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Art contest reveals mental health challenges

  • Rhianna McDonald, Mascoma Valley Regional High School

  • Oswald Doherty, Goffstown High School

  • Opal Shinnlinger, Mascoma Valley Regional High School

  • A painting by Maggie Dobra, a New Hampshire eighth grader at the Cooperative Middle School, who was a finalist in the middle school category. Courtesy photos from Magnify Voices Expressive Arts Contest

Monitor staff
Published: 5/27/2021 7:09:46 PM

Maggie Dobra, a strawberry blonde eighth grader, stood on a stage in Derry last Thursday to accept an award for her art.

“I just kind of painted what I felt,” she said, fidgeting nervously.

Projected behind her was the award-winning painting of a battered and tear-streaked person held up by puppet strings comprised of words like “starve,” “100lbs” and “healthy.”

Dobra was a finalist at this year’s Magnify Voices Expressive Arts Contest, an event established by the New Hampshire Children’s System of Care Advisory Council to combat stigma associated with mental illness. Middle and high school students were invited to submit a two-minute film, a creative writing piece, or another piece of art that expressed something about mental health struggles.

Michele Watson,the NH Family Network Coordinator at the National Alliance on Mental Illness NH said though this even has been held for the last three years, the entries this year were unique. Instead of focusing on mental illness awareness, as they have in years past, the pieces of delved into the artists’ personal struggles with mental health.

“Just about planning meeting we had, where we looked at entries coming in, we were in tears,” Watson said.

Moira O’Neill, the child advocate from the NH Office of the Child Advocate and featured guest at the event, said the themes of this year’s art sheds light on the impact of the pandemic on children in New Hampshire. Themes in the paintings, songs, poems and videos this year included a deep sense of isolation, masking of reality and struggles to fit in, she said.

“What we’re really seeing is the experience of kids through a really tough time,” O’Neill said.

Other featured pieces of art included a poem, titled ‘Bottle it up’ that described what living with mental illness feels like.

“It courses through my body, from my head to my toes,” it read. “You can’t see how bad it really is. It’s too much all at once. I need it gone. I need to lock it away so I can’t feel it anymore.”

By the numbers


Learning outcomes are expected to fall between 20% and 50% behind a typical school year because of pandemic-related school closings, according to a study from Brown University.

22 children

The number of kids waiting for waiting for inpatient psychaitric care last week in New Hampshire.


The number of psychaitrists per 10,000 kids as of 2015

1 in 5

The approximate number of children and adolescents aged 9 to 17 years that may have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.


Students between 6 and 17 with mental or behavioral concerns are 3 times as likely to repeat a grade than their peers.


High school students with significant symptoms of depression are about twice as likely to drop out of school, according to NAMI.


The percentage of young adults aged 18-25 who experience serious thoughts of suicide.


The percentage of high schoolers who experience serious thoughts of suicide.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.


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