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NH Youths Mentor Peers for Better Mental-Health Outcomes

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Friday, March 29, 2019   

CONCORD, N.H. – Stigma around substance abuse, mental-health issues and suicide can make those between the ages of 18 and 25 reluctant to share their stories – but experts in New Hampshire say the state's peer-to-peer counseling program is effective.

Studies show many young adults are aware of the relationship between substance use and a sense of hopelessness. And for some, that combination can create mental-health symptoms and even increase their suicide risk, according the state's Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.

The Chief of Prevention and Education Services for the agency, Jill Burke, says when a counselor is a peer, they can create a "safe space" because life's transitions and stressors are similar.

"What we have found about this particular population is that they don't speak in terms of stigma and shame,” says Burke. “They are very open and very genuine with one another, and they want to talk about these issues."

Burke says the Young Adult Connect Initiative through the state's National Alliance on Mental Illness trains those ages 18 to 25 how to talk to others and identify risk.

In the past few days, two students and a parent traumatized by school shooting deaths took their own lives, which mental-health experts say demonstrates the lasting grief that can accompany suicide.

America's rate of suicide has increased dramatically in recent years, making it the 10th-leading cause of death.

Ann Duckless, community education and prevention specialist with NAMI New Hampshire, says young people who join the organization's Connect program to learn peer-to-peer counseling often recognize the problem in their school or workplace and want to be part of the solution.

She adds that "trust" makes a huge difference.

"I think there's a very big disconnect with adults in terms of adults not being there to mentor them in the workplace, or not giving them their fair share of credit and their value added to the workplace," says Duckless.

More than two dozen young adults have participated in the three-hour training to become peer-to-peer counselors, funded through a Partnership for Success Grant, that includes participants from 13 state public health networks.


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