The Dover community is taking action through education and a changed outlook on mental health.
News headlines regularly cover stories sounding the alarm on youth mental health. Studies, surveys, and a recent U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory agree youth are struggling with trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It is important to note there are strategies to help.
Episode 15 of The Power of Prevention Podcast focuses on one important strategy. Host Christin D’Ovidio speaks with Suzanne Weete with Community Partners, Strafford County’s Community Mental Health Center. Weete is also co-founder of the Dover Mental Health Alliance, a grassroots community-driven coalition dedicated to mental health education, awareness, stigma, elimination, and suicide prevention.
Concerned about students in her school district – including her own sons – following several deaths by suicide of young people in her community, Ms. Weete met with William Harbron, Superintendent of the Dover School District, to discuss this important issue. Harbron proved to be an ally and worked with Weete to bring the evidence-based program, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), to the Dover community.
MHFA is a curriculum developed in Australia in the early 2000s and brought to the United States in 2008. It is a skills-based curriculum that teaches individuals how to recognize and respond to someone in emotional distress, then offer a first line of support in getting them help. The program emphasizes that a mental health emergency is the same as a physical health emergency, and both should be considered in the same way.
“Once people really understand and internalize that, they may be more apt to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Weete. “We need to think about a mental health problem on the same level as a physical health problem. We are not going to diagnose the person. But we can provide a first line of support for that person and get professionals involved, instead of just turning away.”
MHFA teaches individuals to recognize warning signs for a mental health emergency, as well as how to help de-escalate the situation and assess the best method of rapidly getting the individual the appropriate professional help needed, such as calling 911 or the New Hampshire Rapid Response Access Point line at 833-710-6477.
There are several modules in the MHFA curriculum, ranging from adult to adult; adult to youth; and teen youth to youth. Dover High School adopted the teen youth-to-youth module, which is for grades 10 – 12 or ages 15 to 18 years. It teaches teens to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges among their friends and peers.
“Certified instructors teach an entire grade the Mental Health First Aid class. In Dover, the course is taught in grade 10, which allows the students to carry the knowledge forward through the rest of their high school experience and beyond. Peer to peer support is very, very powerful,” said Weete. “When we start thinking about mental health challenges in the same context as physical health challenges, it really allows empathy and compassion to take root. People also need to know that in many cases, with proper care and treatment, people can recover from mental health challenges and live meaningful lives. Just as one might with a cancer diagnosis.”
To learn more about MHFA and its implementation in the Dover community, listen to The Power of Prevention podcast episode.
Suzanne has worked in the non-profit sector in Strafford County for the past 20 years, dedicating herself to the health and wellness of the community. Currently, she is the Community Education and Engagement Manager with Community Partners where she works to bring mental health education, stigma elimination, and suicide prevention to the Dover community and surrounding towns. She is a founding member and steering committee member of the Dover Mental Health Alliance composed of community stakeholders dedicated to creating a culture that understands, embraces, and addresses the complexities of mental health.
The Power of Prevention Podcast provides important information about the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances. Produced by The Partnership @drugfreeNH, each episode features some of the great work taking place in the Granite State in prevention.