Chief Justice John Broderick woke up in the hospital, not knowing where he was or how he had gotten there. It wasn't until days later, he'd learn his grown son had attacked him so viciously it sent him to the ICU. Broderick's concern was not with his own health, but with the fate of his son, now behind bars, and charged in his attack. “I don’t know the technical definition of hopelessness, but I know that’s what it feels like", says Broderick. “I hope you never have a day like that in your life. I would have bet anything that it wouldn’t be my family.”
The former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire state Supreme Court now spends his days traveling New England, telling his story, and the story of his son's battle with mental illness. He says his goal is to take away the stigma and the shadows, and encourage people to treat mental illness medically. “My son's not a bad person, not suddenly a good person", says Broderick. "He’s always been a good person, but he was not well.”
Looking back, he says he realizes his son's battle with mental illness started when he was about 13 years old. "I was pretty ignorant about mental illness back then", says Broderick. He says his son spent most of his days by himself in his room, painting and withdrawing from the outside world. Broderick reflects on those early years, saying “I didn’t see it then, I see it now. I see it now".
When his son went to college, Broderick and his wife noticed he seemed to be drinking a lot. Eventually, he says his son's classmates sought them out to tell them they were concerned about his drinking. But, his son graduated, went on to complete graduate school, and got a job quickly. He couldn't keep it. Broderick says his son told him his wasn't his fault that he lost that first job, or the next one, or the one after that. By this point, he says the drinking was hard to ignore. “He was going backwards at 100 miles per hour", Broderick says. "We couldn’t stop it, and he couldn’t see it.”
Broderick and his wife persuaded their son to go to an alcohol rehabilitation facility, while they started attending Alcoholics Anonymous classes for family members. Thinking about that time, Broderick says "nobody ever said, do you think he could have a mental health problem?" He says he didn't realize at the time they were focusing on the symptom of a bigger underlying issue. The rehab programs never stuck with his son, and he bounced around until Broderick and his wife finally made the decision to kick him out of the house. Broderick calls it the hardest decision he ever made, and the worst. After three weeks of worrying about his son every day, he and his wife brought him home. Still drinking, and fearful his parents would put him out again, Broderick says that's when his son launched that vicious physical attack.
His son was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in the state prison. After 30 days, Broderick and his wife were allowed to visit, and met with the jail psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told them their son was funny, talented, and was suffering from mental illness. He had depression, anxiety, and panic, and had been self-medicating with alcohol. "I felt like I had failed him", says Broderick, "because I didn't know enough about mental illness."
After four months, Broderick's son told him he felt different. He was sleeping at night, and his mind was no longer racing. He started seeing a counselor and taking medication, was well-behaved, and got parole after 3 years. After he got out of jail "we were driving one time", Broderick says, "and my son said to me, Dad, have you always felt like this? I said, like what? Normal, he said. Well yes, I guess I have", Broderick replied.
Now, Broderick is part of the Campaign to Direction, an initiative aimed at making the five most common signs of mental illness as recognizable as the most common signs of a heart attack or stroke. They say those five signs are: a personality change, feeling agitated, withdrawn, poor self-care, and hopelessness. Broderick drives hundreds of miles every year, speaking to schools, community groups, and hospitals, handing out pamphlets and trying to change lives.
Recently, Broderick shared his story at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts. He says we lose 20 veterans a day to suicide in America, and he's working to change that conversation. Massachusetts congressman, Rep. Seth Moulton, joined Broderick at the hospital. Rep. Moulton is a Marine Corps veteran who served four tours of duty in the Iraq War. He says it took him a long time to feel comfortable talking about some of the experiences he had serving in the war, and he knows many other veterans had a worse time than he did. He applauds veterans who have the courage to come forward and seek treatment, saying “in the past veterans were, quite frankly, too proud to admit they had mental health issues, and weren’t seeing the treatment they needed.”
Both Rep. Moulton and Chief Justice Broderick hope by speaking out, the way people view mental illness will start to change. "There’s such a stigma against mental illness still in America", says Rep. Moulton. "People need to realize it’s a disease and a treatable disease, they just need to get the treatment they need.” Chief Justice Broderick says he's been amazed at the changes he's seen already during his 72 years on Earth, and believes this change can happen. “It’s not a weakness to have a mental health problem any more than a bad ankle" says Broderick. "It’s a health issue."
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.