Open to Talk: Reach out for help say survivors of mental health illness

  • Charlie Olsen is back being an active middle school soccer player as he plays with his sister in the front yard of his home in Auburn last month. He sees no difference between discussing one's physical and mental health. “If I fell down and scraped my knee, I wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it,” said Charlie. “Mental health is something you need to talk about because that can help.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Charlie Olsen is back being an active middle school soccer player as he plays with his sister in the front yard of his home in Auburn last month. He sees no difference between discussing one's physical and mental health. “If I fell down and scraped my knee, I wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it,” said Charlie. “Mental health is something you need to talk about because that can help.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Charlie Olsen is back being an active middle school soccer player as he plays with his sister in the front yard of his home in Auburn last month. He sees no difference between discussing one's physical and mental health. “If I fell down and scraped my knee, I wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it,” said Charlie. “Mental health is something you need to talk about because that can help.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Charlie Olsen is back being an active middle school soccer player as he plays with his sister in the front yard of his home in Auburn last month. He sees no difference between discussing one's physical and mental health. “If I fell down and scraped my knee, I wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it,” said Charlie. “Mental health is something you need to talk about because that can help.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Charlie Olsen is back being an active middle school soccer player as he plays with his sister in the front yard of his home in Auburn last month. He sees no difference between discussing one’s physical and mental health. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Alexa Felix, a case manager at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, is drawing on her personal experience to help those who have lost someone to suicide. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Alexa Felix, a case manager at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, is drawing on her personal experience to help those who have lost someone to suicide. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/19/2022 3:00:45 PM

Charlie Olsen, an outgoing seventh-grade student, loved to socialize and be around his friends. But when the pandemic struck, everything changed. Like most kids of his generation, his world instantly became smaller and far more isolated.

He felt down all the time. He experienced stomach aches and sobbed himself to sleep. Even his joints hurt.

After his parents took him to specialists to rule out any physical conditions, Charlie was diagnosed with situational depression. He said talking about his emotional state and mental health made him feel better.

Even while the stigma surrounding mental illness has decreased, many people still find it uncomfortable to discuss their feelings and what they are going through. But not Charlie. He sees no difference between discussing one’s physical and mental health.

“If I fell down and scraped my knee, I wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it,” he said. “Mental health is something you need to talk about because that can help.”

Mental health challenges have been heightened since the start of pandemic, ranging from anxiety and depression to the state’s high rate of suicide among young people.

People like Charlie – who got the help he needed after his parents reached out – want to use their own experiences to help others and improve the discussion about mental health inside homes, inside doctor offices and businesses, and inside the State House.

Yet, despite a statewide campaign to encourage people to discuss mental health, the implementation of a new 988 suicide and crisis hotline, a revamped statewide suicide prevention plan and millions of state dollars spent to improve mental health services, suicide remains a growing problem in the Granite State.

Suicide is still the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 34 in New Hampshire.

“Despite the fact that more is being done today to prevent suicide than at any other time in history, the rate of suicide continues to rise in the United States,” according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Just this weekend, the Suicide Prevention Foundation held an annual event for survivors of suicide loss to come together and find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experiences. The observance is held each year on the weekend before Thanksgiving as the holiday season is a difficult time for survivors.

‘Leaning on support’

Charlie didn’t realize at first that many people are reluctant to seek mental health help because they are embarrassed to talk about it.

Charlie, who was chosen to serve as the state’s Kid Governor in 2021, has since tried to assist children who are experiencing depression. As he collaborates with New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness to combat stigma, he constantly emphasizes the message that “You don’t have to do this alone.”

Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2022 Kids Count Data Book reports that children in New Hampshire and throughout the nation are dealing with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels.

Jumping from 14.4% in 2016 to 18.4% in 2020, children between the ages of 3 and 17 showed symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Living with COVID-19 for two years has thrust people into a “new normal” marked by anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation. As a result, psychological stress increased.

However, it brought with it a disguised benefit: mental health dialogue evolved.

As more people sought treatment, mental health conversations became much more open.

But, conversations about mental health typically center on preventing suicide and addressing depression and anxiety. Survivors of suicide often struggle to find avenues to heal.

Alexa Felix, a case manager at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, is drawing on her personal experience to help those who have lost someone to suicide.

During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, Felix lost her father to suicide. He used to call her the “heart of my life.”

“We loved watching the New England Patriots together and getting Dunkin Donuts,” said Felix. “That was our thing.”

As Felix mourned the passing of her father, she went through a range of emotions. She questioned whether she could have done more to change the situation.

“Leaning on support, understanding that you’re not alone, and practicing self-compassion helped me,” she said.

Go at the other person’s pace, Felix advises those who are supporting someone who has mental health issues or a lived experience.

“Let them lead the conversation, yell, scream, cry, or whatever it is,” said Felix. “Just having an open mind and understanding that you probably won’t have the solutions or the answers, but to just be there.”

Understaffed

Elaine de Mello, director of Suicide Prevention Services at the National Alliance on Mental Illness NH, has worked in the mental health profession in New Hampshire for more than four decades and has noticed an increase in calls to helplines since the pandemic began.

De Mello believes that mental health organizations and the CDC’s years of efforts in suicide prevention and encouraging people to call for help paid off during the pandemic. On the other hand, she said that the historically labor-short mental health industry has been made worse off by the pandemic’s increasing demand for mental health services.

“We have effective treatment but we need to support that federally, we need to fund it,” said de Mello. “We don’t fund research, treatment and programs for mental health in the same way that we do for other critical conditions like heart disease and cancer.”

While it may take a while to see a mental health expert, Felix and de Mello say there are alternative ways to manage mental health difficulties.

■Join support groups.

■Reach out for peer support.

■Look for online therapy options.

■Contact helplines.

Support groups and activities to raise awareness about mental health during Felix’s trying time gave her a sense of validation and helped honor her father’s memory.

Felix asks anyone who is experiencing mental health issues to “do some research, but do it at your own time, and do what you’re comfortable with.” As opposed to external factors, “you need to concentrate on what you can control.”

If you need help

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Veterans: Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

Crisis Text Line: Free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the U.S. to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.

Trans Lifeline: Call 1-877-565-8860 for a hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Trans Lifeline volunteers are ready to respond to whatever support needs community members might have.

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 for a 24/7 national hotline dedicated to providing crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

The Trevor Project: A national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call 1-866-488-7386.

The LGBT National Help Center: Call 1-888-843-4564. Open to callers of all ages. Provides peer counseling, information, and local resources.




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