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He Wants To Encourage People To Talk About Mental Illness. So He Talks About His Son

John Broderick, a former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, speaks to high school students in Salem, N.H., about mental health awareness. Photo by Jesse Costa for WBUR

John Broderick, a former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, speaks to high school students in Salem, N.H., about mental health awareness. Photo by Jesse Costa for WBUR

A former New Hampshire Supreme Court chief justice is visiting schools in New England to talk about the darkest time in his life. Usually he ends up hearing from students about some of their dark times, too.

The former justice, John Broderick, wants to encourage people to talk about mental illness, so he tells the story of his oldest son.

“He was a really talented artist and so he spent a lot of time in his room with the door closed, at his desk, drawing. Today I would describe it as withdrawing,” Broderick says.

That withdrawing, Broderick says, was the first sign that something was wrong. But his family didn’t know much about mental health, so they let it go. In college, Broderick’s son began drinking — heavily.

When his son moved home to go to graduate school, his drinking was bad and addiction specialists told Broderick and his wife to kick their son out of the house.

“It was the hardest decision we ever made, and the worst decision,” Broderick says. “It was well intended but absolutely the wrong choice. At that point no one — no doctor, teacher, neighbor or family member — ever asked, ‘Do you think he has an undiagnosed mental health issue?’ We had no idea.”

Visit WBUR for the full story.