Finding Hope: Advocates say state lacking mental health resources

  • 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
Published: 10/25/2018 9:54:08 AM

Amid a surge in youth suicides in New Hampshire, two leaders in the mental health field underscore the need for a healthy dialogue to encourage people to ask for help and additional resources needed for those who do.

New Hampshire spends about $100,000 a year on suicide prevention, according to NAMI NH Executive Director Ken Norton, compared with other states – like Massachusetts – which he said spends millions.

“We talk a lot about stigma, but we don’t talk about discrimination,” Norton said. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death – why aren’t we addressing this in a more meaningful way?”

Lack of resources

NAMI NH receives about $80,000 from the state of New Hampshire to provide resources to families after suicide deaths, as well as to offer training and educational programs for schools, health care officials and law enforcement.

But there is a general lack of resources in the state for people in crisis, with wait times for beds at inpatient care facilities like the state’s psychiatric hospital, leaving local emergency rooms as the first line of defense. Combined with an opioid epidemic in the state, competition for those beds is steep.

Research shows at least half of those who die by suicide are suffering from a mental illness. Many times a suicide attempt is a symptom of a bigger issue that is being left unaddressed, experts say.

In 2008, the state developed a Suicide Prevention Council, but allocated no money for it. Norton said a paid position on the council would do a lot of good.

Open dialogue

A common myth about suicide is that talking openly about the subject will plant the seed of an idea in a teen or young adult. But those who work in the field say addressing suicide directly and openly does more to save lives, not end them.

One of those people is former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice John Broderick, who was critically injured by his son, who was suffering from an untreated mental illness, in 2002.

Broderick is co-chair of Change Direction New Hampshire, a campaign that promotes awareness of the “five signs” that indicate someone might be struggling – personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self care and hopelessness. Pamphlets of five orange faces with the different facial expressions line school guidance offices and hallways.

In the two years since the campaign launched, Broderick has spoken at 275 different venues to more than 60,000 people. He said suicide is a major topic that comes up at his talks.

“Kids in schools come up to me with wet eyes and cracking voices and thank me for coming and speaking. They talk about how they’ve been suffering from mental illness or thought about ending their life, and no one has ever told them that they can get through it,” Broderick said.

Broderick said that every time he speaks, kids come up and ask him for hugs.

“As touched as I am by that, I find it sad that somebody they don’t know and will never see again could make them feel that way,” he said. “All I say to them is, ‘It’s not your fault and treatment can be very successful. So don’t be ashamed anymore.’ ”

Finding opportunities

If a child opens up about thoughts of killing themselves, then it’s an opportunity to stop in and provide the right support, advocates say.

“It’s letting people know, ‘Good for you, I’m so glad you stepped forward, I’m going to be with you every step of the way,” said Ann Duckless of NAMI NH.

It’s important to ask uncomfortable – but important – questions, like whether a person has a plan in place to end his or her life, or a specific method in mind. That way, preventative measures can be taken and a person can be put in touch with the proper supports.

What puts children at greater risk is not acting after someone opens up.

That’s part of what Broderick is addressing with his new campaign, launched last fall: 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.




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