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.
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.
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.
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.
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!