Another View — Ellie Coe: Talking about mental illness makes a real difference

Editor’s Note: Throughout the year, in partnership with Change Direction NH, the Union Leader is publishing a monthly series of mental health stories written by Granite Staters.

I HAVE BIPOLAR DISORDER and have been working with people at Riverbend Community Mental Health since I was six years old. I just turned 18 and will be graduating from high school in about a year. I soon am going to leave for Austria where I’ll be representing New Hampshire in the Special Olympics World Games in the snowshoeing event. I’ll be competing with kids from all over the world. I’m super excited!

Over the past year, I also have become strong and vocal supporter of the Change Direction NH campaign (See changedirection.org/nh.) It was almost a year ago when my mom and I agreed to have a picture taken in front of the State House in Concord and take the pledge with a bunch of other people to know the five signs of emotional suffering: personality change, poor self-care, being withdrawn, unusual anger or moodiness, and feelings of hopelessness.

It was kind of a big deal. Gov. Maggie Hassan and a lot of other important people came and spoke to the crowd. One of the most memorable moments for me was when John Broderick, the former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, was speaking about his family’s experience. His son had mental illness, and he said that he wished he’d known the signs when his son was younger. He said that his son got the treatment he needed. He is now OK and has a job and is married and has a family. But what was most important was talking about it whenever and however you need to talk about it — and that mental illness isn’t something you should ever feel like you need to whisper about.

It’s an illness, just like when you break your arm, you go and get your arm fixed by a doctor. When you have mental illness, you go to a doctor too, and you get a different kind of treatment. And treatment works! It really does.

I’ve had some hard times over the years, and being able to talk about it all, openly and without being ashamed, is really, really important. There’s a lot of learning involved in managing any illness, and I have learned some great coping skills from my counselor at Riverbend that help me manage mine. Coping skills help me every single day.

Everybody has hard times sometimes, and what’s so important about the Change Direction NH campaign is that it helps people talk about it. That’s always the first step to getting better. Believe me, I know!

Ellie Coe lives in Hopkinton.