Encouraging open conversations on mental health

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 09-08-2023 6:02 PM

Karen Privé has been struggling with her mental health since she was just six years old.

Now 52 years old, with a successful long-term marriage, cherished roles as a stepmother and grandmother, and a career in research administration thanks to her accounting degree, she has discovered ways to manage her mental health challenges by seeking support and sharing her experiences, which helped her realize she is not alone.

She is also a speaker for NAMI New Hampshire who talks to others about her mental health journey and offers reassurance to those in despair.

Outwardly, Privé’s life seemed like everything was perfect. But beneath the surface, she was slipping into depression.

“It wasn’t because anything bad happened. I had no major losses. But I was seriously contemplating taking my life. I had a plan and was really scared. It was time to ask for help,” Privé said at a conference on suicide prevention awareness held Friday.

In April 2022, Privé found herself in her therapist’s office, grappling with the overwhelming burden of suicidal thoughts.

Desperate for help, her therapist swiftly dialed the state’s rapid response access helpline – a 10-digit number Privé had wisely saved as ‘#RRAP’ on her phone, ensuring it was easily accessible.

As Privé and her therapist engaged in a series of questions from the associates on the helpline, a mobile crisis unit was sent to the office. A call was also placed to her husband.

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Recalling the arrival of the crisis intervention team, Privé said they were kind and compassionate.

They convinced her to make the difficult decision to voluntarily seek treatment at the hospital. There, her medication dosage was increased, but that wasn’t the solution either. An unexpected side effect emerged – tremors that she initially hoped would fade. Instead they intensified to the point where they caused her to spill her beverages.

Meanwhile, the grip of her suicidal thoughts grew even more intense and relentless with time.

“I wanted to stop taking my meds entirely because I felt they were poisoning me,” said Privé. “The voices were telling me to die.”

Once again, in August 2022, the helpline played a crucial role in coming to her aid.

This time, a crisis team comprising a clinician and a peer counselor was dispatched to their residence. The peer skillfully persuaded her to seek immediate assistance at the emergency department, as her thoughts had taken an even darker turn.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Privé felt as if her sanity was slipping away.

“The insanity continued to escalate, inanimate objects were saying they couldn’t wait to dance on my grave, things were growing out of the walls and I hatched a new plan on how I can kill myself when I got home,” Privé recounted.

However, this time, following her discharge and a significant adjustment in her medication, the majority of her hallucinations receded, and she found herself better equipped to manage her suicidal ideation.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that calling New Hampshire rapid response saved my life,” said Privé. “I’m grateful to still be here.”

The state helpline, 833-710-6477, which launched in January, six months before the national 988 hotline, was designed to be a lifeline for New Hampshire residents seeking support during times of grief, fear and the urgent need for intervention in suicidal crisis cases.

In its first year of operation, the helpline responded to more than 22,000 contacts and dispatched over 7,400 mobile crisis teams.

During Friday’s conference, Governor Chris Sununu signed a proclamation officially declaring September 10 to 16 as New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Week.

Sununu emphasized that one of the most crucial and challenging aspects of tackling mental health concerns is fostering open and effective communication.

“I think it’s asking a lot for someone to really open up like that with their background,” said Sununu. “It’s so important to empower a lot of different individuals that we have all across the state today that are dealing with this crisis, very often in silence, so we have to work to bring that to the table and open those doors.”

Suicide ranks as the 9th leading cause of death in New Hampshire, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The state is also restructuring its mental health system with the addition of behavioral health resources as part of its ten-year mental health plan.

“We’ve made significant strides in mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts and have set aside federal and state funds and community-based services,” said Lori Weaver, commissioner of the NH Department of Health and Human Services.

Privé is happy to be healthier and now uses that to help others, including through her online blog.

“The fact that even at my worst now I have a sliver of hope,” said Privé. “I might feel hopeless, but I am not hopeless, which is why it’s okay to ask for help.”

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