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Students to discuss mental health at summit hosted by Dartmouth-Hitchcock



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, April 01, 2019

About 350 students from across New Hampshire are expected to attend a “youth summit” hosted by Dartmouth-Hitchcock this weekend in Concord.

Students picked out the topics they’ll discuss at the summit: mental health issues, such as depression, self-harm and eating disorders; issues of diversity and respect, including gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity and bullying; and other topics such as school violence and pressure for success.

The idea for a statewide summit came from the visits John Broderick, former state Supreme Court chief justice and now the senior director of public affairs at Lebanon-based D-H, has made to schools around northern New England over the past three years.

When he talks with students, he shares his family’s experience with mental illness. His oldest son suffered from severe depression and anxiety.

And many times, after he’s done, students will come up to Broderick and share their own stories about dealing with depression, a friend who took their own life or that they or their parents are ashamed about their mental health issues.

“I wanted people to learn what I’ve been learning. I wanted people to see and hear what I’ve been seeing and hearing,” Broderick said in a phone interview on Monday.

Broderick said he feels schools and kids are willing to talk about mental health issues, but some parents, grandparents and other community members are more hesitant to openly discuss what kids are dealing with.

“Once we realize it’s everywhere — and we need to start talking about it — we’ll have solutions,” he said.

In 2017, 28 percent of New Hampshire high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks so that they stopped some of their usual activities, according to a survey from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

That survey also showed that 16 percent of high school students in the state reported seriously having considered attempting suicide in the past year.

“We talk about critical health problems from the neck down, but from the neck up, we’re not so sure,” Broderick said.

Friday, the first day of the summit, will center on student conversations. The second day, parents, legislators and other adults will have a chance to hear what high schoolers talked about.

Each student group will have a student facilitator and an adult expert. Students also will bring a counselor or teacher from their school to the summit.

“I hope students will be reaffirmed in their concerns. ‘I’m not the only kid and not the only school. I see peers have the same concerns,’” Broderick said. “I hope they also hear what solutions are in progress and what’s being tried.”

Parents and others will then have a chance to hear from a panel, a student representative from the group discussions and then ask questions.

“What I’m seeing is that the world is different,” Broderick said. “Kids are under more pressure than I was.”

That’s something Olympic gold medalist and Norwich native Hannah Kearney will talk about in her keynote address.

“It’s pretty cool these kids are empowered to have these conversations and lead them themselves,” she said in a phone interview on Monday.

Her talk will focus on learning how to deal with pressures in high school, through teamwork, time management and perseverance.

Kearney didn’t go to college right after she graduated from Hanover High School, but she felt pressure to do so.

“Knowing when something is the right decision is a valuable skill,” she said. “You can adjust to those decisions.”

Kearney, who took classes at Dartmouth and recently earned a marketing degree from Westminster College, hopes that will encourage students to move forward with their post-high school plans in a way that gives them flexibility.

Growing up, mental health was a topic that was kept more private. One of Kearney’s friends also had made the ski team, and one month after qualifying for the national team, he took his own life. A school acquaintance also died by suicide that same year.

“That made it a relevant topic in my life,” Kearney said. “I think the conversation has shifted, which is good.”

While registration is now closed for students, Saturday’s parent session is still open. The summit will be held at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

Broderick said he wants students, teachers and parents to be able to have some tools to have a broader conversation about mental health in their communities.

“I hope there’s a collective student voice that begins to emerge statewide,” Broderick said.

Daniela Vidal Allee can be reached at dallee@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.