This opinion article was published in the Bangor Daily News June 15, 2021
As the pandemic eases, it is time to focus on youth mental wellbeing
Submitted by Kini-Ana Tinkham, Executive Director, Maine Resilience Building Network& Leslie Forstadt, President, Board of Directors, Maine Resilience Building Network
These are hopeful days in Maine. Vaccination rates are rising. Fewer people are getting COVID-19, and death rates are dropping. Businesses are opening their doors and tourists are flocking to the state. And more federal money is on its way to help repair the damage done by the pandemic.
Repair is necessary. But when it comes to the pandemic’s toll on Mainers’ mental health, it is crucial to include prevention in the recovery plan. Without it, we perpetuate the cycle of repair — endlessly dealing with mental and physical health issues after they occur. We need systems and policies that prioritize primary prevention.
Even before the isolation and disconnect caused by the pandemic, young Mainers were suffering. Maine had the nation’s highest rate of children with diagnosed anxiety disorders and the third highest rate of children with diagnosed depression. Then the pandemic set in, bringing changes in routines, breaks in learning, distance from friends and peers, and loss of safety and security for many of Maine’s youth and families.
Social isolation and loneliness contribute to health issues and even early mortality, rivaling more widely known risk factors such as smoking and obesity. The US CDC recognizes that youth connectedness as an important protective factor for health and well-being. However, not all Maine youth feel connected or supported in their community.
The Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey quantifies the problem by asking middle and high school students if they feel they matter to their communities. In 2019, well before the pandemic, 41 percent of middle school students and 43 percent high schoolers said they feel they don’t matter to their community. Without that sense of connectedness, they lack a key protective factor that could help reduce their risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, and other diseases of despair.
The American Rescue Plan funding coming into Maine provides a unique opportunity to focus significant attention on upstream approaches to build protective factors such as mattering. We should not pass up this chance to build resilience in our youth. In addition to monetary investments in training, education, and policy development, individuals, organizations, and systems must invest time, energy, and caring into ensuring that every youth in Maine understands how much they matter to their community.
This need not be a choice between repair and prevention. By bolstering existing services and supporting school-based mental health services, Maine can help those who are currently coping with challenges. At the same time, we can support community resilience so that youth flourish and grow to be a strong part of our communities and workforce.
And if you’re wondering what supports young people need — ask them. Make them an authentic part of the process. That’s one way to show them that they matter.
MRBN Report on Youth Mattering Garners National Attention
The Maine Resilience Building Network's new report on Youth Mattering has landed in front of a national audience.
Building a Culture for Community Resilience: Safe Spaces and Small Acts is featured on Community Commons, a website that offers curated tools, resources, and inspirational stories to drive community change.
"We are honored to be seen as a resource for others," MRBN Executive Director Kini-Ana Tinkham said. "Increasing Youth Mattering is a preventive measure that is needed now more than ever. Our post-pandemic strategy needs to be about more than repairing the harm young people have suffered. We need to continue to take an upstream approach, building protective factors such as positive relationships."
The report features key learnings from MRBN's Community Conversations about Youth Mattering, held earlier this year.
MRBN's Mattering Work Highlighted on ABC7/Fox22 in Bangor
MRBN Executive Director Kini-Ana Tinkham spoke with reporter Stephanie Wittenbach about Mattering and youth mental health. Thanks to Shannon Fowles for sharing her perspective as well!
FULL PRESS RELEASE ATTACHED TO READ MORE
Amid Ongoing Pandemic Anxiety, King Introduces Bill to Support Children’s Mental Health
Maine Youth Development Community Welcomes Senator’s Efforts and Vision
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today announced the introduction of the Improving Data Collection for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Act, a bill that would authorize $10 million annually over five years to support Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research and data collection efforts on the impact of childhood trauma on long-term health. This field of study is increasingly important, as existing research shows that certain negative events, circumstances, or maltreatment during childhood – known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – are associated with negative health outcomes both in childhood and later in life. An increased understanding of the connection between ACEs and long-term health is now even more critical, as studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that social isolation, school closures, and other stressors unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic may be amplifying ACEs. Read More...
Retired Principal, Jim Sporleder from Wala Wala, WA,
who inspired 'Paper Tigers' movie visits Maine
Jim Sporleder, retired Principal of Lincoln High School in Wala Wala, WA visited with Kini-Ana Tinkham, MRBN Executive Director and Joyce Morrissette, Engagement and Training Director. MRBN offers technical assistance to school leadership and staff exploring the Trauma Informed School model and implementation.
“Jim Sporleder retired in 2014 as Principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA. Under Jim’s leadership, Lincoln High School became a “Trauma Informed” school, gaining national attention due to a dramatic drop in out of school suspensions, increased graduation rates and the number of students going on to post-secondary education. These dramatic changes at Lincoln caught the attention of Jamie Redford, who spent a year filming the documentary, Paper Tigers, which tells the Lincoln story. The documentary was released at the May 2015 Seattle International Film Festival and received positive reviews. Jim is currently working as a trauma-informed coach / consultant as well as a trainer with the Children’s Resilience Initiative, based in Walla Walla.
Written by : Anndee Hochman for the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) Shared Learnings series.
Learning Opportunities for Maine Early Childcare and Pre-K Teachers
The Maine Resilience Building Network traveled to 12 sites across Maine this fall to provide professional development training to public early childcare and pre-K teachers working with children birth-age 5 to strengthen their role in supporting children and families. The training focused on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and building resilience. The training promoted professionals’ understanding of how adverse experiences at a young age can affect a person’s emotional and behavioral development and ways to support the individual by building resiliency. MRBN trainers promoted staff’s understanding and skills related to working with children and adults who have or have had childhood adverse experiences and trauma. Mary Hackett a home daycare provider shared, “it was an outstanding presentation with good discussion, thank you for your efforts”. The work was supported by a Maine DHHS and DOE.
Training Classroom Teachers
The Maine Resilience Building Network traveled to Aroostook County to train Early Childcare and Pre-K teachers about ACEs, early brain development and resilience. Classroom strategies included the practice of mindfulness and compassion. MRBN values the relationships, care and education early childcare and Pre-K teachers provide to Maine's children and families. When Maine's children and families are flourishing our communities will flourish.