CULTIVATING MATTERING FOR MAINE YOUTH
Mattering is the sense of being significant and valued by other people. People who believe they matter to others have a key protective resource that can buffer them from life stressors and challenges throughout their lives.
Gordon Flett, PhD, Author, The Psychology of Mattering: Understanding the Human Need to Be Significant
Mattering and Connectedness
Mattering is strongly connected to the protective factor of social connectedness, recognized by the US CDC’s National Center on Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) as one of the five priority social determinants of health (SDOH) that can impact health and health equity.
“Social connectedness is the degree to which individuals or groups of individuals have and perceive a desired number, quality, and diversity of relationships that create a sense of belonging and being cared for, valued, and supported.” (CDC, 2020).
For youth, the CDC indicates, “Connectedness refers to a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging, and can be centered on feeling connected to school, family (i.e., parents and caregivers), or other important people and organizations in their lives. Youth who feel connected at school and home are less likely to experience negative health outcomes related to sexual risk, substance use, violence, and mental health."
Recent CDC findings published in Pediatrics (Steiner, 2019) suggest that youth connectedness also has lasting effects. Youth who feel connected at school and at home were found to be as much as 66% less likely to experience health risk behaviors related to sexual health, substance use, violence, and mental health in adulthood.
Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Conditions (e.g., social, economic, and physical) in these various environments and settings (e.g., school, church, workplace, and neighborhood) have been referred to as “place.” In addition to the more material attributes of “place,” the patterns of social engagement and sense of security and well-being are also affected by where people live (US DHHS, 2020).
The Maine Resilience Building Network launched Cultivating Mattering for Maine Youth in response to data and research that makes a compelling case for community involvement in promoting mental health and wellbeing among young people. According to the 2019 National Survey of Children’s Health, Maine has the nation’s highest rate of children with diagnosed anxiety disorders, and the third highest rate of children with diagnosed depression. In a 2019 survey of Maine middle and high school students, 20 percent of middle schoolers and 16 percent of high schoolers said they have seriously considered suicide. At the same time, 41 percent of middle school students and 44 percent of high school students said they don’t feel they matter in their communities. Youth who have protective factors – supports, characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events – can reduce the risk of developing these diseases of despair while also mitigating the long-term effects of ACEs. Through healthy relationships and healthy environments youth build resilience that will serve them throughout their lives.
MRBN is working across the public and private sectors to catalyze community-developed approaches to build resilience.Read Maine Resilience Building Network's Youth Mattering reports
THIS IS WHAT MATTERING LOOKS LIKE
To some people, a group of teenagers hanging out in a parking lot vaping might look like a problem. To the staff at York Public Library, it looked like an opportunity.
“We wanted them to know that vaping isn’t allowed on the property, but also that they are more than welcome to come inside,” explained Katie Arey, who is the head of Youth Services at the library.
Before long, those same teens were coming to the library every day after school.
“They were looking for a place that’s safe and welcoming and where there are resources when they need them,” Katie said.
With an influx of teens and no money to remodel, the librarians went into problem-solving mode. A meeting room and a storage area were repurposed. The teens are helping to transform them into spaces where they can hang out, do projects, and just be teenagers.
The staff knows it’s working because they’ve heard it directly from the teens.
“When we re-opened after COVID, one of our regulars said ‘I’m so glad the library’s open again. This is my safe place.’ We hear stuff like that all the time.”
Katie's advice to others looking for ways to create a safe space?
“You need to think outside the box. I don’t have the space I need, so what do I have or who do I know that can help?"
Photos courtesy of Katie Arey, Head of Youth Services, York Public Library
Help us celebrate one year of Cultivating Mattering for Maine Youth!
It’s been almost a year since we launched Cultivating Mattering for Maine Youth and we are so inspired by the work being done throughout our state to support the health and well-being of our young people.
The isolation and disconnect caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the power of connection to bring our community together during challenging times. Now more than ever, we want to share and celebrate all the ways people are making sure that Maine youth feel seen, heard, and valued!
We invite you to join the celebration by sharing your story. Have you found new ways to connect with youth? Has your organization made changes to keep connections strong while remaining physically distant?