in the wider world. We know that mental illness is often a result of trauma — we might not know that oppression is trauma. Day after day, marginalized people face the hostility of a racist world. The stress of this builds up, and can result in complications like heart disease and psychological disorder. This is why the Alliance for Equity dubs non-whiteness as a “forever risk factor”: something only social change can combat. Social determinants — like discrimination, education, wealth inequality, and risk of violence — makeup 80% of an individual’s overall health, according to the MCSP. In our efforts for suicide prevention, the Alliance for Equity advises that we “keep the conversation going”: talk about mental health; work to incorporate diverse perspectives; and consider how societal forces impact risk.  

June 7, 2019
Spring 2019 Recap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 26, 2019
Sarah Dickie PM Spotlight Interview

Sarah came on board with The NAN Project in February of 2018 after completing a Peer Mentor Training at the TEMPO drop-in center in Framingham. Since then, she’s been crushing it with us!  Sarah’s main message is about her struggle with parental abuse, and how that led her to having poor body image issues, and severe anxiety. She has a great message about how beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and how she powered through her struggles. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah and ask her a few questions and this is what she had to say!

 

Hi Sarah! Thank you for coming out to do this!

Thank you so much for interviewing me. I feel honored!

 

You’re welcome! I want to start off by asking you to briefly talk a little bit about yourself. What  do you like to do in your free time?

I’ll first start off and say that I am a senior at Framingham State, and my major is Sociology with a minor in Psychology. I also live in Framingham, with my boyfriend and our big cat named Bunnie. In my free time, I like to draw, journal, find new music, play lots of video games and lastly I am trying to teach myself to play the ukulele… with some success! (laughs)

 

That’s so cool you’re teaching yourself to play the ukulele! I was wondering what your overall experience has been like working for The NAN Project.

It’s really different from any other job I’ve ever had and I feel like this is actually a really good fit for me. The biggest challenge I face is that I have actually always been really nervous of public speaking, which can make it hard sometimes to step in front of the crowd. I feel like I always have my face in my paper (laughs), but each presentation makes it a little easier to talk in front of a crowd. The reward from this job is that I feel like it’s fulfilling. It’s important for me to be doing this.

 

I totally agree with you, Sarah. I was excused in high school from all public presentations because it would scare me so much…but look where we are now!

Me too! (chuckles)

 

What motivates you to keep working with us? What about the job makes it worth coming back?

A couple things makes it worth coming back. It’s really rewarding and important work, like I said before and I really think that’s one reason why I keep doing presentations. We’re making a difference by  doing this work and it matters to people. Also, I learn more about myself by writing my comeback story and condensing all that I’ve been through into a cohesive narrative. It put some things into perspective for me and I feel like I know myself better, so that’s also been rewarding as well.

Thanks Sarah, that was a good answer!

Thanks Elli, I say smart things from time to time! (giggles) 

 

I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.

I really do like to journal. I like to write about how I’m feeling and stuff that happens to me throughout my day-to-day life. I like to draw as a distraction to my mind, and I also use breathing exercises. For example, I like to breathe in for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. I also use grounding a lot and lastly, my cat is a good resource when I’m upset. He probably doesn’t know that, but I really like to sit with him or put my face in his fur; it’s really soothing.

 

Okay last question: What do you hope for in your future?

A couple things. The first is that I really want to be comfortable with myself. It sounds like a small thing but it’s really hard for me to love myself. I’m working on it, it’s definitely better than it was but I’d really like to say that I genuinely love who I am. I’d also like to have a career in mental health, whether that be mental health education or mental health support. That’s really the direction I want to go. Lastly, I would really like to live in Boston!

 

Alright! Well thank you Sarah for answering these questions, and good luck!

Thank you Elli!

 

Tragedy and Hope at Lowell High School

By Sarah Dickie

We put our whole hearts into everything we do here in the NAN Project, but our presentations at Lowell High School in January were especially important to us. Last fall, LHS sophomore Anna Aslanian ended her life, leaving friends, family, and faculty to wonder what they could have done to prevent it. Given the stigma surrounding mental illness, mental health is a topic often left untouched in schools, and students who are

Elli Presenting to Sophomores             

struggling may not know what resources are available to them or how they can ask for help. Our mission is to open up this conversation: our Peer Mentors share their own experiences with mental illness in what we call a Comeback Story, focusing on the symptoms they showed, their coping strategies, and the resources they accessed to help them care for themselves. Lowell High School acknowledged the need for this conversation and brought us in. Over three full days of presentations in mid-January, our Peer Mentors got the chance to speak with all twelve sophomore health classes, accompanied by school counselors and social workers who used the time to introduce themselves as resources for the students.

According to an article in the Lowell Sun, Anna showed signs of poor mental health before taking her life. Her family reported in interviews that Anna had an increasingly negative outlook leading up to the start of her sophomore year. To her family’s surprise, Anna suddenly quit the field hockey team, and withdrew from most other social activities shortly after. This isolation suggests that Anna had been struggling with something emotionally, but articles published following her death puts the blame solely on bullies and the school’s inaction. This seems to be an oversimplification of a tragic event. Rarely is there only one factor to blame for a person’s suicide: often there is an emotional struggle which is exacerbated by the external environment, like the harassment that Anna faced at school and online. The articles discussed local anti-bullying initiatives and how these fell short and failed students, but Anna’s mental health was not given the same consideration. Likewise, coverage on the supports available to Anna and other LHS students was insufficient. These articles also released parts of notes Anna left in the months before her suicide, which we consider a dangerous mistake. Giving this press to Anna’s note suggests to students that taking one’s own life is the way to be remembered, or the way to “get back” at bullies. This can be particularly dangerous for other students who may be struggling and wish to have their “voice” heard.

Though it can be especially difficult to talk about mental health after a loss like this, Lowell High School created an open and welcoming space for us to address it together. The sophomores were very receptive to our Peer Mentors’ stories: many were eager to relate what they had learned to their own experiences, and others had insightful questions about how they might approach friends they thought to be struggling. Several more students came forward privately with concern for themselves or a peer.

   Sarah presenting her Comeback Story

“I feel many of the students came away from the Peer Mentor presentations with a better understanding of how widespread mental health challenges are, and also how many resources are out there for them,” The NAN Project’s Director Jake Cavanaugh said of the students at LHS.

Our presentations at Lowell High School reached over three hundred students. We taught them the signs of depression and anxiety they could look for in themselves and their peers, as well as steps they could take to help peers they believe to be struggling: first, ask how the peer is feeling; then, listen, and validate their struggle; and finally, for high-risk peers, tell a trusted adult. We know that in the weeks following the presentations, at least two students who were struggling with suicidal ideation either sought help themselves or had a friend reach out for them. We are hopeful that students will hold onto the conversations we began together, and continue them with their friends and family. We’ll be back at Lowell High School in the spring, preaching our mission There is help, and there is hope!

December 27, 2018
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.

Students create an outline of their design.

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.

With this mural, students remember the people they have lost in the school, and in Lawrence, but it is also about our growth and rebirth. Dark colors transition into lighter shades, a tree grows even through adversity, and even the birds with significant challenges (a dark green for mental health, a lighter green as Leo’s favorite color) are able to fly.

 

 

November 5, 2018
Autumn in Review 2018

Autumn in Review

Fall is in the air, and it’s turned out to be a very busy one! Over the past few months, we have had the opportunity to train two separate groups of New Peer Mentors, give several presentations to various schools across the Commonwealth, and had the opportunity to train a group of mental health workers in the Q.P.R. model of Suicide Prevention! Here is a brief recap of some of the work we have been up to these past few months!

One Peer Mentor training took place at YouForward in Lawrence. This training covered presentation skills, developing Comeback Stories,  QPR training, and how to develop the conversation around mental health in the classrooms running on four consecutive Fridays in September and October. Our second training was at ServiceNet out in Western Mass, so our team stayed over in Holyoke and completed the 4 day training over 4 sessions in 2 weeks. This new group of Peer Mentors will allow us to extend our work to schools throughout Western Mass. We are happy to welcome aboard all of our New Peer Mentors, and we look forward to working with all of these enthusiastic young adults!

As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, The NAN Project presented a legislative briefing at the Massachusetts State House. To read more, check out the blog!

On September 18th, we had the opportunity to meet with the 100 or so faculty at Milford High School to introduce ourselves and discuss how to fit our presentations into their mental health curriculum. After presenting several Comeback Stories, we went through a typical day presenting to students, and discussed the differents ways that we can assist in creating a Peer Leadership Team.

On September 20th we were asked to present to ALL of the students at Ludlow High School. Here, we had each class of students take turns coming to the auditorium to hear our Peer Mentors share their stories of resilience. After, we allowed the students to ask questions they had, and led a panel discussion about how to ask for help if you need it, and who some trusted adults are in their community. We were more than eager to take on this eventful day where we reached over 800 students! Thank you to everyone at Ludlow High School for this amazing opportunity!

On October 3rd, we were invited to Mass Mentor in New Bedford at train their Peer Mentors in the ways of suicide prevention. Using the Q.P.R. model, we discussed the recent statistics around suicide, different risk and protective factors, what to do if someone you know seems to be thinking about taking their life, and how to get someone the help they need. Congratulations to the 15 new Q.P.R. gatekeepers, we hope that you all now have the confidence to ask the question, and to quite possibly save a life.

October 18th – The NAN Project held it’s annual fundraiser, A Night for Nan. To read more, check out our blog post!

October 22nd- We returned to Milford High School to present to a handful of their Freshman classes. Here, we introduced who we are and how we work to promote mental health awareness through our Peer Mentors sharing their Comeback Stories. We then gave students time for Q&A, led a discussion about various types of mental health challenges, and talked about how you can help a friend who may be struggling.

October 23rd+25th – We returned to Nan’s alma mater, Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School once again, this time to present to their Freshman Health classes. Here, our Peer Mentors presented their stories of triumph through their struggles, and led conversations about who to turn to if you or someone you care for is struggling, as well as positive outlets for stress. Thank you to everyone at HWRHS both students and staff for making these presentations so successful!

August 27, 2018
Summer Time Recap

Summertime is here, and school’s out on vacation. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been keeping busy! 

6/4-  We had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to a group of students from The Phoenix Academy in Lawrence and have our Peer Mentors share their Comeback Stories. We then led a discussion about the different warning signs that a friend may be struggling and how to ask someone if they need help.

6/5- We were invited back to Stoneham High School to have our Peer Mentors present to Comeback Stories their Sophomore class. After, we had a conversation identifying the trusted adults in their community and how to access supports if someone they know is struggling.

 

6/6 – A group of Nanners attended a community event hosted by the Greater Boston Suicide Prevention Coalition, during which we had the joy of watching a performance by Genki Spark, a multigenerational, pan-Asian women’s group that practices and performs Taiko drumming, while also hearing stories of resilience. Thanks to the MCSP for hosting!

6/8- At the 2018 Youth at Risk Conference at Salem State University we connected with a ton of schools and programs in the region, as well as heard several inspiring speakers. We hope to make more connections and expand The NAN Project further into the district!

 

6/8 – The NAN Project took part in a youth panel on safety in schools organized by a group of young people at the Malden YWCA. Here, we were asked various questions regarding the safety of students in the Malden School District. On this panel were two Malden High students, the Malden Police Chief, a local lobbyist, and both of our Peer Coordinators.  

6/12- We met with the newly established Peer Leader Team at The Phoenix Academy to discuss what we can do in their school to normalize the conversation of mental health and support emotional wellbeing.

6/12- We were invited to the Boston DMH office to screen our video project, 13 Reasons Why We Need To Talk About Suicide to the staff and several interns. We then led a discussion about how this can be utilized in various settings to help combat the stigma surrounding mental health challenges.

6/13- Met with the Principal, several Health teachers and Counselors at Milford High School to introduce The NAN Project and have several Peer Mentors share their comeback stories. We discussed the needs and expectations at the school around mental health ran through what a typical day is like while we present in schools. We look forward to working with Milford High School in the future!

6/15- We met with the staff of Framingham High School and their alternative program – The Phoenix – to see where we would best fit in collaborating with them on future projects starting next school year!

6/19 – We invited a handful of young adults who are interested in taking our initial training, to get a feel for what it will be like to work with us before they fully commit. During this orientation, we covered the basics of school presentations, our four day training, an intro to the Q.P.R. model of suicide prevention, and introduced a  few clips from  our 13 Reasons Why We Need To Talk About Suicide video.

6/26, 7/17, 8/7 – The Greater Boston Suicide Prevention Coalition is working with The NAN Project to establish a youth suicide prevention coalition. Several of our Boston based Peer Mentors took part, along with students from several alternative schools and phone bank volunteers with the Samaritans. We hope to use this newly founded group – Boston Youth Together – to continue spreading education about suicide prevention and  emotional wellbeing. If you are interested in Boston Youth Together, please email [email protected] for more information! 

7/10 – The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors work so hard during the school year, we thought it would be nice to gather for some down time for a Peer Mentor Appreciation Day. 13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk about Suicide was screened for the first time as a group, followed by some awesome, throwback Nintendo 64 action and Chinese food. It quickly became clear that some of us need to work on our Mario Kart skills, but it was still a nice way to cool off during the hot months of the summer.

7/16 – Reporters from WCVB’s Chronicle filmed several interviews with our founders and peer mentors, to be used for a segment airing during National Suicide Prevention week! Tune in this September to hear our team talk about their experiences with mental health and why we do what we do.

7/25 – Mike A, Onix and Jake travelled down to New Bedford to introduce The NAN Project to a group of therapeutic mentors with Mass MENTOR. We followed our typical presentation and Comeback Stories with a lengthy discussion on how to provide supports for young people who are struggling with a mental illness. We hope this presentation will open doors to more schools south of Boston where we’re making a major push this year!

8/14 – The NAN Project met with Stoneham High School’s Youth Coalition, a group of impressive young people with the goal of improving the wellbeing of their fellow students. Alongside health concerns such as substance use and vaping, the group discussed how to raise awareness about mental health among their classmates. The group will be meeting regularly once the school year begins!

8/18 –The rainy weather cleared up just in time for our Project Coordinator Kelley and our Peer Coordinators Mike and Lizzie to table at the Transition Age Youth Fundraising Fair in Plymouth. The Department of Mental Health’s parking lot hosted artists, mental health organizations, and local crafters – all to the tune of live music! We handed out the usual NAN Project ‘swag’ of stress balls, bracelets, and pens, as well a set of prints made by our Peer Mentors this winter at Lynn RAWArts. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table!

July 3, 2018
Elli Peltola – Peer Mentor Spotlight
We want to acknowledge some amazing work that’s been done by one of our rising Peer Mentor stars! Elli Peltola is a dedicated, and enthusiastic young woman. She has been working with us for some time now, and tells a wonderful story of her battle with self-harm and how she learned to love herself. We had the time to ask Elli a few questions, and here’s what we got.

Elli, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am 19 years old and was adopted from Belo Horizonte, Brazil into a great, loving family. Ever since I can remember, I have been blessed to be able to travel the world with my family, even living in Malaysia for a period of time. Traveling is my favorite thing to do, but I also like long drives with my friends, coloring in adult coloring books, and lots of sleep!

What are you up to these days, Elli?
Currently, I work as a gymnastics coach/parkour teacher (for the boys) to people of all different ages. I am taking a gap year from school, but will be starting community college in the fall to expand my career in mental health. Working for The NAN Project has been a significant experience over the last year that has helped shaped me into the person I now am.

Tell us a bit more about your experience with The NAN Project…
When I started, I wasn’t as confident with myself as I am now. I didn’t realize the impact my story could have on other people. Then one day, after presenting my Comeback Story, a girl approached me with tears in her eyes telling me how happy she was for me and how much my story spoke to her. It was a big eye opener because I never thought I could relate to someone so closely. I love working with the NAN project. It helps me emotionally and it’s helping increase my confidence, which is something I needed. I am so thankful to have found this job.

How did you get involved with The NAN Project?
I heard about The NAN Project through my DMH worker. We were looking for trainings I could do to better educate myself in the mental health field. When I was told that The NAN Project would help you craft your comeback story and share it with others to inspire hope, I thought it would be the perfect job for me.

Growing up I struggled to find hope in myself. I never thought I was important….until I started with The NAN Project. I had low self esteem and didn’t think my story could impact others but I was so wrong. I do have a purpose in this world and I am important. It’s hard to think you’re special when your world seems to be crashing down but there is ALWAYS someone out there who loves you and believes in you.

What do you use to cope with your own mental health challenges these days?The biggest resource I have found is just reaching out to others. Back when I was really struggling, this was something I’d NEVER do because I never wanted help. I didn’t want people to “help” me. It’s crazy how much a person can change over the years. A lot of my friends/loved ones/my providers know that when I’m upset, I think irrationally and react impulsively. I am very grateful  to have these supports who understand how I think and do their best to not have me react without thinking. One big thing that many of them do with me, is distract me from the negative situation and thoughts that are going through my head. For some reason, it tends to work most of the time. I’m also grateful I have people in my life who are willing to help and support me when I’m in need and they know how to react/respond when I need to reach out.

Can you suggest any other coping strategies for other PMs?
Self care was something I didn’t really know/want to do for myself while I was really struggling. Now, I realize that I am the only one who can take the best care of myself. For example, I actually love taking showers, keeping clean and moisturized because I feel the most beautiful that way. I love taking long showers, LOVE LOVE LOVE face masks, lighting candles in my room or even listening to soft music in the background.
A year ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able cope in the healthy ways I do today. But, with time, things did work out because I worked hard to live my life to the fullest and keep myself safe.

Thanks, Elli for taking the time to talk with us! 

 

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