John Broderick stands alone at center stage in a dark auditorium packed with nearly 800 high school juniors. It is a Tuesday morning in mid-May 2018. The students bristle with energy as they take their seats, but as Broderick speaks, they grow quiet.
Broderick is the Senior Director for Public Affairs for Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H), a nonprofit academic health system that serves close to 1.9 million people in New England. Prior to joining D-H, he served as Dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law and, most notably, as Chief Justice of the NH Supreme Court from 2004 to 2010 – the culmination of an accomplished law career.
But on this day – and for the hundreds of days before it that he has stood before thousands of students in nearly 100 New Hampshire and Vermont high schools – he is simply John Broderick, father and husband, who has a story to share and a challenge to issue.
John’s eldest son was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. But not before he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in the NH State Prison for a 2002 assault on his sleeping father that made national headlines, an assault that nearly killed the elder Broderick. John suffered numerous broken facial bones which required six hours of surgery.
A new short documentary, produced by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s Creative Productions team, tells the story of Broderick’s family’s struggle with mental illness .
After their son’s diagnosis of mental illness, the Broderick’s came to the realization that it had been there all along. They saw the alcohol, but it was depression, anxiety, and sheer panic that truly afflicted him. In prison, he received treatment and medication, and the family began to mend.
In early 2016, John Broderick decided to once again bring his family’s story into the light, but this time as the chairman of “Change Direction NH.” From there, he created his own initiative, now sponsored by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, called R.E.A.C.T. A campaign to educate people on the signs of mental illness, R.E.A.C.T educates the public on how to help themselves or someone else, in an effort to end the social stigma of mental illness.
The R.E.A.C.T. campaign and John’s efforts throughout NH and the region have sparked other initiatives, in which D-H is leading the way in ending the stigma around mental illness, including: a statewide poster campaign featuring high school student-athletes; 99 Faces exhibit and programming; and the 2019 Youth Summit, in which nearly 400 high school students from around New Hampshire harnessed the power of peer-to-peer discussions to express to policymakers and other adult leaders about the pressures they face and the kinds of support they need.
The Brodericks’ story illuminates the fact that mental illness does not discriminate – it is an equal-opportunity disease, but that there is hope.