The latest episode in the podcast series “The Power of Prevention” is now available. In “Supporting NH’s Young Adults: Where Can Communities Put Their Energy?” featured guests are Julie Nicknair-Keon, LCMHC, with Warren Street Family Counseling Associates in Concord and Ashley Desrochers, Public Health Program Manager with the Strafford County Public Health Network. They discuss the findings of a statewide New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services survey, a part of the project The Voice of NH Young Adults. The survey was intended to provide insight into why NH’s young adults are struggling and how their unique challenges can be addressed. The two guests explore the topic and offer some potential community and business-based solutions.
According to brain research, humans are still developing physically, psychologically, and socially through the age of 25. Young adults (18 – 25) are still forming mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control — skills needed every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. This is taking place at the same time they are leaving home, going to college, considering trades and careers, and forming lasting friendships.
Many young adults in NH do not feel equipped to navigate these changes without support and resources. It follows that the NH young adults surveyed identified key issues concerning them as the state’s high cost of living, low wages, access to affordable education and training, and a lack of resources.
“When we think about young adults, they’re trying to figure out so many things and their brains still aren’t fully developed. That ability to stop, think, and process isn’t quite there,” said Nicknair-Keon. “So, I think we have to provide it for them. I think there’s, sometimes, an expectation that they’ll just figure it out. We’re asking them to figure these things out and developmentally they’re not there yet.”
“It’s coping skills, it’s budgeting, it’s time management, it’s goal setting. There’s this goal, what are the steps that get me there? All of those things really need to be foundational,” said Desrochers. “They’re asking if I don’t have those skills, how am I going to emerge into an environment where those things are needed? I need somebody to teach me how to do those things. How do I cope through this? What’s a healthy way of doing that?”
“Financial insecurity plays a significant role in the health outcomes of the younger people in our region,” said Desrochers. “Looking at data, the young adults actually have less support from parents. They tend to lean on extended family members and friends.” Both guests agreed that communities, schools, and employers must address the economic and social well-being of young adults to enable them to stay in the state and thrive. Some of the strategies might include transportation support systems, mentorship programs, the restoration of tech programs in school systems, life skills curriculum in schools or job sites, affordable child care options for young adults with their own young children, and access to broader substance misuse and mental health services.
This developmental stage (ages 18-25) is also a time when risk behavior appears to peak, including alcohol, tobacco, and other drug misuse and emotional and mental health problems.
“Prevention and substance misuse is as simple and as complicated as we want to make it. There are absolutely proven approaches, including risk reduction, including education, for our young people,” said Nicknair-Keon. “We have to want to invest in those programs and believe that it’s worth it for the success of our communities, our state and our young people. It’s not just money. It’s also the time and energy. It’s worth the investment.”
“Every community is different. So sometimes even what works in Rochester might not work in Dover might not work in Milton,” said Desrochers. “It might help to have conversations with leaders and just say, ‘Hey, have you thought about this population of people? Have you thought about these factors?’ Knowing the resources that are in your area and who the people that care about these things are, can also really make an impact.”
Debbie Love, Consultant, JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc.
By day, Debbie Love works at JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc., to get the word out about prevention on a variety of public health issues specific to our youth, oral health, immunization, substance misuse, homelessness, and aging, to name just a few. In her free time, she is a published poet and author, focusing her writing on humorous accounts of her everyday life to share with the world, while seeking opportunities to give back to local businesses in her community through the sales of her children’s book. Debbie lives in Chichester, NH, with her husband, children, and very spoiled rescued dogs and cat.