- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire officials are joining Michelle Obama, Richard Gere and Prince Harry in encouraging residents to care for their mental health and learn the signs of emotional distress.

A national initiative called “The Campaign to Change Direction” launched its first statewide project Monday in New Hampshire. The campaign seeks to raise awareness of five signs of emotional suffering: withdrawal, agitation, hopelessness, decline in personal care and change in personality.

Those attending the announcement at the Statehouse saw public service announcements featuring the first lady, actor and member of the British royal family that will air on local television. They also heard from state leaders whose families have been affected by mental illness, including former state Supreme Court Justice John Broderick, and U.S. Reps. Frank Guinta and Annie Kuster.

“Mental illness has taken many of us in this room and those we love on a journey none of us could have ever expected,” Broderick said. “I’ve learned the hard lessons as have my son and my wife and my family, and I don’t stand here today to be at all self-righteous, because if I could have, I would’ve hidden our family’s problems, too.”

In 2002, Broderick’s 30-year-old son attacked him with a guitar while he slept. Broderick said his son had shown signs of mental illness as early as age 13, but it wasn’t until he spent three years in prison that he got the help and medication he needed to treat his depression and anxiety.

“My wife and I never saw it,” Broderick said. “I failed my own son. … Don’t do that.”

Guinta, a former mayor of Manchester, said he specifically requested that Broderick perform his swearing-in ceremony because of what he had been through with his son. Guinta, who for years has been a caretaker to a relative with mental illness, described feeling grateful to police and health professionals he’s had to call during crises and feeling angry when colleagues described people like his family member as “those people.”

“We need to speak up,” he said. “It’s about time, and we are here, and we are going to fight this fight very publicly.”

In addition to the media campaign, the project will involve forums and discussions around the state in the next year. The goal is to get people to reach out and help others in the same way they’d call an ambulance for a heart attack victim, Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of Give an Hour, the organization behind the campaign.

“We don’t have to be cardiologists to step in and get help,” she said.

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