LEWISTON — Faisal Abdirahman, a member of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council, recently heard a coworker say something that stuck with him: “I cried today and no one knew.”
The statement and other such statements became part of planning discussions by this year’s youth council, which brought more attention to mental health awareness.
The council, made up of Lewiston High School students, will host a community conversation on mental health on December 8, featuring speakers from Tri-County Mental Health Services and others.
The forum, called Be Kind to Your Mind, will take place at 6 p.m. at Connors Elementary School and is free to attend.
Several studies have shown that the pandemic has particularly exacerbated a youth mental health crisis that was already in the making.
According to the CDC, more than a third of high school students in 2021 reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported feeling consistently sad or hopeless during the past year.
In September, the newly formed youth council decided that their next project would focus on mental health awareness, concerned about peers and community members they have seen “emotionally hurt”.
Council chairperson Alyssa Nadeau said, “The Youth Council believes that creating this open conversation will give everyone an opportunity to feel included and heard.”
Council member Asli Osman said, “You are not alone, even if you tell yourself you are.”
Efforts have already started in schools across the district. As part of the project, Superintendent Jake Langlais has been tweeting positive affirmations every morning.
As one recently said, “Just because it’s taking time, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
A news release from community relations coordinator and youth council advisor, Dot Perham-Whittier, said speakers will include Colin O’Neill, chief clinical officer for Tri-County Mental Health Services; Amran Usman, Executive Director/Founder, Generational Noor; Lisa Escobar, Substance Use Coordinator and Licensed Counselor at Lewiston Public Schools; Megan Parks, a social worker and substance use counselor; Lewiston Police Detective Joe Philippone; and Ava Golder, Vice President of the Youth Council.
Golder also filmed a social media video sharing her thoughts about mental health challenges.
“The fact that youth council members are stepping up to make a positive connection with mental health awareness is heartening,” Mayor Carl Schellin said. “Not only are they attuned to the needs of the community, but they are taking action. Their example is something we can all learn from and emulate.”
“You don’t have to struggle in silence,” said Destiny Graham, a youth council member.
This is not the first time that the youth council has highlighted the issue. During the pandemic, it partnered with Healthy Androscoggin on a photo series titled “A Light in the Dark”. It eventually found its own display on Lisbon Street downtown.
Perham-Whittier said this week that creating awareness about mental health is “obviously very important to the current LYAC membership.”
“Brainstorming about community outreach and expressing genuine concern about fellow community members is impactful. They want (a) platform to provide encouragement and hope to others,” she said.
Linda Scott, a city councilor who serves as the council representative to the school committee, has also acted as a liaison between the city council and the youth council.
She said that when children are struggling with depression, anxiety or mental health issues, it is “almost impossible to achieve goals and deal with the challenges of everyday school life.”
“The importance of mental health for students has a direct impact on how our children take in new information, understand new concepts and master new skills,” she said. “We as adults and parents should always keep our children’s mental health as a priority, and when our own youth take the lead on this topic, we should support them in any way we can.”
Also, the forum will feature mental health resources, a question-and-answer period, related artwork, and “wall-sized Post-Its” that will provide opportunities for attendees to share feelings as they enter and exit the forum .
The youth councilors said that they also want to spread the theme of hope. Member Ahmed Hussain quoted Confucius: “Our greatest glory lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”