MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined local experts in youth mental health and suicide prevention at Manchester School of Technology to discuss efforts to prevent youth suicide in New Hampshire.
Hassan began with information about the STANDUP Act, a piece of legislation she sponsored and was co-sponsored by nine other members of her caucus and seven Republicans that requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to give priority for grants that implement evidence-based suicide awareness and prevention training policies in states, tribal governments and local educational agencies. The bill was signed into law by President Biden on March 15.
The Senator then heard feedback from the assembled roundtable on continuing efforts to prevent and respond to youth suicide and mental illness in the state, ranging from students providing peer-based support to Mary Forsythe-Taber, Executive Director of Manchester-based Makin’ It Happen, a non-profit organization seeking to create a coordinated community response around improving youth mental health.
Forsythe-Taber called the roundtable a great start to the conversation, but added that stable funding sources for efforts around preventing youth suicide and youth mental illness are needed, as many organizations such as hers are often forced to start from scratch once grant funding ends and gaps emerge until new grant funding can be obtained.
She also partially agreed with others in the roundtable that noted the impact of COVID-19 in youth depression, but believed that ongoing efforts to address mental illness among young people have helped address the issue.
“I’d agree that students are a little behind where they should be developmentally in class going from being on their own in remote learning for two years. That’s a long time and it’s understandable that there’d be some push back when they quickly return to the classrooms like they did,” she said in regard to depression and related mental illness among Manchester-area students. “But young people have been raising the alarm and reaching out, and as discussed today, many of the youth have taken action within their own school system to try and bring in programs to help support their peers and create dialogue. I think that’s super important.”
Hassan was pleased with the dialogue she heard during the roundtable and hopes that school districts, non-profit organizations and students are able to avail themselves of the resources provided by the federal government that will be facilitated from the passage of the STANDUP Act.
“The feedback I got today was so important. What it tells me is that we have young people in this state who are very aware that mental illness is a real problem and they’re very concerned about their friends. They are also very aware that there are tools out there that can keep each other safe,” said Hassan.
Hassan also noted that the issue of youth mental illness is not unique to New Hampshire and said she advocates for greater funding to hire mental health professionals across the country, mental health equity to help make mental health be seen no differently than general health needs, and increased access to broadband internet to help those suffering from depression who would prefer to receive therapy through telemedicine appointments.