The Maine Resilience Building Network (MRBN) applauds the funding of Sagadahoc County’s Maine Working Communities Challenge grant focusing on youth mental health as a welcome opportunity to address youth hopelessness. We can do better to connect with our youth in communities. Maine was facing a youth mental health crisis, even before the pandemic. In the 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, 41% of middle schoolers and 43% of high school students said they don’t feel they matter in their community. The numbers are higher among high school students who identify as LGBTQ, 63% saying they don’t feel they matter. 20% of middle schoolers and 16% of high schoolers said they have seriously considered suicide.

Without that sense of connectedness, youth lack a key protective factor for hopelessness, suicide, anxiety, depression, and substance use. The hopelessness can spread beyond the individual through social communities. In response to this data, MRBN initiated the Cultivating Mattering for Maine Youth initiative to advance social connectedness and mattering for Maine youth. MRBN invited community members and organizations to join Community Conversations on Cultivating Youth Mattering. Nearly 500 people attended virtual meetings, with participants working with youth in nonprofit organizations, public health, public safety, and education.

Participants shared what’s working in communities, needs, and opportunities to connect. With enthusiasm generated by the Community Conversations, participants began taking steps to increase Youth Mattering in their communities. To address Mattering in communities, it is crucial to bring youth into the conversation. This requires addressing explicit and implicit biases as well as systemic challenges such as homelessness, lack of access to transportation, and inequity of resources. Communities and policy makers need to shift systems and culture. Across communities, we must invest in prevention strategies that improve the health and well-being of our youth. With input of youth voices, MRBN is raising awareness in communities about benefits of youth connectedness and positive experiences. MRBN is making a long-term commitment to Cultivating Mattering for Maine Youth. We all have a role to play. Are you ready to invest in our youth? Visit www.maineresilience.org for more information and support to get started.

Kini-Ana Tinkham,
Executive Director, Maine Resilience Building Network,
Manchester

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