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Meeting youth mental health needs remains a priority – and challenge – for NH providers

Sen. Maggie Hassan, dressed in a green blazer, speaks while seated at a table. Another speaker, a woman dressed in black, is to her left. Behind them is a screen that says University of New Hampshire.
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Sen. Maggie Hassan and Loreley Godfrey, a Portsmouth resident and advocate, during a roundtable discussion on youth mental health Monday in Manchester.

Mental health services for children and teens continue to be a pressing need in New Hampshire in the wake of the pandemic, according to providers and advocates who spoke at a roundtable in Manchester Monday.

Depression and anxiety among youth rose during the pandemic, and services have struggled to keep up.

“We have some young adults here that have spent their entire high school in this traumatic situation – addiction crisis, layered with COVID, layered with mental health,” said Mary Forsythe-Taber, the executive director of Makin’ It Happen, a youth-focused organization in the greater Manchester area.

The speakers – who included advocates, representatives of mental health providers and the head of the state’s behavioral health division – described various ways they’re trying to meet that need, supported by recent infusions of federal funding.

That includes planned investments in community mental health, efforts to better integrate mental health services in schools and a new University of New Hampshire graduate program that aims to train school social workers.

But high demand and shortages of staff continue to leave some families waiting months for services. The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester is booking some intakes six months out and has about 350 families on the waitlist, according to Director of Child and Adolescent Services Jeanna Still.

“A lot of people are deterred by the very lengthy waits,” she said in an interview after the event. “And they think, ‘Well, six months, I can't wait that long.’ ”

But, she said, there are ways to get in the door faster – and families should still reach out for help. The center offers first-come, first-serve intakes at certain times on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It also has clinicians in local schools. For kids with the most urgent needs, staff can quickly connect them with Hampstead Hospital or other services.

“We have relationships that allow our most vulnerable populations in the community to have immediate access,” she said.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, organized Monday’s event.

“When I travel around New Hampshire, [mental health] is one of the first things, if not the first thing, almost everybody wants to talk to me about – regardless of where they're from in the state, what community they live in, what kind of work they do, whether they have family members with mental illness or not,” she said.

Loreley Godfrey said schools could do more to educate students about mental health and make sure they know what resources are available. The 18-year-old Portsmouth resident began advocating on the issue after a friend of hers had a panic attack in her car.

“I had to pull over and I did not know how to help her,” she said. “I was looking up on my phone, you know, ‘how to help someone with a panic attack.’ Because I had never learned that essential skill of taking care of someone who was going through a mental health crisis.”

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis in New Hampshire can call or text 833-710-6477 for the state’s mobile crisis services or 988 for the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.
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