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Former N.H. chief justice urges kids to REACT to mental illness

  • Former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and current Senior Director of Public Affairs at Dartmouth-Hitchcock John Broderick Jr. talks to students at Bow High School about his family’s experience with mental illness on Wednesday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut talks to Bow High School students about mental health and the R.E.A.C.T. awareness initiative on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and current Senior Director of Public Affairs at Dartmouth-Hitchcock John T. Broderick, Jr., talks to students at Bow High School about his family's experience with mental illness on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and current Senior Director of Public Affairs at Dartmouth-Hitchcock John T. Broderick, Jr., talks to students at Bow High School about his family's experience with mental illness on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

John Broderick, a former chief justice on the Supreme Court, has crisscrossed the state for nearly two years, giving speeches and meeting students in an effort to destigmatize mental illness as part of the national Change Direction campaign.

He’s given approximately 160 talks and spoken to some 20,000 people. But now there’s a new twist in his now familiar story.

Broderick is now asking kids to REACT. The acronym stands for “Recognize” the signs of emotional suffering, “Express” concern and offer support, “Act now” and tell someone you trust, “Care enough” to follow up, and “Text” or call a number for extra support.

It was developed by Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where Broderick is the director of public affairs, and the state’s Department of Education. It’s intended to provide tools that “students and lay people could use” once they recognize mental illness in someone they care about, Broderick said in an interview Wednesday, between a morning talk at Bow High School and an evening event at the town’s library.

The former judge became involved with the campaign because of a now-famous incident in 2002 when his then 32-year-old son violently assaulted him. Broderick required hours of reconstructive surgery and spent months recovering. His son spent three years in prison.

The two have long since reconciled, but Broderick is dedicated to addressing the root cause of his son’s violent outburst: an undiagnosed mental health disorder gone undiagnosed and untreated for likely two decades.

The core of Broderick’s message is that when mental illness remains stigmatized and in the shadows, it goes unaddressed.

“We need to know what it is, and what it’s not. We need to normalize the conversation,” he said.

Broderick said he’s seen evidence his message was needed at every stadium, gymnasium and auditorium he’s delivered it in. Without fail, students come up afterward to tell him about their own struggle, and their anxiety about telling others. He gets emails, too, every day – from perfect strangers.

But he’s also seeing evidence of the inroads being made. In Epping, he said, students produced their own PSA, called “Not my choice.” And at St. Paul’s School, students stood up and publicly talked about their own mental health problems.

“I grew up in a world where no one talked about mental illness,” he said. But kids now, he added, are different.

“They’re the least judgmental generation in this country,” he said.

Change Direction recommends texting SIGNS to 741-741 or calling 448-4400 for advice. For substance abuse concerns, call 844-711-HELP or visit nhtreatment.org.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)