New Hampshire Is Changing the Face of Mental Health
Despite the fact that 43 million patriots suffer from a mental disorder in a given year, only 40 percent receive the help they need according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In fact, mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the US and one of the leading causes of death. More Americans die by suicide than in car accidents every year, and almost 100 percent of people who kill themselves suffer from a mental disorder, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Fact: 43 million patriots suffer from a mental disorder each year. Only 40 percent receive the help they need.
“Mental health affects so many families. It’s only a quarter of an inch below the surface, and until we change the approach, education, and stigma toward mental illness in this country, we will continue to leave millions of people in the shadows,” said former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice John Broderick, whose son attacked him as a result of mental illness in 2002. Broderick is now one of the leaders spearheading the Change Direction campaign in New Hampshire.
“Mental health affects so many families…until we change the approach, education, and stigma toward mental illness in this country, we will continue to leave millions of people in the shadows”
Change Direction is a collection of leaders across health, business, education, policy, military, and law enforcement who have come together across the state to create a new story in America about mental health. Launched on the national level after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., leaders in New Hampshire decided to spark the movement at home in hopes of freeing society to see mental health as having equal value to physical health, improving the coordination and collaboration of stakeholders across sectors, and creating a common language that recognizes the signs of emotional suffering.
A year from now, the initiative hopes to have the public recognizing the five signs of mental illness as easily as the signs of a heart attack or a stroke. The signs of someone struggling with mental health include (1) personality changes; (2) being uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody; (3) withdrawal or isolation from other people; (4) neglecting self-care and engaging in risky behavior; (5) and being overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by circumstances.
“Change Direction is a beautiful campaign because it’s very simple. It’s all about education, and helping identify people who might be at risk. All of us can find a place where we can support this effort, and create dialogue that’s critical among providers, community groups, and others,” said Jo Moncher, bureau chief of military programs, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
Of 115,000 vets in New Hampshire, only 30,000 receive their treatment from the VA, with everyone else turning to outside services like the rest of the population. In a 2012 study, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services found veterans across eras, from Vietnam to post-9/11, uniformly believe their greatest barrier to seeking mental health is stigma, followed by feeling a lack of understanding from health providers. (An astounding 22 veterans kill themselves every day, the VA reports.) Interestingly, military personnel face similar obstacles as civilians with respect to mental health, across New Hampshire and the country, medical professionals report.
Fact: 115,000 vets in New Hampshire, only 30,000 receive their treatment from the VA.
“Mental illness is one of the last bastions of prejudice. You switch on the television, and put on one of those dreadful comedy shows, and they’ll use prejudicial language like ‘lunatic,’ ‘lock up,’ ‘crazies.’ There’s a stigma attached to that. Defining mental illness in lazy ways like a homeless person shuffling down the street just isn’t justified. Most of the people who struggle with mental illness are in our workforce. Until we overcome that stigma, until we have our hard moments as a society, as a culture, that mental illness should be treated in the same way as cancer or other disease, we’ll continue leaving people who need help in the dark,” said Peter Evers, CEO of Riverbend, one of 10 community mental health systems that cover New Hampshire and keep people out of big state hospitals.
“Mental illness is one of the last bastions of prejudice…mental illness should be treated in the same way as cancer or any other disease, we’ll continue leaving people who need help in the dark”
One of those people struggling with mental health yet remaining in the workforce, hiding in plain sight, is Annmarie Timmins,Concord Monitor political reporter of 25 years. In 2013, she revealed to her family, friends, and the world at the end of her series on mental health that she has suffered serious depression and anxiety since the 5th grade, at times requiring hospitalization when she suffered from suicidal thoughts. Her brutal honesty created waves not only in New Hampshire but throughout the country as she described the immense difficulty in managing her career and personal life while keeping her illness a secret from everyone around her except her husband.
“There were days I just couldn’t get to the office. I felt like I just couldn’t be a reporter and talk to people. I’d have these mood swings, and I’d be paralyzed by my anxiety or depression. My family would interpret my behavior that I was mad at them, or had a bad attitude because I didn’t want to explain what I was going through,” said Timmins, who received hundreds of letters from around the country from people thanking her for starting the conversation.
Shortly thereafter, she left the Monitor to earn her master’s degree in school guidance counseling, and now works at Center Woods Elementary School in Weare, New Hampshire. She joined the Change Direction campaign in hopes of erasing the stigma of mental illness that she personally has felt over the years, especially after leaving the Monitor and taking side jobs to help support herself while going back to school. “It was a real eye-opener. People around me told me to stop talking about my depression and anxiety, because I could likely lose my job,” she said.
“It was a real eye-opener. People around me told me to stop talking about my depression and anxiety, because I could likely lose my job”
In an effort to combat stigma and treat those affected more quickly, many New Hampshire-based medical systems like Granite Health have started an extensive education campaign to improve screening. The Behavior Health Initiative calls on practices to perform evidence-based screening for anxiety, depression, and other issues starting for patients as young as 12. Early screening is important: 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75 percent of them hit by age 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Fact: 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75 percent of them hit by age 24.
“Living with mental illness without treatment is really hard. You’re not productive, you feel horrible, your physical health worsens. Sometimes people will have had symptoms for years, struggle to hold down jobs, struggle in their relationships, but they’re too afraid mental illness is a sign of weakness as opposed to a medical condition to get help.
Or when they finally do come in they say they have neck aches or stomach issues without realizing often times there’s an overlay of mental illness that may be making those symptoms worse,” said Dr. Travis Harker, a family physician at Family Health Center and the medical director for Granite Health. He hopes their bolstered screening efforts will detect mental health disorders in people more quickly, to provide relief at a faster rate and spark conversation between people and their health providers that destigmatize the subject, making mental health part of the everyday health dialogue that should take place in the doctor’s office.
“Living with mental illness without treatment is really hard. You’re not productive, you feel horrible, your physical health worsens…they’re too afraid mental illness is a sign of weakness as opposed to a medical condition to get help.”
At the state level, Governor Maggie Hassan, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and Congressmen Annie Kuster and Frank Guinta kicked off Change Direction in Representatives Hall at the New Hampshire State House in late May. “People with mental illness are our friends, our family members, and our neighbors, and we must ensure that we are providing appropriate care at the right place and time,” said Governor Hassan.
New Hampshire policy makers working to improve mental health services include Rep. Guinta, who pushed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act through the House with bipartisan support in July. The measure would remove HIPAA-related barriers for caregivers trying to care for their mentally ill family members, while also improving mental health care access by bolstering resources for community-based mental health providers so patients and their families can turn to them instead of big, state hospitals.
“For the last 20 years, I’ve been the primary caregiver for a very close family member who suffers from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE), which involves psychosis and is very challenging. I know how a typical day can be, the emergency rooms, waiting days for a bed, all the gurneys in a hallway, and you and your loved one are already in some sort of pain— you’re in the hospital. We have to have more and better community health care,” said Rep. Guinta.
“I don’t want to see any family go through what we’ve gone through. I know how debilitating it is. Not just for the patient, but the family. Most families don’t know what to do, or where to go,” he said.
“I don’t want to see any family go through what we’ve gone through. I know how debilitating it is.”
Help change the direction. Make a pledge, join the movement, and learn and share the five signs of emotional suffering to recognize them in yourself or a loved one who may be in emotional pain. Visit www.changedirection.org to find out how, and know that you, your family, or your friends aren’t alone.