John Broderick is already an established figure across New Hampshire for his work as the former Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, but these days, he’s undertaking a new mission. Rather than step away from the public eye, Broderick has spent the past several years traveling the region as the face of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s R.E.A.C.T. awareness campaign
. He has spoken at hundreds of schools and events to share the 5 signs of emotional suffering in a call for us to recognize mental health as an essential component of every person’s wellbeing.
At an all-school gathering on Wednesday, February 20, Broderick spoke at Derryfield. Pacing in front of the stage, holding nothing but a microphone, he launched into the compelling story of how he began his journey doing what he describes as “the most important thing I have ever done in my professional life.” While all community members were present, he primarily addressed the students, not only because half of all mental illnesses take hold by the age of 14, but also because today’s young people are part of the “least judgemental generation in the history of the United States.”
While he first encountered the realities of mental illness as a young boy through a neighbor’s relative, Broderick recalled growing up in a stifling culture of shame and silence surrounding mental health. Those who showed signs of struggling were teased, ostracized, and overlooked. Decades later, he shared that “mental illness crossed that road from my childhood and took up residence in my own house” where it went “undetected and unseen for what it was.” When his son demonstrated reluctance to attend his own 8th grade graduation, and spent hours in his room “drawing” and “withdrawing,” Broderick dismissed these behaviors, unaware of their significance and what they might reveal.
Broderick’s son grew older and attended college, and thus began his long and painful battle with alcoholism. Seeing his bright child struggle to integrate into adulthood bewildered Broderick, until his son physically attacked him, sending him to the ICU for several days. The attack and his son’s subsequent prison sentence served as a wakeup call for the family, as they came to terms with the fact that he suffered from a severe undiagnosed mental illness.
Today, Broderick’s son is married and employed with his own child. He has received treatment and is thriving, and Broderick has turned his family’s journey into inspiration to “save and change lives.” If cigarette use can plummet in a matter of years and the nation can elect a black man as president, then it is certainly possible for us to end the stigma surrounding mental illness that prevents too many from receiving the help they need.
The Derryfield audience received Broderick’s message with a standing ovation. Today’s youth are already doing their part to end the culture of shame and silence, and they are leading us forward into a future where mental health is treated as an issue of prime importance.