Fresh off our midyear break, Makin It participated in a roundtable discussion lead by Senator Maggie Hassan, which was held at UNH Manchester Campus. The discussion focused on the STANDUP Act Bill- legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan and Joni Ernst to strengthen mental health resources for youth to prevent youth suicides. Senator Maggie Hassan stated that the bill “will help schools in New Hampshire meet the mental health needs of their students.” The STANDUP Act provides states with funding to implement evidence-based policies and trainings to prevent suicide.  

The roundtable discussion offered an opportunity for partners to discuss the powerful impact of the funding which has enabled them to implement impactful policies and programs. In addition to Senator Maggie Hassan, the table was made up of ten members:  

  • Erin Barnett, Associate Prof. of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Institute 
  •  Mike Decelle, Dean of UNH Manchester 
  • Mary Forsythe-Taber, Executive Director of the Makin’ It Happen Coalition 
  • Katja Fox, Director of the NH DHHS Division of Behavioral Health 
  • Loreley Godfrey, Student and Granite Stater of the Month 
  • Maggie Hassan, U.S. Senator 
  • Jonathon Routhier, COO of the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester 
  • Mary Schuh, Research Associate Prof., UNH 
  • Susan Stearns, Executive Director of National Alliance on Mental Illness NH 
  • Jeanna Still, Director of the Child and Adolescent Program at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester  

Senator Hassan led the discussion asking what each organization achieved with their grant funding. Katja Fox, Director of the NH DHHS Division of Behavioral Health, said the State of NH has been using their one-year SAMSHA grant to certify treatment centers, making sure they meet appropriate standards of care. Senator Hassan verified the importance of this work, as federal funding will be directed towards these centers. According to Susan Stearns, Executive Director of National Alliance on Mental Illness NH, one of the most effective strategies implemented under this bill was the 988 hotline that went live in January of 2022. The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester used a SAMHSA grant to start T.R.E.A.T., a collaboration with public schools to offer therapy during school hours to children who have experienced trauma.  

A big topic of interest during the discussion was bringing awareness to these resources. Erin Barnett, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Dartmouth Institute, described how these resources change too often, with organizations not updating their websites. This is causing issues when people call, as often their services have changed. Youth representative Loreley Godfrey stated, “students are not aware of these resources… [we need] clear and consistent messaging to our schools on these services.” 

Mary Forsythe-Taber, executive director of Makin’ It Happen, believes “Youth are part of the solution, we need to support them and start thinking differently”. Makin’ It Happen works with NH youth and community partners to create resilient communities, and one of the ways they have been supporting this bill is by bringing awareness to the resources available to students in crisis. “[Our] job is to bring awareness out to the community and share these resources”, Mary said when talking about the 988 hotline and rapid response numbers. 

The bipartisan STANDUP Act has been a step in the right direction for New Hampshire Students. However, there is more work to be done. Kira Harrison, a recent graduate of Manchester Memorial High School, and Ashley Bachert, the Community Impact Communications Coordinator at Makin’ It Happen, were in the audience at the roundtable discussion with Makin’ It Happen. The two youth representatives felt hopeful that NH was moving in the right direction. They envision working to coordinate another roundtable discussion with youth and young people sharing their experiences and vision of what youth support could look like. “In the future, we would like to see more youth-based conversations on this topic” Kira expresses after the meeting. After canvassing challenges in the school system in terms of mental health, the two agreed that a major issue is a school’s environment. “I would like us to focus on creating safe spaces where students feel welcomed to ask for help”, shares Ashley. Mary Schuh, Research Associate Professor at UNH, touched on this by saying that “school environments are trauma inducing… training educators on mental health practices is one of the steps in solving our mental health crisis”.  

At the end of the discussion, Senator Hassan introduces the topic of social media’s impact on youths’ mental health. Congress is currently looking at a bill to limit youth under the age of 12 from using social media, and Senator Hassan wanted to get opinions of the organizations in attendance. The attendees found this topic tied in with youths’ mental health and were eager to share. Mary Forsythe-Taber from Makin’ It Happen says, “We need to educate the parents on the impact of being on social media. There are some good things on social media, but we need to learn the balance”. Susan Stearns added to that point of some social media being safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth to connect, as well as other communities looking for support. Mary Forsythe-Taber spoke on how social media could aid in addiction recovery, with apps and online support systems for individuals. “If we take away social media platforms, we need to give youth a replacement. We cannot take [it] away without giving an alternative,” disputes Mary Schuh. A new article from the Attorney General, published by the Union Leader on July 16th, reviews social media’s impact on youth mental health and how social media plays a role in that. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that this is an issue that needs to be spoken about.  

In support of this important discussion, Mary Forsythe-Taber of Makin’ It Happen and Susan Stearns of NAMI NH were featured in a Union Leader article, diving deeper into the good and bad effects of social media on mental health.  

Makin’ It Happen is interested in collaborating with community partners to keep this conversation going and creating resiliency essentials to support youth and their parents/care givers with their social media presence. “I think it is important to note that last May, Makin’ It Happen held an influencer workshop in partnership with Cookson Communications, NH Voices, Manchester Memorial and Bedford High School, to address the importance of having a positive social media presence. Makin’ It Happen is ready to address this topic”, says Tracy Bachert, Community Impact coordinator at MIH.  

Makin’ It Happen is honored to have been invited to sit in on this discussion, and appreciative of Senator Hassans initiative on students’ mental health. Many great conversations and solutions are being held in the state, and the bipartisan STANDUP Act has pushed these objectives into action. Makin’ It Happen is eager to continue their work in the greater Manchester region, follow our journey and watch for upcoming listening and learning sessions as well as trainings, rolling out in the fall of 2023.

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Written by Ashley Bachert | Community Impact Communications Coordinator | July 26th, 2023