May 23rd was a perfect day in Concord, New Hampshire. The cloudless sky was bright blue, and the air was warm but not too hot. As the crowd of over 400 filed into Representatives Hall in the State House, Governor Hassan, Senator Shaheen, Congresswoman Custer, and Congressman Guinta all took their seats in the front row. Senator Ayotte was unable to attend but sent a powerful letter of support that was read by a member of her senior staff.
In addition to government officials, the gathering including members of the faith-based community, representatives from social service agencies, business leaders, health care experts, members of the police and first responder community, educators, leaders from the nonprofit sector, and caring citizens. It wasn't a State of the State address by Governor Hassan that brought these stakeholders to the state house on the 23rd. It wasn't a debate about a legislative, regulatory, or budgetary matter either. And it wasn't a visit from yet another would-be presidential candidate. This collection of Granite Staters came to hear their leaders --and me, a psychologist from Washington, D.C.--talk about the first statewide launch of the Campaign to Change Direction.
The Campaign to Change Direction is a collective impact effort designed to change the culture of mental health in America. The initial phase of the campaign focuses on creating a common language by educating all Americans about five key signs of emotional suffering. Just as we know the signs of a heart attack, we can all learn the signs of emotional suffering so that those in need receive the care and support they deserve. Based on responses we have seen in communities across the country--and in New Hampshire's State House last week--a powerful movement is beginning to take shape.
The program in Concord on the 23rd lasted about 90 minutes and included compelling speeches by the governor and the three members of Congress. Some of the remarks included touching personal and family stories that underscored the importance of changing the way we think about and address emotional well-being and mental health. As New Hampshire has been especially hard hit by the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, several speakers referenced the frequent co-occurrence of untreated mental health concerns among those who become addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Peter Evers, CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health, and Former State Chief Justice John Broderick also spoke at the launch. These two community leaders have stepped forward to co-chair Change Direction New Hampshire, and each is passionate about our shared mission.
Judge Broderick's story is well known in New Hampshire. In 2005, his adult son--who had struggled for years with an unidentified and untreated mental health condition--viciously attacked the judge as he slept. As a result of the attack, the younger Broderick spent three years in prison and the judge underwent multiple surgeries to rebuild his face.
Soon after the tragedy, Judge Broderick and his wife began speaking out about how they had failed to recognize the signs associated with their son's mental health concerns. They also shared their failure to recognize that their son's substance abuse was an effort to cope with a debilitating--and potentially far more dangerous--mental health condition. Since retiring from the court, Judge Broderick has become a tireless advocate for addressing mental health concerns in his state. He was immediately interested in the opportunity to bring Change Direction to New Hampshire and together, with the members of a steering committee that formed last fall, has engaged an impressive collection of sponsors and partners that will work to educate all citizens of New Hampshire about the Five Signs.
A few weeks prior to the New Hampshire launch, First Lady Michelle Obama joined President George W. Bush and Prince Harry at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 INVICTUS Games in Orlando, Florida. For those who didn't watch any of the ESPN coverage of the Games that began on May 8, INVICTUS was an extraordinary example of competition and sportsmanship. Wounded service members from 14 nations competed over four days in several events, including track and field, swimming, powerlifting, cycling, basketball, and volleyball.
Prior to the start of the games, the Bush Institute hosted an important symposium focused on the invisible injuries of war. Prince Harry spoke at the event as did President Bush and Bob McDonald, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many other dignitaries and thought leaders attended the half-day event that provided an in-depth exploration of what we know about conditions such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Prince Harry, who recently shared his own experience of flashbacks that developed after his deployments to Afghanistan, spoke eloquently about the need to talk more openly and honestly about mental health.
During my remarks at the symposium I explained how the Campaign to Change Direction grew out of the recognition that in order to ensure that those who serve receive the mental health care they deserve, we must change the broader culture. We must all pay attention to our emotional well-being just as we do our physical well-being, so that seeking help for anxiety or depression is no different than seeking help for cancer or diabetes. I also premiered a new PSA for Change Direction that features Prince Harry encouraging everyone to learn the Five Signs of emotional suffering
Before launching Change Direction in 2015, I rarely talked about the fact that my father, a wonderful man, came home from WWII with post-traumatic stress. I didn't talk about the fact that soon after my mother gave birth to me, she had a psychotic break and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, leaving my father to care for three little boys and a baby girl. But like Prince Harry, I understand the importance of sharing my story. I know that we all have a story and that the sooner we acknowledge and share our experiences, our struggles, and our successes . . . the better it will be for all who suffer and deserve care.
So on that beautiful spring day last week in New Hampshire, when I spoke to those who gathered in Representatives Hall to learn about Change Direction New Hampshire, I talked about my own journey. And I asked the question that I have asked many times before to similar audiences, a question that I already know the answer to, "Is there anyone here today who hasn't been affected by a mental health challenge--either your own or someone else's, someone you love?" No one raised a hand. No one ever does.
What does Prince Harry have in common with the people in New Hampshire who have joined this growing movement? What does he have in common with the 180 partner organizations that have pledged to educate our citizens about the Five Signs, or the people leading regional efforts in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Montgomery County, Maryland, or Summit County, Ohio? What does Prince Harry have in common with First Lady Michelle Obama, Chris Stapleton, Richard Gere, and Brian Wilson--all of whom have added their voices to support this critical effort?
We all share a belief that culture change is necessary and possible. We all believe that together we will Change Direction.
For more information about how you can get involved with the Campaign to Change Direction, visit www.changedirection.org.