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Former NH chief justice: 'I was so ignorant about mental illness'

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent

September 14. 2017 10:35PM
Former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court John Broderick Jr. shares his personal story of his son's struggles with mental illness during a talk at Sanborn Regional High School on Thursday. (Jason Schreiber/Union Leader Correspondent)



Students and staff at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston listen as former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court John Broderick Jr. speaks about his mental illness awareness effort. (Jason Schreiber)

KINGSTON — Former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court John Broderick Jr. never thought he’d one day visit schools to talk about mental illness.

“I was so ignorant about mental illness. I’m not ignorant now,” he told students and faculty at Sanborn Regional High School Thursday as he shared the painful story of his son’s battle with mental illness and how it hurt his family and made him question whether he had failed as a parent.

Broderick has spent the past 15 months speaking to students as part of a campaign he helped launch in May 2016 called Change Direction New Hampshire.

The campaign is designed to bring attention to mental illness and the five major signs for those suffering from an often misunderstood disease.

To help spread the message, Change Direction New Hampshire, Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the state Department of Education have teamed up to promote R.E.A.C.T. — a new awareness effort unveiled Thursday that will involve displaying information about mental illness warning signs and how to get help at schools around the state.

Broderick, who was joined by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, encouraged the students to get involved to help change the stigma and culture surrounding mental illness.

“If someone in school is suffering and you make fun of them, that is about as cruel as you can be, so I need your help,” Broderick told the students.

He recalled the terrible night in 2002 when his then-32-year-old son, John Christian Broderick, attacked him in his home while he slept and left him severely injured and hospitalized for weeks.

It was a brutal attack that grabbed national headlines at the time. Broderick blamed it on his son’s mental illness disguised as alcoholism, but he admitted that for years he and his wife had no idea that their son was struggling.

“It’s not uncommon for people to not know,” said Broderick, who earlier this year joined Dartmouth-Hitchcock as senior director for public affairs.

Broderick recalled how his son suffered from severe social anxiety when he was young but that no one knew exactly what it was at the time.

He graduated from high school and went on to college, where he began to drink but insisted that he wasn’t drinking more than anyone else.

The drinking worsened, but Broderick said his son denied he was an alcoholic.

As he and his wife tried to deal with their son’s situation, Broderick said they made a tough decision.

“We put our son on the street. It was the worst decision we ever could have made,” he said.

They thought he was an alcoholic and that maybe he would find a way to turn his life around.

“What we didn’t know and what my son didn’t know was that he had underlying mental health issues,” he said.

Broderick said his “master’s-educated” son was soon sleeping in a car or at a shelter and eating at food pantries.

“I would drive to the Supreme Court in Concord every day and I would think I must be the worst parent,” he said.

The Brodericks eventually brought their son back into their home, but the drinking only got worse and his mental health issues “exploded,” he said.

The severity of his illness was only learned after Broderick was assaulted. His son apologized for what he had done. Broderick recalled receiving a Father’s Day card from him.

“I remember reading the card and crying when I read it. I believed I had failed him in some way,” he said.

His son went to prison for three years and received the treatment he needed to take back his life. Broderick said the two now have a “great relationship” and a better understanding of how the mentally ill can self-medicate through alcohol.

“I’ve had some phenomenal opportunities in my life,” he said, “but nothing is more important to me than this campaign.”

For more information on the campaign visit www.changedirection.org/nh

jschreiber@newstote.com


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