Not only did Judge John T. Broderick visit our school yesterday to share his personal story regarding Mental Illness, he brought along the newly appointed NH Supreme Court Justice Robert Lynn. Two NH supreme court judges in one room in front of bleachers full of listening teenagers was pretty awesome. For nearly an hour, Judge Broderick challenged our students and staff to learn the signs of mental illness while weaving the story of his own son’s battle and how he and his wife handled one string of crises after another. He illustrated the stigma associated with mental health as being similar to the way we treated AIDS victims in the 80s. The only way we can better treat people with any variety of mental illness is if people SHARE their stories, KNOW the signs, and HELP to destroy the stigma associated with people who suffer from these illnesses. He told our students, people with mental health disorders did not ask for this disease nor did they deserve it. Following his presentation, students debriefed in small groups with a staff member discussing whether mental illness is a taboo topic within their own family in addition to what other consequences like drug and alcohol addiction or gun violence result from untreated mental illness. Lin-Wood Student Assistance Person, Randy Herk shared, “Judge Broderick brought a great message to our school and community, helping to shed some light on an issue that does not nearly get the attention it deserves. Multiple students came to me afterward to talk about how even in their families today mental illness is not really discussed and they want to be the generation that changes that!” Thank you to Adapt, Inc. and Lin-Wood Public School for making their visit a priority.
Furthermore, Judge Broderick stayed for the day speaking again in the evening in front of smaller crowd of parents, former and current students, along with some mental health professionals who joined him in a panel discussion following his presentation. The panel included Randy Herk, Lin-Wood’s Student Assistance Person who works closely with students in many areas; Jayne Ludwig, licensed NH school social worker; Erin Bell, family therapist for White Mountain Mental Health; Annette Carbonneau, former director of adult and family programs for NAMI-NH, and current Student Assistance Person coordinator for the North Country Health Consortium.
I felt assured that we had advertised enough as a school community; our principal, Scott Currier, did an all call one week prior to the event. Two weeks prior to the event, teachers K-12 sent invitations home for all parents. Three weeks prior to his evening presentation, I had created a FB event which many shared over the course of the days leading up to his arrival. I had hoped for a crowd of 50-75 parents and community members. We had about 25 attend and, at first, when Judge Broderick first started speaking, I was discouraged. But then I watched the parents who had been able to attend; I watched them nod their heads, close their eyes, some even shedding tears when former students shared some of their personal stories. I had a hard time falling asleep last night because the words of one young woman brave enough to speak shared how she never wanted to “burden” her own parents with the feelings she had. She eloquently described racing heart beats which cut off her ability to breathe. She changed the face of mental health in that very instant, and so, despite not the crowd I had hoped for, the people who came were enough. They were enough for her. They made great comments, which different members from the panel built upon. I even learned from Delia Sullivan, a parent in the crowd, that she runs a support group at our town Library one day a month using guidelines from NAMI-NH (National Association for Mental Health). I had not known that before and neither did many in the room.
One of my sophomores in a follow up discussion questioned why we were bringing in these kinds of speakers when I thought the answer was obvious in light of school violence and people driving down city sidewalks taking out innocent bystanders in their wake. The answers aren’t always obvious, and we need to develop our language of transparency so that people don’t feel isolated and alone in the world of mental illness. Judge Broderick’s hope is that his choice of visiting schools and speaking with students, whom he calls the least judgemental generation ever, instead of retiring after 42 years of working hard– will help to make the difference. People should recognize the signs of mental illness as easily as do we do heart attacks or strokes and then REACT accordingly.
In an introduction provided to us, we learned that in 2016, Justice Broderick agreed to co-chair the first statewide launch in New Hampshire of a national mental health awareness campaign called Change Direction New Hampshire. For the past two years, he has spoken countless times to various audiences about the five most common signs of mental illness in an effort to improve understanding and awareness of mental illness to eliminate its mythology, encourage discussion and treatment and begin to change the unfair and shameful culture that surrounds it. More recently, he has also been discussing the R.E.A.C.T. campaign designed by Dartmouth- Hitchcock and embraced by the State Department of Education in New Hampshire to begin a discussion on how all of us need to engage those people who are suffering from mental illness.
We can learn them too:
- Not feeling like you?
- Feeling agitated?
- Are you withdrawn?
- Caring for yourself?
- Feeling hopeless?
Recognize the signs of emotional suffering.
Express concern and offer support.
Act now and talk to someone you trust- parent, teacher, coach, relative, friend, doc.
Care enough to follow through and follow up
Text ‘signs’ to 741741 or call 603-448-4400 (24/7)
For substance abuse concerns, call 844-711-HELP or visit nhtreatment.org. Thank you to the NH Dept of Education, Dartmouth Hitchcock, Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock and Vermont Agency of Education for the flyers provided to all of our middle and high school students. Judge Broderick reminded us that 50% of mental illnesses are usually diagnosed by age 14 and 2/3rds by age 23. Thank you for reading, sharing, and learning the signs too. We have extra flyers at the Lin-Wood MHS office should you wish to hang one on your refrigerator.