DOVER — Suzanne Weete is a leader at Community Partners and describes herself as a mom who got involved because she saw a mental health issue.
“As a mother, I’m passionate about being involved with my children,” she said. “So if I didn’t know the risks and warning signs, how can I expect others to? We need to educate everyone. I want to teach my peers, teachers, professors, business owners and other parents to recognize emotional distress and what to do to help. If you see someone with a broken arm or a heart attack, you would help. It’s the same.”
Weete was part of a panel discussion at Dover High School on Saturday. The topic was the draft report of a working group of the Dover Mental Health Alliance with six goals and more than 100 initiatives to address mental health with a community-wide approach.
Weete spoke about personal responsibility and the need for everyone to get involved and help change the culture and stigma surrounding mental health.
Saturday’s panel was moderated by Laura Knoy, known for her long career with New Hampshire Public Radio. The panel included Weete, community education and engagement manager at Community Partners; Christopher Kozak, Chief Executive Officer of Community Partners, Christine Boston, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services at Dover School District and William Breault, Dover Police Commissioner. Support was provided by Max Latona, Director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College, along with Anna Gendron and Hannah Beaudry of the Centre.
How the Dover Mental Health Project started
The mental health crisis is affecting so many across the country and has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, panellists said.
In Dover, the pain is acute for many families and students associated with the Class of 2022 at Dover High School.
The Class of 2022 lost three students to suicide in three years, and students at DHS started their own mental health initiative, demanding a seat at the table to find ways to support one another. Thirty high school students and 15 teachers received youth suicide prevention training through the NAMI-NH Connect youth suicide prevention program. The program teaches the risk and factors of a mental health crisis, suicidal thoughts and the steps to take to protect a suicidal person. The Dover Mental Health Alliance and NAMI-NH have been partners in providing students with the resources they need.
Attendees of Saturday’s event walked past an impressive photo exhibition by artist Lynda Cutrell as they headed to Dover High School’s library. The portraits, called 99 Faces, feature people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other illnesses and the people who love and support them.
The draft report of the Dover Mental Health Crisis Services 2022 Plan was prepared by the Dover Mental Health Alliance together with the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College and many other city partners including Police, Fire Services, Ambulance Services, Mental Health Services, City Council and other city department heads.
“Dover has some of the best leaders who care deeply about mental health,” said Latona of St. Anselm. “We have been commissioned to identify these initiatives and we strongly believe the recommendations reflect the best data available.”
Dover’s 6 Strategic Goals for Mental Health
The report contains six goals and over 100 initiatives specific to city offices and schools. Some can be implemented fairly quickly, and others can take years to develop. The goal is to get everyone involved, bring about cultural change and create a positive direction for the future.
The strategic goals are:
- Expanding education for the community of Dover on the importance of mental health, the prevalence of mental illness and the availability of mental health resources to reduce stigma and encourage treatment and recovery efforts.
2. Expand mental health support training for city leadership and staff to improve the quality of crisis mental health care.
3. Facilitate communication between mental health and social services partners to better understand agency restrictions, care coordination, referrals and follow-up.
4. Conduct better tracking of mental health statistics to better align with employee and community mental health needs.
5. Provide additional support for mental health-related positions, as well as mental health support for city-funded staff.
6. Creating better mental health crisis care facilities.
What panellists are saying about mental health in Dover
When asked what motivated the panel, Breault said Dover Police are taking calls related to mental illness every day.
“We’re seeing an increase in the police station and ambulance services,” he said. “People are suffering and we need better mental health services because the numbers continue to rise.”
Breault acknowledged a police response, and emergency room visits are not always the best response.
“We have to do better,” he said.
Boston said schools are seeing the same surge in mental health needs, and many include suicidal thoughts.
“You can’t learn if you don’t take care of your basic needs,” Boston said. “I liken it to a river. We might be able to pull you out if you come downstream. We want to get to the children before they fall into the river.”
Questions from the audience included how the new 988 exchange works, insurance coverage and participation opportunities.
More:New NH law requires 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on student ID cards
“The Dover Mental Health Alliance is a volunteer organization,” Weete said. “We offer free training that just takes up your time. We have many groups and efforts where we would welcome more volunteers. There are many ways to get involved.”
“Dover was an extremely successful experiment,” said Kozak. “I would like to see us in every school. I like that as a model for the county, for the state.”
The plan will be presented to City Council on November 30 for council member comments and possible acceptance. Saturday’s meeting provided an opportunity for the public to hear the plan and ask questions, both during the meeting and via a live stream. Latona said Saturday’s discussion would be reviewed and ideas could be added to the report.
“We’ll be taking submissions over the next week or so,” Latona said. “We want to hear what you have to say.”
Weete said the report was created by dedicated people working together.
“I don’t want this to end up on a shelf,” she said. “I want us to work with every municipality. I know a lot of this is going to take years, but let’s get started.”
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