NH mental health leader present for Biden’s State of the Union speech

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 02-09-2023 7:15 PM

Hearing President Joe Biden address mental health to the entire nation was an important night for Susan Stearns.

“Each of us can be ambassadors and have a role to play in dispelling stigma, and ensuring folks hang on to hope, seek the care that they need, that allows them to live a full life and their community,” said Stearns, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Stearns attended the president’s annual address as Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s guest to highlight the importance of the issues of mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention.

Biden emphasized the need for more first responders with the training to deal with the country’s growing substance abuse and mental illness challenges during his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening in Washington D.C.

The issues New Hampshire residents are facing related to mental health are issues many American families are facing. It might just have a major impact on someone out there who is listening to the speech, Stearns said.

Kuster said she would work together with NAMI-NH to end the stigma surrounding mental health treatment, provide better care for all, and highlight the crucial importance of mental health for New Hampshire.

“The emotional and mental well-being of New Hampshire residents directly impacts the strength and resilience of our communities and economy,” Kuster said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic pulled back the curtain on the need for expanded access to mental health support — whether for students returning to school or parents returning to the workforce.

Stearns expressed her gratitude for the invitation. 

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“I was really there representing so many individuals and families impacted by mental health issues and I kept thinking and saying that I was carrying our folks in my heart,” she said

Throughout his speech, Biden stressed the importance of providing more resources and support for children who are struggling with mental health issues, particularly in settings where kids are exposed to bullying, violence or trauma.

With only one inpatient facility in the state, access to mental health resources for children in New Hampshire has been difficult since the start of the pandemic and Stearns said it was heartening to hear the issues facing Granite Staters discussed on a national level.

A number of schools in New Hampshire have been able to implement mental health services by using COVID-19 relief funds and Stearns hopes more schools will continue to do so.

Biden also urged for bipartisan support to stop Big Tech companies from using children’s and teenagers’ personal information for targeted advertising online and to impose stricter restrictions on the private data these companies collect.

“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” Biden said.

A New Hampshire couple who lost their 20-year-old daughter to fentanyl addiction was also mentioned by Biden during the speech. The president extended an invitation to Doug Griffin and his wife Pam to visit Washington, D.C. The couple has been actively working to eliminate the stigma associated with substance abuse.

Stearns explained that it is wonderful to see the president discuss the issue of mental health at a national level in order to bring it out of the shadows. 

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