Dover NH’s 6-part plan for better mental health unveiled

DOVER — Suzanne Weete is a leader of Community Partners, and she describes herself as a mom who got involved because she saw a mental health issue.

“As a mom, I’m passionate about my kids,” she said. “So if I didn’t know the risks and the warning signs, how can I expect anyone else to know? We need to educate everyone. I want to teach peers, teachers, professors, business owners and other parents of children to recognize emotional distress and know what to do to help.If you saw someone with a broken arm, or had a heart attack, you would help. It’s the same thing.

Weete was part of a panel discussion at Dover High School on Saturday. The topic was a draft report from a Dover Mental Health Alliance task force with six goals and over 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 at New Hampshire Public Radio. The panel included Weete, Head of Education and Community Engagement at Community Partners; Community Partners CEO Christopher Kozak, Dover School District Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Christine Boston, and Dover Police Chief William Breault. Max Latona, director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Collège Saint-Anselme, as well as Anna Gendron and Hannah Beaudry from the centre, provided assistance.

How the Dover Mental Health Project started

The mental health crisis affects so many across the country, and it has been exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Dover, the pain is acute for many families and students associated with Dover High School’s Class of 2022.

The Class of 2022 has lost three students to suicide in three years, and DHS students have launched their own mental health initiative, demanding a seat at the table to help find ways to support each other. Thirty high school students and 15 teachers received training on youth suicide prevention through NAMI-NH’s “Connect” youth suicide prevention program. The program teaches the risk and factors of a mental health crisis, suicidal ideation and steps to keep a suicidal person safe. The Dover Mental Health Alliance and NAMI-NH have partnered to help equip students with the resources they need.

Attendees to Saturday’s event passed a powerful display of photos by artist Linda Cutrell as they made their way to the library at Dover High School. Called 99 Faces, the portraits depict people with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, and the people who love and support them.

Max Latona, director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College, who helped the Dover Mental Health Alliance task force create a work plan to address how mental health is addressed society-wide town.  He speaks on Saturday November 19, 2022 at Dover High School.

The draft report of the Dover Mental Health Crisis Services in 2022 plan was formulated 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 EMS , mental health services, city council and other city department heads.

“Dover has some of the best leaders, who care deeply about mental health,” Latona said. “We have been commissioned to identify these initiatives and are confident that the recommendations reflect the best available evidence.”

Dover’s 6 Strategic Goals for Mental Health

Six goals and more than 100 initiatives specific to municipal services and schools are included in the report. Some can be implemented quite quickly and others can take years to develop. The goal is to get everyone on board, make a cultural shift and create a positive direction for the future.

The strategic objectives are:

  1. Expand Dover community education about the importance of mental health, the prevalence of mental illness, and the availability of mental health resources to reduce stigma and promote treatment and recovery efforts.

2. Expand mental health support training for city leaders and staff to improve the quality of mental health crisis care

3. Facilitate communication between mental health service partners and social service agencies for a better understanding of agency boundaries, care coordination, referrals and follow-ups

4. Better track mental health statistics to better align with staff and community mental health needs.

5. Provide additional support for positions related to mental health care, as well as mental health support for city-funded staff.

6. Establish better facilities for mental health crisis care.

What panelists say about mental health in Dover

Asked about the panel’s motives, Breault said Dover Police respond to mental health-related calls every day.

“We are seeing an increase in the police station and emergency services,” he said. “People are suffering and we need better mental health services as the numbers continue to rise.”

Breault acknowledged police intervention and emergency room visits aren’t always the best response.

“We have to do better,” he said.

Boston said schools are seeing the same increases in mental health needs, and many involve suicidal ideation.

“You can’t learn when your basic needs aren’t being taken care of,” Boston said. “I liken it to a river. We might be able to pull you out when you’re downstream. We want to reach the kids before they fall into the river.”

Questions from the audience included how the new 988 exchange works, insurance coverage and ways to get involved.

After:New NH law requires 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on student ID cards

“The Dover Mental Health Alliance is voluntary,” Weete said. “We offer free trainings that only require your time. We have many groups and efforts where we would like more volunteers. There are many ways to get involved.”

“Dover was an extremely successful experience,” Kozak said. “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 councilor comment and possible adoption. Saturday’s meeting was an opportunity for the public to hear the plan and ask questions, both in the meeting and via live stream. Latona said Saturday’s discussion would be reviewed and ideas could be added to the report.

“We’ll be taking feedback throughout the next week,” Latona said. “We want to hear what you have to say.”

Weete said the report was created by amazing people working together.

“I don’t want to see this end up on the shelf,” she said. “I want us to work with every department in the city. I know it will take years, but let’s get started.”

For more information or to offer feedback, email [email protected]

About Stephen Ewing

Check Also

Parents and advocates calling for more mental health resources after North Carolina’s 4th state suicide

RALEIGH, North Carolina – Another North Carolina State University student died of an apparent suicide …