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Lewiston youth council hosting conversation on mental health


Members of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council discuss issues during the council’s orientation this fall. The council will host a forum on mental health Dec. 8. Submitted photo

LEWISTON — Feysal Abdirahman, a member of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council, overheard a peer say something recently that stuck with him: “I cried today and nobody knew.”

The statement and others like it became part of planning discussions by this year’s youth council that led to a larger focus on mental health awareness.

The council, made up of Lewiston high school students, will host a community conversation on mental health Dec. 8, featuring speakers from Tri-County Mental Health Services and more.

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 in particular accelerated a youth mental health crisis that was already building.

According to the CDC, in 2021 more than a third of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

In September, the newly-assembled youth council decided their next project would focus on mental health awareness, concerned about peers and community members they’ve observed “emotionally hurting.”

“The youth council believes that creating this open conversation will give everyone the opportunity to be involved and be heard,” council Chairperson Elissa Nadeau said.

“You’re not alone, even if you tell yourself you are,” council member Asli Osman said.

The effort has already been underway across the school district. As part of the project, Superintendent Jake Langlais has been tweeting out positive affirmations every morning.

A recent one said, “Just because it’s taking time, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

A news release from Dot Perham-Whittier, community relations coordinator and youth council adviser, said speakers will include Colin O’Neill, chief clinical officer at Tri-County Mental Health Services; Amran Osman, executive director/founder of 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 Philippon; and youth council Vice Chairperson Ava Golder.

Golder has also filmed a social media video sharing her thoughts about mental health challenges.

“The fact that youth council members are stepping up to make positive connections regarding mental health awareness is huge,” Mayor Carl Sheline said. “Not only are they in tune with community needs, but they are taking action. Their example is something that we can all learn from and emulate.”

“You don’t have to struggle in silence,” youth council member Destiney Graham said.

This isn’t the first time the youth council has highlighted the issue. During the pandemic, it partnered with Healthy Androscoggin on a photo series called “A Light in the Dark.” It eventually received its own exhibit on downtown Lisbon Street.

Perham-Whittier said this week that building awareness about mental health is “clearly very important to the current LYAC membership.”

“It’s impressive to observe them brainstorm about community outreach and express genuine concern about fellow community members. They want (the) forum 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 served as a liaison between the City Council and youth council.

She said when kids are struggling with depression, anxiety or mental health issues, “it’s almost impossible to achieve goals and navigate the challenges of everyday school life.”

“The importance of mental health for students has a direct impact on how our kids take in new information, understand new concepts and master new skills,” she said. “We as adults and parents should always have the mental health of our kids as a priority, and when our own youth take the lead on this subject, we should support them in any way that we can.”

Also at the forum will be mental health resources, a question and answer period, related artwork, and “wall-size post-its,” providing an opportunity for attendees to share feelings when entering and exiting the forum.

Youth councilors said they also want to spread the theme of hope. Member Ahmed Hussein quoted Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”


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