Students at Rutland High School are hoping to remove the stigma of suffering from mental illness, using a recent visit from from some prominent members of the legal community as a kickoff event.
During an last week assembly, students heard from Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and John Broderick, former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Broderick’s life made headlines when his son, John Christian Broderick, assaulted him in 2002 and sent him to the hospital.
Broderick said as challenging a situation as it was for the family, it was during the younger Broderick’s prison sentence that the Brodericks were able to confront his mental illness, which had fueled years of alcohol addiction.
Broderick told the Rutland students he wanted their help because he believed they would be able to make true progress in removing the stigma of mental illness, helping those who have mental illness themselves or among their families and friends, to step away from shame and get medical treatment.
Broderick used what happened to his son as a success story.
Members of the Student Athlete Leadership Committee were at the assembly with bright, red T-shirts, showing their intent to continue the message from Broderick and Donovan. The words on the front of the T-shirts were, “You are important,” and the words on the back included “RHS Hope Happens Here.”
John Anderson, of Rutland, a junior who plays football at RHS, said the school was taking up a program about hope that started at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester after a student athlete committed suicide. The “Hope Happens Here” campaign has already been picked up at many schools in Vermont and New England.
A lacrosse player and senior from Mendon, Lea Zmurko, said students at the high school in Rutland hoped to “follow in the footsteps” of the original “Hope Happens Here” campaign to send out a message of support and awareness.
Megan O’Connor, a senior soccer player and Rutland resident, said she believes the student athlete leaders can make a positive difference.
“I think there’s still a little bit of a stigma at our school around the way we treat our classmates with mental illness, and I’m hoping that through this club and doing (events) at the basketball games, we’ll cause people to pay attention more to their friends and family and be able to help each out or find someone who can help them when they need it,” she said.
Rutland High School Athletic Director Mike Norman told students at the assembly that he hoped to see the red T-shirts sold at events like basketball games and the money raised used for “Hope Happens Here” activities.
Rosanna Hyde, a track and field athlete and Rutland resident in her last year at high school, said that students should expect the campaign to be visible in days to come.
“In the future, we’re planning to wear these shirts and get donations at games to continue to spread the message that it’s OK to have mental illness. We need to support people. As a school, we have a community where people can go for help,” she said.
Donovan, who started his remarks telling students how he remembered being in the gymnasium as a basketball player from Burlington during a game that was lost to the home team, said he hoped the young students would be able to change the perception of mental illness so that it could be treated as any other medical illness.
“That’s the strength of our state. When this crisis continues to grow in this country, I want it to be said that the state of Vermont took the lead to address mental health as a health care issue, treated it as a disease, treated it equal with dignity and respect. Didn’t leave anybody behind, didn’t push anyone to the corner, didn’t have people suffer in silence but stood up and cared for people with compassion, with love and with courage. Because that is what we do in this state, and I want it be said that it started here with the students at Rutland High School.
Anderson said he was impressed that Broderick could stand up among a group of strangers and speak honestly about how mental illness had harmed his family. He added the biggest takeaway for him was the importance of being honest and finding help for those responding to mental health issues, directly or indirectly.
Members of the student athlete leadership will be wearing the “RHS Hope Happens Here” T-shirts at Saturday’s basketball game. Anderson said there will be a presentation of the group’s goals as well.