I was surprised and humbled to have been chosen to receive the Erik Cogswell Memorial Award recognizing individuals helping to improve the lives of those with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. In 1999, Erik Cogswell, a young man from New Castel and Barrington, New Hampshire, battled with bipolar disease and unfortunately died by suicide. His family established this award in his memory.
One of New Hampshire’s 10 mental health centers, Seacoast Mental Health Center, presents the award annually to an individual for providing hope, education, or support for those living with mental illness, as well as those who care for them and/or contributing to the community at large. The Mental Health Center’s Vice President of Community Relations, Kelly Hartnett, and Vice President of Clinical Operations – Adult Services, Patty Driscoll, visited our Concord headquarters to present the award. The Cogswell family were unable to join us, and I’m looking forward to meeting them when they return from Florida.
While listening to me on the radio during a commute, Patty Driscoll, who nominated me for the award, said she was intrigued and impressed by what I said about the need to integrate mental health and physical health and to bring more awareness to mental health issues. She later learned that former Chief Justice John Broderick and I are good friends, and I joined him on some of his visits to New Hampshire schools where we talked to students about mental health. Patty said what really “sealed the deal” was my advocacy for New Hampshire passing adult Medicaid dental benefit legislation into law, potentially helping thousands of adults throughout the state receive diagnostic, preventive, and restorative dental services. I wrote on that topic on July 12.
When I first met John many years ago, his vision for destigmatizing mental health and educating the public to think of, and communicate about, mental health in the same compassionate and understanding ways that we do physical health, resonated with me. Possibly one reason was because Northeast Delta Dental was having its own challenges of communicating that the mouth is part of the body, as we shared the results of an increasing amount of research showing the many linkages between oral and overall health. The adult Medicaid dental benefits legislation would never have passed if not for the work of a large contingent of people passionate about oral and overall health. In a similar way, the number of advocates for mental health needs to grow to become more effective in facilitating change.
I appreciate John Broderick, author of Back Roads and Highways: My Journey to Discovery on Mental Health, and Dennis Gillan, co-author of Nice Shoes! both of whom have spoken to our employees, for sharing their personal experiences. And I applaud the work of the Seacoast Mental Health Center and the Cogswell family. Receiving this award has given me another platform from which to advocate for mental health.
To learn more about mental health, read my blog post of May 20. You will find the five signs that could indicate someone is in emotional pain and might need help, and you can even take a pledge to join others who have committed to making mental health a priority.