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Fighting to destigmatize mental illness Broderick: Cause needs 'Magic Johnson moment' to bring to forefront

Portsmouth Herald - 2/23/2018

NEWINGTON - Former New Hampshire Supreme CourtChief Justice John Broderick said he thought he and his wife had all the answers when they finally let their adult son John Christian Broderick hit rock bottom after he developed a drinking problem while attending college and was drinking daily after completing graduate school and resulted in him not keeping steady employment.

It took his son being sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in New Hampshire State Prison after he assaulted his father with a guitar while he slept in 2002 and being subsequently treated for severe depression and anxiety while he was incarcerated before the elder Broderick realized he had missed the signs for so long. His son was battling mental illness.

"My son used to say to me, 'Dad if I didn't have these feelings, I wouldn't be drinking,' and I mentioned that to the (rehabilitation) people and it didn't deter them and they said, 'Judge, every alcoholic has a reason they're drinking and your son is an alcoholic and you have to deal with it,'" said Broderick, who was told by a prison psychiatrist his son was funny, smart and had every skill he needed to succeed in life.

"In the psychiatric ward in the prison, the doctor said, 'your son has really serious, deep depression, anxiety and panic attacks. If you had his problem and I said why don't you drink every day? It'd make you feel better for awhile, you'd do it too,'" he said. "When (the doctor) said that I said, 'My God, my son was right, it was mental illness, which scared me even more."

On Thursday, Broderick spoke to workers at LTC Partners at the Pease tradeport about the need to destigmatize mental illness in the collective national conscious as part of the organization's Distinguished Speaker Series. He also spoke about his work as co-chairman of the Change Direction New Hampshire Campaign. He has spoken more than 200 times to students, government officials and business leaders since last May to raise awareness of the signs of mental illness. He said he wants the five symptoms of mental illness: personality change, sudden spike in irritability, withdrawal from family and friends, poor self care (i.e. substance abuse or decline in personal hygiene) and a feeling of hopelessness, to be as well known as the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

"You all know the very disturbing events of Parkland, Florida, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook and other venues, this talk could not be more timely," said LTC Partner CEO Paul Forte. "The issue of mental illness is being talked about across the country."

According to Broderick, half of all mental illness in America arises by age 14 and two-thirds by age 24. He said 65 percent of men in county and state prisons have a diagnosable mental illness. Broderick said he wants to see the conversation be normalized so health care providers begin to treat mental illness the same as any other type of illness or injury.

"You want to make your kids feel OK with you the way they are, tell them not to be ashamed of it and make sure they don't conceal it. That does noticeable harm to kids," he said. "It's called health insurance; we treat the head like it's not part of the body. Insurance companies push back all the time and do you know why they do that? It's because we let them get away with it."

Broderick spoke of how the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s did not come to the forefront of the national conversation until NBA star Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive in 1991. He said mental illness was due for its own "Magic Johnson moment."

"We only hear about mental illness when there is a school shooting," he said. "Most are never going to do that, they'll just suffer silently. Most people (battling mental illness) are not a risk to you or your family, they're more a risk to themselves than anyone else. This generation wants to talk about this, they're suffering and they're tired of the shame and the shadows and the stigma."


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