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N.H. governor promotes children’s mental health services

Children should be screened for social and emotional health issues along with their routine eyesight and hearing checks, mental health advocates said at a State House rally yesterday.

“We hope it will become a common practice in our schools . . . let’s look at social and emotional development, and ensure that if a child is faced with a challenge we have adequate access to services and supports,” said Claudia Ferber of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We have the responsibility to see the light in every single one of the kids we come in contact with.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan, who proclaimed yesterday Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, said it is unacceptable that on a typical day, nine New Hampshire children are waiting in emergency rooms for mental health services.

“We can all say we care about the challenge of children’s mental health, but we also need to make sure we have the resources to provide the services children need, and we need to do it in this budget session,” she said.

Hassan has proposed a budget that includes funding for a new designated receiving facility to take the pressure off local emergency rooms, 75 new community residence beds, more housing and support services and new community treatment teams to help adults and children in crisis. Six of the 10 new teams would focus on children, she said.

About 100 people attended the rally, including students from RSEC Academy in Amherst, a junior and senior high school program serving students with learning disabilities. Students carried signs that said “Children’s Mental Health Matters” and performed a flash mob-style dance as the rally came to a close.

Both Hassan and other speakers urged the students to continue advocating for themselves and their
peers. Timothy Rourke of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation described how much it meant to have someone tell him that his voice mattered when he was 15.

“Your voice matters. You have no idea the power your voice has now, and can have for the rest of your life,” he said.

He also offered a message to parents and other caregivers having trouble getting help for their children.

“To families out there that are still struggling in darkness, overwhelmed, uncertain, not knowing where to turn: Your days in darkness in the state of New Hampshire are numbered,” he said.

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