KALISPELL - There are troubles facing Montana teens and steps are being taken to address them.
We've reported on the 2021 results of the Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey which shows that 41% of high school students reported feelings of depression over the last year — a 30-year high.
But Montana leaders have also been studying other youth impacts like drugs and alcohol and in the Flathead, they're trying to positively influence the next generation.
More than 25 community leaders in Flathead County gathered Tuesday to support the first phase of the “Communities That Care” initiative.
Communities That Care uses prevention science to improve public health by identifying risk and protective factors and implementing evidence-based programs into the community.
“It’s like the saying, many hands make light work,” said Communities That Care Coordinator Leanna Troesh.
Substance abuse, delinquency, anxiety, and depression are all concerning factors troubling youth across the country — especially in Flathead County.
“Community-wide change takes a long time and so we gather this data and by in the fall we might have this data in our hands and start to take a look at that," added Troesh.
Based on a Prevention Needs Assessment in 2018, 44% of high school seniors in Montana have consumed alcohol in the last 30 days at the time of the survey.
That compares to the national average of 32%.
Troesh said community leaders plan to look hard at science-driven data to improve mental health and protective factors among Flathead youth.
“Last fall with all the death by suicides especially with our youth in the schools, right now you can see behind me there’s so much motivation to really start making that change so, if there’s ever a time to start this process, it couldn’t have been a more perfect time,” said Troesh.
Flathead Food Bank Executive Director Jamie Quinn — who previously worked with Communities That Care in Pennsylvania — says she wants to help bring positive change to Flathead County.
“It’s a really long time of planning on the front end of it, but it’s really important for the long run of how we formulate as a community and how we do with these stressors that are going to come into these kiddos lives,” said Quinn.
Quinn added that providing extra resources and support groups at schools for both students and families will go a long way.
“Because that also then provides that support of resiliency for those families because our schools are doing a great job here but it’s sometimes at home and overall, throughout the community that the kids are feeling that disconnect and we need to make sure that we provide that connection and sometimes the schools are the best places to start that with families,” said Quinn.
Troesh said the team will study science-driven data and implement a strategic plan in the coming months to bring more evidence-based outreach programs into Flathead County.
“It does take a process, community-wide change happens at a slow snail’s pace, but with commitment and excitement and urgency, we can really make it happen,” added Troesh.