N.H. wants to get vaccine vans rolling again, as new COVID boosters arrive

N.H. wants to get vaccine vans rolling again, as new COVID boosters arrive

New Hampshire Public Radio | By Paul Cuno-Booth
Published September 16, 2022 at 4:13 PM EDT

Read the full article on NHPR

NH mobile vaccination van. NHPR photo.
Over 700 vaccination clinics were hosted and 37,000 doses were administered in NH through the program since July 2021.

You can find locations offering COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters near you at vaccines.gov. Updated boosters are available to people 12 or older who have been vaccinated, once two months have passed since their last COVID vaccine, booster shot or infection.

The state plans to re-launch its mobile vaccine van program next month. Officials say the four-vehicle fleet will help make COVID-19 boosters available to more people, amid an expected increase in cases this fall and winter.

“We think we should make vaccine as easily available in every nook and cranny around the state, and our mobile vaccine services help us,” Division of Public Health Director Patricia Tilley recently told lawmakers.

The state health department intends to have the vans running again from October to March. Three would be for pop-up clinics at community events, workplaces and other sites across New Hampshire. A fourth would make house calls to give shots to homebound people.

A previous mobile COVID-19 vaccination campaignended in June after administering close to 40,000 doses over the course of a year, according to state officials, while a separate service vaccinated more than 2,000 homebound people.

State and federal health officials are urging people to get boosted, noting protection from previous vaccination declines over time and the updated boosters target newer strains of the virus that have become dominant.

“These updated booster doses more closely align to the new COVID-19 Omicron variant,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said in a news release Monday, calling them “the most effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

The updated boosters have started arriving in New Hampshire over the past two weeks and are available at many pharmacies, as well as through some health care providers.

Tilley said the state’s mobile vaccine program can reach people who have difficulty getting to those spots. For instance, the vans can hold pop-up clinics at work sites for employees with challenging schedules. She said the state is trying to “ensure that there’s equitable distribution everywhere, instead of just leaving it to the free market on its own.”

The rollout of new boosters comes as much of the responsibility for COVID-19 vaccinationhas shifted from the public sector to the private health care system. Meanwhile, additional federal funding for vaccines, tests and other public-health measuresremains in doubt. Earlier this month, the government stoppedsending free COVID-19 tests to households that requested them, citing Congress’ failure to provide more money.

Anne Sosin, a policy fellow at Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, worries that shift will disproportionately impact rural areas, communities of color, the uninsured and others who tend to face more barriers accessing health care.

Earlier in the pandemic, she said, intensive public-health campaigns in some places narrowed racial disparities in vaccination and brought shots closer to people in sparsely populated areas with few health care providers. She fears that pulling back from such efforts will leave those communities less protected against future waves of the virus.

“We see that there are gaps in booster coverage across communities, and also there are disparities in access to testing and treatment,” Sosin said. “And all of these things are going to shape uneven outcomes moving forward.”

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services plans to pay for the mobile vaccination program with $6 million in federal money from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. Lawmakers approved the request last week.

The state health department said in its proposal to lawmakers that without the money, the state’s “limited public health infrastructure” would struggle to efficiently distribute vaccines or deal with a potential fall surge of cases. The federal government has given no indication it plans to send more money to the states this fall, it added.

Officials say they plan to bring a contract before the Executive Council for approval later this month. The vans will be operated by a private vendor.

Scottlyn Schuler, who oversees the COVID-19 response for the Strafford County and Seacoast public health networkssaid demand is another big question. Only about half of vaccinated people nationallyhave received a booster shot, with many sayingthey doubt boosters’ effectiveness or feel protected enough from past vaccination or infection.

Schuler would like to see a bigger push from public officials and other leaders to communicate thebenefits of boosters.

“It’s important that the message goes beyond, ‘Hey, this is where you can get your vaccine,’ ” she said. “The message also needs to be why the vaccine is important to get, why the boosters are important to get. You know, these variants continue to change. Immunity wanes.”

It remains to be seen whether a fall surge in COVID cases leads to a spike in demand for boosters. That’s what happened last year, Schuler said — and, as of now, there isn’t funding for the public health system to respond to something like that.

“The private health system is really going to have to be able to take this on,” she said, “plus a little bit that the state’s doing in trying to use [mobile vaccine services] to get out and hopefully assist in … some targeted areas.”

You can find locations offering COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters near you at vaccines.gov. Updated boosters are available to people 12 or older who have been vaccinated, once two months have passed since their last COVID vaccine, booster shot or infection.

Monkeypox vaccines are now available to more people in N.H.

New Hampshire Public Radio | By Paul Cuno-Booth
Published September 20, 2022
Testing capacity for monkeypox is being rapidly expanded.
Testing capacity for monkeypox is being rapidly expanded.

More people are now eligible to get the monkeypox vaccine in New Hampshire, after the state updated its eligibility guidelines.

The latest guidance, released to health care providers on Friday,allows doctors to recommend the vaccine for any patients they believe are at risk of infection. It also makes the vaccine available to any men who have sex with men and consider themselves at risk.

As before, the state continues to recommend vaccination for anyone who was recently exposed to the virus.

With plenty of vaccines on hand — and relatively few people getting shots — the state decided to expand access, said Laura Montenegro, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. She said this gives providers more flexibility to make their own call to give the vaccine to someone who might be at risk.

“We’ve heard about some situations where a person may be at risk, but didn’t fall within the previous criteria,” Montenegro said in an email Monday.

New Hampshire now has more than 5,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine available. But only 295 shots had been administered as of last Tuesday, the most recent data available from the CDC.

The new guidelines replace a narrower set of criteria, which had limited pre-exposure vaccination to certain subsets of men who have sex with men.

Scottlyn Schuler, the emerging infectious disease coordinator for the Strafford County and Seacoast public health networks, welcomed the broadened eligibility. She said the previous guidance was “too tight and stigmatizing” and that may have discouraged vaccination.

Dr. Bobby Kelly, a family medicine doctor at Core Physicians who leads its LGBTQ Health Program, said he doesn’t know how many people who wanted the vaccine were barred from getting it under the old guidance.

But he thinks opening up eligibility “will do wonders for decreasing the stigma” around a disease that, he said, many people falsely believe affects only the LGBTQ community.

“I also think that it is an excellent move to allow people to self-identify as being at risk for [monkeypox], and decoupling sex, sexual orientation and gender identity from the eligibility criteria for receiving the vaccine,” he said in an email. “Hopefully, as people assess their own risk moving forward, there will be fewer barriers in place.”

monkeypox-vaccine-sites-1.jpg
This reflects the latest information on local monkeypox vaccine clinics as of Sept. 19.

Health officials say that while monkeypox has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, anyone can get it. The virus can spread through close physical contact or contact with surfaces, objects or fabrics that an infected person has used.

The updated guidance came on the same day that the state health department announced New Hampshire’s first known pediatric case of monkeypox. In a news release Friday evening, the department said a child in Manchester became infected after a household member came down with the illness.

The release described the child’s symptoms as mild and the risk to the general school population and community as low. Contact tracing was underway to identify and vaccinate people who may have been exposed.

It’s rare for children to catch the disease, but not unheard-of. Nationwide, at least 27 cases of monkeypox have been identified among children 15 or younger, out of the more than 23,000 known cases in the country, according to the CDC.

New Hampshire makes the monkeypox vaccine available to people who live, work or have a primary care provider in the state. The vaccineis offered at 13 ConvenientMD clinics around the state, as well as Coos Family Health in Berlin, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Keady Family Practice in Claremont, White Mountain Community Health in Conway and the Manchester Health Department. The Nashua Health Department offers vaccines to uninsured and underinsured people in the greater Nashua area.

About 36% of eligible New Hampshire teens vaccinated for COVID-19

Read the full article on WMUR9

By: Jennifer Crompton

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. —

As school districts in New Hampshire prepare to welcome students back to class, data from state health officials show more than one-third of eligible teenagers are vaccinated for COVID-19.

According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, just over 36% of 12- to 19-year-olds have received the vaccine.https://95f8686852c30a1870b89681515363e5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlAdvertisement

The state education commissioner said data on teacher vaccinations is not available. Officials in districts like Concord, which hosted vaccination clinics in the spring, said they have a general idea of how many are vaccinated, based on who signed up.

“We think our number is between 80 and 85% of our staff,” said interim Concord Superintendent Kathleen Murphy.

Somersworth Superintendent Lori Lane said she believes more than 90% of staff members in her district are vaccinated. As for 12- to 19-year-olds, the vaccination rate is likely lower.

“We believe at the high school level, about 50%,” she said. “At least, that’s where we were last year.”

Somersworth is planning to offer vaccinations in the school and is reaching out to parents.

“If you want us to help you get your children vaccinated or yourselves, we have a permission slip, and somebody from the public health network will come right to school,” Lane said.

State education commissioner Frank Edelblut said the state is leaving mitigation measures up to each district but he is working closely with public health officials and the state will change guidance for schools if needed.

“We’ve already demonstrated in New Hampshire that we have a very flexible system, we keep a close eye on how things are going, and we will be able to move nimbly as those circumstances change and if we need to do something that’s different,” Edelblut said.

The Strafford County and Seacoast Public Health Regional Network will offer the weekly opportunity to the 16 School Administrative Units it covers.

“Depending on how many people need to be vaccinated, we’d probably figure one vaccinator and maybe one assistant that can sit in a classroom, a nurse’s office, any open space,” said Schott Schuler, of the public health network. “It allows for it to be ongoing. It’s also not very disruptive to any of the school operations.”

Pop-up vaccination clinics are also being held in many communities, including Concord and Nashua.

Dover Mental Health Alliance holds convening meeting of Mental Health Task Force

Dover Mental Health Alliance Holds Convening Meeting Of Mental Health Task Force

Read the full article on Fosters Daily Democrat

DOVER — On Thursday, July 29, key community stakeholders from the city of Dover, fire, police, business community and local service providers as well as mental health organizations joined forces in the convening meeting of the Dover Mental Health Alliance’s Mental Health Task Force.

The task force will look to decrease barriers to communication between organizations while increasing the network of care for the citizens of Dover. The task force will also work together to create policy change on the local, county and state level to allow for better mental health support and services.

The Dover Mental Health Alliance (DMHA), a grass roots community coalition, envisions a culture that understands, embraces, and addresses the complexities of mental health. The convening of the Mental Health Task Force is one part of the DMHA’s efforts to build a resilient community that is educated, responsive, and conscious of the impact of mental illness.

The Dover Mental Health Alliance has been facilitating Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid training as well as training in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) for community members and organizations in Dover and surrounding towns. This fall, the DMHA, in partnership with the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI NH) and the Dover Public School system, will launch two additional training initiatives: NAMI Connect Suicide Prevention/Postvention Training and the NAMI Youth Empowerment Program which will help peers talk to peers about mental health. In addition, trainers from Dover High School and Community Partners will also implement Teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) for all Dover High School sophomores. For more information about Mental Health First Aid, go to https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/.

The DMHA is part of Strafford County’s local, non-profit community mental health center, Community Partners. For more information about Community Partners, go to www.communitypartnersnh.org. For more information about the Dover Mental Health Alliance, visit www.facebook.com/DoverMHA/, or email Suzanne Weete at suzanneweete@communitypartnersnh.org.

New Somersworth mental health panel begins its work. Here’s a look at its goals.

New Somersworth mental health panel begins its work. Here’s a look at its goals.

Megan Fernandes
Fosters Daily Democrat

SOMERSWORTH — The city’s new Hilltop Mental Health and Wellness Commission is laying the groundwork for proactively approaching mental health now and in the future.

The goal is the eventual creation of a Somersworth Mental Health Alliance.

The commission, which brings together city and school officials with community organizations, had its first meeting Monday. It will examine, study and implement systems which foster, promote, and support mental health, wellness and recovery support to all city and school employees, students and residents of the Hilltop City.

Mayor Dana Hilliard said he created the commission to help make Somersworth a mental health, wellness, and substance recovery friendly community. It has been in the works for six months, and Hilliard calls the commission “the next step” in ensuring all of the stakeholders’ voices are heard.

Getting mental health support systems in place

“This journey is a marathon, not a sprint,” Hilliard said. “Similar to the work of the Homeless Commission and the Drug Task Force Commission, this is going to create a systematic approach to setting up support systems in place. We want to embed the expertise and practices of community partnerships, like SOS Recovery and the Dover Mental Health Alliance and others, in our own practices to ensure all mental health needs are met in our community.”

The commission currently includes two School Board members, Todd Marsh and Maggie Larson, City Councilors Don Austin and Ken Vincent; Suzanne Weete from Community Partners and Dover Mental Health Alliance; Hilliard; Mary Boisse from SOS Recovery; and Ashley Wright from Goodwin Community Health.

The Dover Mental Health Alliance shares a similar mission to the one Somersworth aims to create: to build a resilient community that is educated, responsive and conscious of the impact of mental illness.

Weete said this effort isn’t an attempt to exactly replicate the Dover Mental Health Alliance, but to initiate a similar effort in Somersworth with the city’s own identity and needs in mind. 

“It’s an exciting step for Somersworth,” Weete said. “We’re glad that the impact of the Dover Mental Health Alliance is reaching beyond its borders and taking form in its own right in another community. Mental health affects all communities, so this work will help Somersworth address the individual challenges it faces.”

Hilliard said Somersworth has a lot to learn from the efforts in Dover.

“We hope to create a network where people feel that they have some place to turn for services, education, support and hope,” Hilliard said. “By examining what our partners in Dover have done, we can one day set up a similar mental health alliance in Somersworth.”

Todd Marsh is the welfare director for the city of Rochester, a member of the Somersworth School Board and vice president of the Tri-City Fidelity Committee on Homelessness. He will bring his experience in his latest role as chair of this new commission. Marsh is passionate about promoting mental health services in schools and beyond.

Normalizing mental health care

“This is a historic moment in time for Somersworth,” Marsh said. “It’s time to acknowledge mental health and well-being is the foundation of academic success, employment success and an overall quality of life. The city government and the school district strive to do more. Local leaders taking the first step to reach out to mental health professionals and start these difficult, but needed conversations.”

Marsh said while the first meeting primarily laid the organizational groundwork for the commission, it was the start of honestly looking inward at what the city is doing well and what it could be doing better. This included discussing what resources are available and what resources are lacking, what support systems currently exist and what should be in place.

The city’s community partners will help facilitate and educate the commission. Weete said these efforts are about changing mindsets of how the community views mental health and the stigma attached to seeking help.

“Mental health and physical health are equally important,” Weete said. “Becoming a mental health and recovery friendly Somersworth is a signal that people can feel comfortable in seeking resources, and change the conversation so addressing mental health is normalized and people can get help without feeling shame or discrimination.”

Why doctors think you should get the COVID vaccine: Avoid infection and long-term effects

Why doctors think you should get the COVID vaccine: Avoid infection and long-term effects

Read the full article on Fosters Daily Democrat 

By Karen Dandurant


Vaccine clinics are reporting less participation as the country struggles to reach hoped for herd immunity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has vouched for the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and most states, including New Hampshire and Maine, are now running advertising campaigns seeking to reach those people who are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The American Medical Association released a new survey last week among practicing physicians that shows more than 96 percent of surveyed U.S. physicians have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with no significant difference in vaccination rates across regions. Of the physicians who are not yet vaccinated, an additional 45 percent do plan to get vaccinated.

“Practicing physicians across the country are leading by example, with an amazing uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines,” said AMA President Dr. Susan R. Bailey. “Physicians and clinicians are uniquely positioned to listen to and validate patient concerns, and one of the most powerful anecdotes a physician can offer is that they themselves have been vaccinated. You can take it from your doctor: the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. With COVID-19 vaccines readily available and approved for all people 12 years old and up, we urge you to get vaccinated – take the single most important step you can to protect yourself, your family, and end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The biggest arguments for getting the vaccine is based on building herd immunity and that it is the right thing to do. People who are vaccinated can offer protection for those close to them who are unable to be vaccinated, like babies and those with health risks that preclude them from being vaccinated. Protect yourself and your loved ones around you is what usually has most resonance – and now nearly 200 million (170) have received at least one dose so that can diminish safety-risk concerns somewhat.

“There are many compelling arguments for being vaccinated, including one based on what neurologists are beginning to see as the impacts on long haul COVID sufferers, people who are having adverse effects from COVID months after the disease has cleared their system,” said Dr. Kevin Zent, a family practice physician at Goodwin Community Health.

“Besides the obvious, not getting COVID-19, doctors offer a few of the things that can happen if a person doesn’t get vaccinated.

“The number of patients we are seeing with complaints of long haul COVID are becoming more frequent,” said Dr. Alexandra Filippakis, a neurologist at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. “Our new patients have increased in line with what we are seeing across the nation.”

Filippakis said a recent study of more than 100 long haul COVID patients shows that 85% of them are exhibiting neurological symptoms, some as much as four to six months after they should have cleared the disease.

“Post COVID clinics are popping up across the country and neurology is right up there in those clinics,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of headaches, some to the level of migraines and we are seeing them in people who have had migraines in the past and in people who have never had them. All of the symptoms can appear in people who had mild cases, or severe cases. It doesn’t seem to make a difference. It is frustrating to them and to us. They feel lousy and we can’t tell them why.”

Other people are reporting experiencing uncomfortable numbness or tingling in limbs.

“This can be constant or intermittent,” said Filippakis. “These are sensory symptoms that are hard to track, but they are being seen everywhere. We are seeing a lot of sleep disturbances. One of our patients had not slept in four days, even with his fatigue — because of his pain.”

Filippakis said patients are being seen with neuro-psych issues.

“They are having memory issues, problems with attention and what we are calling brain fog,” she said. “Dysautonomia, adverse impacts on blood pressure and heart rate is happening. And most patients are having multiple of these symptoms. They have good days and bad days.”

The approach is palliative, working to treat symptoms. Filippakis said she asks her patients if they are vaccinated.

“I will talk with them and tell them my thoughts,” she said. “I tell them I believe the vaccines are safe. I tell them I am vaccinated. My family is vaccinated. The decision is theirs. I tell them we are all learning about this virus together and to not discount their symptoms because they are not alone in having them.”

Anecdotally, Filippakis said doctors are beginning to see that if long haul COVID patients get the vaccine, many begin to feel better.

There are also impacts from COVID-19 that have not yet been seen in this country, but could be.

Dr. David Itkin, an infectious disease specialist at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, said a serious infection is emerging in India, where cases are not yet in control.

Mucormycosis, also called black fungus, is a rare but dangerous infection. It’s caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes and can affect sinuses, lungs, skin and brain.

“Mucormycosis is not a US problem, but it is linked to COVID cases in India,” said Itkin. “It is a serious infection and is it possible that it could be an additional adverse effect, an outcome we haven’t seen yet? They answer is yes.”

India has had more than 9,000 cases of COVID-related mucormycosis, Itkin said. He said it tends to appear two to three weeks after a person has had COVID.

“It is a rare condition, but it happens more in people who are highly immune compromised, like a person with out of control diabetes. We are not quite sure why. It might have to do with climate issues as well. Hot, humid climates promote fungal growth.”

Another theory is that is is happening because of the high use of steroids used to treat COVID in India.

“Their standard of care differs from ours,” said Itkin. “We use steroids to treat, too. But they use higher doses and zinc in a cocktail-type treatment. They are in a tough place, with about 30 million cases so far.”

“The take home here is that mucormycosis is a curiousity here, but it does illustrate the fact that there are potentially unforeseen consequences of getting COVID, ones we may not even know about yet,” said Itkin. “The best way to prevent yourself from getting any of the COVID complications is to not get COVID. The best way to do that is to get the vaccine. We have had people as young as 20 here in the hospital with serious disease. The disease has no set range. Everyone can get it, and no one is immune.”

Filippakis said some people tell her they think COVID is like the flu, and they will get it and be fine.

“What we are seeing in the clinic makes this a no brainer to me,” she said. “Preventing this is better than dealing with a disease that no one can predict how it will affect you, or how long it will last, how long it will impact your life.”

Vaccination Push Plans Continue Locally As State-Run Sites Prepare To Close

Vaccination Push Plans Continue Locally As State-Run Sites Prepare To Close

Read the full article on WMUR 9

By Tim Callery


MANCHESTER, N.H.

More than 50% of New Hampshire’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 according to officials. But, local health networks are hoping that number continues to grow.

There were 196 active cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire reported on Monday, the lowest number since March 2020. Health officials said they have confirmed 54 new cases since Friday and there were 18 people hospitalized.

State-run vaccine sites are now only offering second-dose shots. So, cities and towns along with local health care networks have brought vaccines to public areas hoping to reach people who still need their first dose.

On Monday, state officials reported that 53% of Granite Staters are fully vaccinated, and the push has continued to reach as many people as possible.

“People can’t always get to a fixed site or can’t get somewhere because of numerous variables such as transportation, or lack of access to internet to sign up. Sometimes reading challenges, things of that nature,” said Ashley Desrochers, of the Strafford County COVID-19 incident management team.

Desrochers is the public health program manager for the Strafford County public health network. Since COVID-19 doses became available, the network has vaccinated more than 30,000 people through events such as drive-thru clinics at area schools.

“Bringing resources to people because of barriers we know exist,” she said.

The Strafford County public health network continues to host several mobile vaccine clinics per week. No registration is necessary and all three brands of COVID-19 vaccine are available.

“They can just show up and ask us questions and get any type of vaccine,” Desrochers said.

She said the network is also aiming to provide vaccines to local workplaces now that more people are returning to the office.

“Sometimes people work three jobs just to support their families,” she said. “So, they don’t even have time to go get a vaccine.”

State-run vaccine sites will permanently close on June 30.

Family Center to offer classes about parenting anxious children

Family Center To Offer Classes About Parenting Anxious Children

Read the full article on Seacoast Online

6/15/21


The Family Center, a program of Families First Health and Support Center and Goodwin Community Health, will offer two free online programs on parenting anxious children this summer: a workshop with Lynn Lyons, author of “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents,” followed by an eight-week series discussing the ideas in Lyons’ book. Parents, grandparents and caregivers of kids of all ages are welcome to join these groups.

Understanding Anxiety, Workshop with Lynn Lyons, will take place Tuesday, June 22 at 6 p.m. online. Sign up at tinyurl.com/FFparenting

Children and teens were struggling with increasing rates of anxiety and depression prior to 2020, and this past year didn’t help. Parents and caregivers need strategies to help children (and themselves) manage the uncertainty of our current environment as we recover and move forward. Lynn Lyons, a licensed clinical social worker, will talk about the skills of emotional management including how to increase flexibility, tolerate uncertainty, communicate effectively and replace catastrophic thinking with problem-solving.

Summer Discussion Series: Talking About Anxiety, Tuesdays, June 29 to Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. online. Sign up at tinyurl.com/FFparenting

Facilitators will share tools and strategies from Lynn Lyons’ book “Anxious Kids Anxious Parents” and explore ways to connect the information to our own lives. Lots of kids are trapped in a cycle of anxiety that paralyzes them with fear. Sometimes parents’ most immediate responses actually encourage our kids to remain frightened. This series will help parents understand the cycle of anxiety and ways to help kids face challenges, step forward in spite of threat, and develop healthy independence and courage. Books will be provided at no cost to parents who attend the series, while supplies last. Reading the chapters each week is NOT required. This group is supported by Newburyport Bank.

For more information on these and other programs for parents and families, visit FamiliesFirstSeacoast.org or call 603-422-8209.

Are The Kids Alright? How Children Are Doing As They Emerge From Pandemic

Are The Kids Alright? How Children Are Doing As They Emerge From Pandemic

By Karen Dandurant
6/14/21

Read the full article on Fosters Daily Democrat

No one can deny that it has been an unprecedented year for everyone, but maybe one of the hardest hit populations have been our school-aged children.

Kids have spent the past year and a half studying remotely, studying in hybrid models and gradually beginning to return to school full-time, but not as before. Now they are wearing masks in school, having proms on their ball fields and having extremely modified graduation ceremonies. Most of these activities and events were cancelled last school year.

When school begins again in the fall, experts are predicting it will still not be the same as what kids once knew as normal, and it might be a long time before we return to normal, if we ever do.

Nicole Bates, a licensed social worker and behavioral health specialist for Greater Seacoast Community Health, said the return to school has brought back interpersonal conflicts and anxious moments for teens who are now ready for summer.

“They need a break,” said Bates. “This whole pandemic has been so stressful, so full of changes for them,” said Bates. “They need summer They need a break from COVID, which seems to be starting to happen. Some kids struggled with online learning and other thrived. Anxiety has been huge and that goes hand in hand with depression. Some are terrified about going back to school in the fall and what that will look like. They are afraid to get back on the bike, and we all need to get that most are feeling conflicted.”

The mental health of our children is being challenged, and hospitals report seeing greater numbers of kids requiring intervention.

Jodie Lubarsky is the Child Adolescent and Family Services Director at Seacoast Mental Health in Portsmouth. She said they are seeing a wide spectrum of the effects this year has had on children.

“School is so varied for our kids,” she said. “Mine have been back in school since April, when the governor mandated it. Some kids have done all or most of their instructional time at home this year. Everyone is dipping their toes in. Some schools are keeping to cohorts, so if there is a case, it doesn’t impact the whole school.”

The big message everyone wants to see over the summer and fall is a return to normal.

“What is that going to look like?” asked Lubarsky. “Some of us are fully vaccinated, at least 12 and up. But younger kids are not, at least not yet. They still need to wear a mask. But, the Catholic Diocese has already announced that their school kids will not need to wear masks. It’s really confusing for kids, and for parents.”

Lubarsky said this has a large impact on kids’ mental health.

“Everyone is hopeful for the summer,” she said. “But some kids are still leery about the fall, about what the reentry into school is going to look like. The COVID numbers are down and while we want life as we knew it, there are still a lot of unknowns, a lot of unease. Internally this can leave a kid feeling alone and isolated. So we are continuing to see a high volume of youth requiring services.”

Mask mandates are slowly being dropped. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said that vaccinated people do not need masks is most situations but suggests non-vaccinated people continue using them when they cannot be effectively socially distanced.

“Everyone will be in different places right now on the masks, including kids,” said Lubarsky. “Some adults, some kids may choose to still wear them and that’s OK. I will if I feel it is appropriate. It might be a health reason for some, or it might be they feel more comfortable. It’s fine and I would hope people will respect their choice. Take care of yourself and let other people do the same.”

Dr. Jennifer Jones of Core Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Exeter Hospital said the end of the school year and the arrival of summer is improving some kids’ outlook.

“As summer approaches and the school year is coming to a close, many children and adolescents are experiencing an improvement in their overall mental health, but some others are continuing to struggle,” said Jones. “Many kids and teens were feeling lonely and isolated over the past year, and that has improved now that kids are back in school and back in sports. Our local COVID-19 infection rate has declined dramatically over the past two months, and many kids are feeling much less anxious about their risk of infection and the risk that they might accidentally infect someone they love who is high risk.”

Jones said now that adolescents over age 12 have had the chance to be vaccinated, she is hearing from patients that they feel much safer and less anxious once they are fully vaccinated.

“The longer days and sunny weather at this time of year also tend to provide a boost to everyone’s mental health, and we certainly have seen that be the case in many adolescents.”

Lubarsky said having kids back in school right now is better for their mental health, for their education and for their socialization needs.

“Kids learn better in an academic setting,” said Lubarsky. “They are healthier when they are around their peers, when there are activities such as sports, clubs, theater, music and the arts. How we do this safely is the remaining question.”

“On the flip side, some kids and teens who struggle with anxiety have found the return to in-person school to be stressful,” said Jones. “Some kids are feeling uneasy now that they are part of larger groups of students in school. Other kids struggled to maintain their previous friendships and social groups during the pandemic and are feeling somewhat awkward and out of place now that they are back in school. Some teens who have been battling significant anxiety or depression are continuing to struggle with their symptoms, and the partial ‘return to normal’ has not really had much of positive impact on them. It is important to note that anxiety and depression are chronic medical problems, and that these conditions will not necessarily improve when the external situation in our community improves. These kids will need ongoing care and support.”

Jones said many kids and adolescents increased their use of electronic devices, smart phones, IPads and video games over the past year, and some experienced shifts to their sleep schedules.

Bates said kids are connected to each other in so many ways.

“Some are comfortable with the technology leading the way,” she said. “They miss their friends in person, but that is starting to come back. Like many of us, some are not feeling comfortable with getting out until they are fully vaccinated themselves and that’s fine. We are all feeling a little weird. I tell them start slow and just keep trying.”

“Some kids struggled with their eating habits and exercise habits and have experienced weight gain or loss of physical fitness,” said Jones. “Some of these changes have the potential to have long-lasting negative impacts on the mental and physical health of our youth. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatric obesity rates have increased about 2% in this country since the start of the pandemic, with the largest increases occurring in children who are Hispanic and Black, and in those with the lowest household incomes. Pediatric patients with obesity are more likely to experience social stigma, low self-esteem, bullying, and depression, so it is very likely that the increase in obesity rates during the COVID-19 pandemic will contribute to ongoing mental health problems in the future.”

Summer is a hopeful sign and we are so ready for it, Lubarsky said.

“The return of Prescott Park, with their play Charlie Brown, is so encouraging, after it had to be cancelled last season,” said Lubarsky. “It makes us feel hopeful. Everyone’s comfort level with it might be a little different, but it’s still a positive sign.”

“We have learned so much about COVID, and so, we can feel better about our choices,” said Lubarsky. “Most kids have missed their friends. They are happy to be back. Let’s help them do that, and do it as safely as we can. Kids need a community and they have missed it so much. We can start to heal.”

Bates said she reminds her patients that this is a blip in what their whole life will be.

“When they stress over graduation, over proms, and what they will look like, I remind them that it matters in this moment,” she said. “In five years, this will be a fond memory. I tell them they will move past this, and they will move forward.”

Dover Mental Health Alliance aims to create a mental health friendly city

Fosters Daily Democrat
6/1/21
Read the full article online

DOVER – The Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce recently held a ribbon cutting to welcome the Dover Mental Health Alliance as a valued Chamber member.

The Dover Mental Health Alliance envisions a culture that embraces and addresses the complexities of mental health in Dover. Its mission is to build a resilient community that is educated, responsive and conscious of the impact of mental illness.

The Dover Mental Health Alliance, or DMHA, began in 2019 after a community summit of city stakeholders across all business and service sectors discussed the need to bring mental health awareness, education and suicide prevention to a deeper level of understanding within the community.

“This is not a school issue, nor a hospital or community mental health issue to solve. This is a community issue to own,” said Suzanne Weete of the DMHA.https://c310941f6193cc8ae11e8bfdb60253b1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The DMHA was formed with a collective goal to educate all community members to understand what mental illness is, what it isn’t, and to eliminate stigma so that people will speak up and ask for the help they need without feeling shame or discrimination.

“We need to recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Weete said. “Each and every one of us lives with mental health. We all have ups and downs in life. Becoming a member of the Dover Chamber of Commerce is a huge step for us so that we can connect more directly with other chamber members to help them achieve a greater sense of mental well-being within the workplace.”   https://c310941f6193cc8ae11e8bfdb60253b1.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression causes an estimated 200 million lost work days each year at the cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers.    

Through the collective work of the group’s members, the DMHA has built a strategic model to work with large and small businesses, non-profit organizations, civic leadership, faith organizations, first responders and law enforcement to begin to create a culture shift recognizing that it is OK to not be OK, and that help and hope is available.Read Local.As a subscriber, you will enjoy unlimited access to the news and information important to the community.Learn more

“When we open our hearts with compassion and understand a little more about mental health and its challenges, we start to normalize the conversation about our mental health, just like we do already our physical health,” Weete said. “We begin to understand that we can actually make a difference in our own or someone else’s life. This empowers us to know that we are not alone, that help is available and recovery is not only possible, but probable.”

Through a grant from Connections for Health, the DMHA is offering free Mental Health First Aid, a first-aid-type course that teaches people how to recognize and respond to someone in emotional distress. DMHA is also affiliated with several Master Ace Trainers, who are fanned out in the Seacoast region delivering adverse childhood experience (ACE) training. Partnerships with the Recovery Friendly Workplace initiative, SOS, NAMI NH, the Dover School District and the Dover Rotary to name a few have furthered the DMHA’s impact, bringing about community mental health education and suicide prevention programs with the eventual goal of recognizing Dover as a mental health friendly city, a first of its kind in New Hampshire.  

The Dover Mental Health Alliance is part of the local, Strafford County non-profit community mental health center, Community Partners. For more information about Community Partners, go to www.communitypartnersnh.org. For more information about the Dover Mental Health Alliance and upcoming trainings, visit www.facebook.com/DoverMHA/, or email Suzanne Weete at suzanneweete@communitypartnersnh.org

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