Cadence Nadeau’s photo of Mt. Katahdin was among the first in a new series by the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council exploring mental health and isolation during the pandemic. Cadence Nadeau photo

LEWISTON — In the first installment of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council’s new series, Cadence Nadeau reflects on a photo she took while hiking Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park.

She said her tendency is to keep emotions to herself when times get tough, but spending time outdoors allows her to heal and let go. Facing the sun, the photo shows a beam of light reflecting in front of her.

“It shows me that there’s light in every situation,” she said. “Even in times when you have to stretch your mental toughness, there is happiness that can be found and a bright side to every story in your life.”

The photo project, called “A Light in the Dark,” is a collaboration with Healthy Androscoggin to promote and advocate for mental health as the world remains under the grip of COVID-19.

Starting Jan. 11, the council began posting a photo from each member, along with reflections on how they are coping with isolation and the staggering changes the pandemic has brought for young people.

“As a council of teens, we saw and felt firsthand how much of a struggle mental health has been amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” council Chairwoman Hope Rubito said. “With this in mind, we decided to partner with Healthy Androscoggin to showcase a variety of unique photos dedicated to those who may be struggling themselves, and we wanted them to realize that they are not alone.”

Dottie Perham-Whittier, Lewiston’s community relations coordinator and youth council adviser, said that during meetings conducted over Zoom “members have shared how difficult the isolation and disrupted schedules are to them emotionally, and they have been worried about their peers as well.”

“When Healthy Androscoggin reached out about a ‘photovoice’ project, they knew right away that they wanted to match their own meaningful photos with narratives that would hopefully speak to others who might be feeling the same way,” she said.

According to a news release on the project, photovoice is a “participatory action research methodology” based on the idea that images and words together can effectively express the needs or problems facing a community or individual.

Perham-Whittier said the photos and narratives, along with other pieces of the project, will be posted daily for two weeks. The group is hoping the series can be turned into a physical installation, and Healthy Androscoggin is working to identify possible venues for an exhibit.

Day 5 of the youth council’s series was posted by member Katie Morin. “After 10 years of persistent asking, my parents finally decided to get another dog following the passing of our Police K-9 in 2006. When a litter of Yellow Labs was born 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the stars aligned, and we were able to pick the perfect pet for our family,” she shared. Katie Morin photo

Corrie Brown, substance misuse and tobacco prevention manager at Healthy Androscoggin, said “good mental health, coping skills, and resiliency” are important to preventing substance use among youth.

“(The youth council) is a dynamic group of youth who have the power to positively impact their peers,” she said.

In December, the death of Spencer Smith, a 16-year-old Brunswick student who took his own life, was seen as an example of the pandemic’s toll on young people, with his father telling a TV news station that Smith had been struggling with isolation and time away from friends and sports.

Youth council member Keira Potvin said the project seemed like an important step for the group.

“Many of us have become aware that members of our community have been struggling with mental health,” she said. “This project is a good way to show that everyone has tough days, even when it seems as if they don’t.”

Member Julia Paquette said the project “helped me and the other members find a little bit of hope during these tough times.”

“2020 was a hard year for us all, but as we enter a new one, I think it is important to reflect on the bits of happiness and light that helped us get through it,” said youth councilor Elena Ray Clothier. “May they continue to comfort us and push us onward, and I sincerely wish that what gives us hope gives others some as well.”


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