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.

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