The Star-Herald

Reunion sparks a deeper conversation

This past weekend I went to my 40th class reunion.

Members of our Class of 1982 from Presque Isle High School gathered Saturday evening at the Presque Isle Country Club where camaraderie was high, hugs were many and the laughter flowed freely.

It was a memorable evening that took us briefly back to our high school selves. It’s always a revelation how the boundaries disappear with time. Teenage cliques and old perceptions give way to a roomful of older people who see life through a much clearer lens.

Everyone was truly happy to see each other, and there was just gratitude that we were walking, talking and able to share a meal together. 

Some conversations about what young people of today deal with got me thinking.

In middle and high school, we are so tuned in to what the crowd thinks that we lose sight of who we want to become. When we experience college and careers and gain our own footholds in life, peer approval loses its grip. As we grow into ourselves, we forget why we ever thought it mattered.

But these things we see clearly now are lessons not yet learned by today’s youth. What we called peer pressure pales in comparison to what kids face now. Repercussions of bullying, social media attacks and a drug culture that has mushroomed to unbelievable proportions have contributed to levels of rage and despair we never thought possible. 

There are more school shootings than we can count, often carried out by someone “on the fringes” or those with mental illnesses.

There are so many stories about young people who have taken their own lives because of what other kids do to them. Anxiety and hopelessness lead them to check out before they can even grasp who they will be.

This ties my stomach in knots. How do we stop kids from abusing their peers, and how do we stop the bullied from despairing? Those are questions parents, family, friends and school staff ask constantly. How can we convince kids — or anyone, for that matter — that there are people who care, people who are able to help them through their situations?

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill wants to connect any person experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors to the treatment and support they need. Their theme this year is “Together for Mental Health.” 

Locally, Aroostook Mental Health Services Inc. is available to anyone in Aroostook, Washington and Hancock counties. AMHC’s Mobile Crisis Services team handles the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 and the Maine Crisis Line at 1-888-568-1112.

Mental health crises can happen to anyone at any age. From a bout with anxiety some years ago, one of the most important things I learned was to talk — talk to people you trust, talk a lot and talk honestly. Talking about your situation, rather than holding it in and keeping a stiff upper lip, gets it out in the open. 

When it’s out there, it’s no longer the unknown. And it can be defeated.

If you are in need, seek someone to talk to. And if you know someone in need, listen. That conversation could be life changing. 

Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times, St. John Valley Times and Piscataquis Observer, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. She can be reached at 207-764-4471 or via email at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com.

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