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Loreley Godfrey was driving when her friend started having a panic attack in the car.
Godfrey, 18, realized she had no idea how to help. She had never learned how to address a mental health crisis in school.
”I had to hold her hand and look it up on the phone,” she said. “It was scary, and it made me wonder why I don’t know how to take care of this. Why aren’t students being given the knowledge they need to handle situations like these?”
Godfrey isn’t your typical teenager. Public policy is her idea of fun, she says, so she set out to make change. Since finishing high school early, Godfrey took two years off before heading to college. In that time, she’s gotten involved at the State House, serving on the Governor’s Youth Advisory Council on Substance Misuse and Prevention.
She started by interviewing the 17 other students who sit on the council, and found that only one of them had received some sort of education about mental health at school – and that was through a teacher-led initiative, not as part of the curriculum. Another student, Lyla Buxton from Mascenic High School, said she never learned about suicide prevention in school. Jacob Lebroda, a student at Pinkerton Academy, said health teachers acknowledge they are sharing outdated suicide rates, something that he said that erodes trust in the teaching materials.
The council gathered those findings into a report they presented to Governor Chris Sununu in November 2022. “There are no required competencies for mental health education,” the report said. And the existing guidelines are from 2007, it found.
“In today’s mental health crisis, this is unacceptable,” it said.
Then Godfrey worked on a bill that would’ve required the Department of Education to provide schools with curricula or lesson plans on mental health. The bill, SB 151, failed in the House in April.
Not one to be deterred, she’s now working with the Governor’s Council to see if there are other ways to improve mental health education in New Hampshire, even if just by approving resources that students can access themselves.
She said she will stay on the council until starting college at Wellesley in the fall. Right now, she’s planning to study political science.
“It’s cool to go from talking about needing action to taking some of that action myself,” Godfrey said.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264 or text “HelpLine” to 62640.