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  • Meredith Shaw

Balancing Hope and Concern at "Hidden In Plain Sight" Event

Updated: May 9, 2023


Youth mental health, education, and substance-use prevention are essential aspects of Tri-Town Council (TTC)’s mission. Much of the work of prevention involves helping parents, caregivers, community members—and youth themselves—find a balance between hope and concern.


This balance was an important theme at “Hidden In Plain Sight,” an interactive event coordinated by TTC’s Youth Substance Use Prevention Coalition, in partnership with Masconomet’s School Resource Officers, held at the Topsfield Fairgrounds April 26-27. The event, for adults 21 and older, included a hypothetical teen bedroom display with a checklist of items to “find”, plus several displays of local Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data and details about concerning topics such as alcohol, marijuana, vaping, and other drugs, as well as sexual behaviors, eating disorders, self harm, mental illness, and aspects of social media.


On the concern side of prevention, caring adults aim to be informed and aware of the possible dangers for youth—it is important to know what products/substances are out there, the signs to watch for, and ways that risky and unhealthy behavior might manifest or be hidden.


And we also balance this awareness with the hope side of prevention, in which we aim to be informed and aware of factors that protect our youth. Factors such as caring adults, supportive friendships, knowing and understanding positive norms, healthy activities, good habits, and coping strategies for stress management and self-care all help our youth stay healthier and safer as they grow up.


TTC Executive Director Meredith Shaw feels this event ties in many aspects of TTC’s mission and values. “For me, Hidden In Plain Sight hits home the power of the Assets and value of building protective factors, accurate perceptions, and healthy foundations. Growth, risk, and experimentation is a natural part of adolescence. Building that broad and deep foundation of health and well-being through skills, connections, positive relationships, caring communities, and Asset building is critically important.” She continues, “Trying to keep up with the addictive substances and products that are out there can feel a bit like playing Whack-a-Mole. New substances and products are continually coming on the legal (and illegal) markets that can impact youth health and well being. Having resources and information to support understanding what is ‘out there’ and the warning signs of use are profoundly important. And, equally important, understanding the value of having a broad, deep, strong foundation of Assets upon which to build healthy decision making that will support and protect teens as they grow.”


Helpful resources at the event included advice and tips for caring adults, guidance for having difficult conversations and talking with youth about drugs and alcohol, myths vs. fact sheets, and how to access support for a crisis or concern.


Gail Cavanaugh-McAuliffe represented the new Massachusetts Behavioral Health Helpline, and was there to promote and answer questions about this new, free service. “The Helpline just opened in January,” said Gail “so as summer approaches and more people are out and about, we are really working to have a presence at events across the state, to spread the word about this great resource.” Glad to play a role in helping others, she expressed her view that “the whole world benefits from getting people the mental health support they need.”


Also at the event to offer in-person guidance and to answer questions was our Tri-Town Public Health Nurse, Julia Lobel. She was there to cover the substance use table and provide education to community members primarily about prescription drug misuse, current trends with illegal opioids, as well as discuss the recent shift by the FDA to make Narcan readily accessible by making it available over the counter. She also reviewed how to dispose of unwanted medications, and directed attendees to medication disposal stations located within each of the police stations.


“As a public health nurse, I am pleased to see low overall substance use rates in Masco teens on the YRBS,” said Lobel. “ Tri-Town community members should be proud of the education and outreach efforts to support this.” She was also glad to see the state's new Behavioral Health Helpline (www.masshelpline.com) providing outreach at this event. “Gail has been a great source of information to the Tri-Town since the state launched this new initiative that combines all the existing resources such as the mental health helpline, substance use helpline, suicide helpline, and a mobile crisis intervention team, into one place.”


Threaded throughout the stations filled with information, was attention to the role that “positive norms” play in reducing risky behavior in youth. Several attendees noted their interest in this concept, and the way it requires a shift in our habitual thinking. “We have a tendency to focus on our worries when we learn about risky behaviors that concern us,” said one attendee. “And this creates a misperception that more kids are doing it than actually are.”


Coalition Director Nicole Gregoire-Allis is passionate about the role that accurate perceptions of norms plays in reducing risk behavior. “Knowing the true, healthy norms within the community (also called Positive Community Norms) is a protective factor against risky behaviors. If we can decrease the perception that ‘everyone is doing it,’ we will see decreases in the numbers of teens engaging in these behaviors,” she said. “It just makes sense; teens mostly want to fit in—If they believe that ‘fitting in’ means using substances or engaging in risky behaviors, they are more likely to participate in them. If, on the other hand, they understand that ‘fitting in’ actually means NOT engaging in those behaviors, they are more likely to avoid participating in them.”


Several Tri-Town Police Officers were present to answer participants’ questions, and K9 Aster the Black Lab, also shared her energy and support. Middleton Police Officer Samantha Cila said she had never been to an event like this one, and really liked the way the information was presented. Her role was to help guide participants in the teen room display. “There were a lot of tricks right in front of you that could be easily missed,” she said. “Sometimes I had to use the ‘cheat sheet’ to give parents hints as they looked around the room.” She said she enjoyed the chance to speak with participants as they went through the room and stations. “Every parent should attend this kind of event, at least once,” she said.


Shaw expressed gratitude for the dedicated staff, partners, volunteers, and attendees who made Hidden In Plain Sight a success. “This is what a caring community is all about: people coming together to share, learn and support each other and our youth. TTC extends a big, heart-felt thank-you to the Topsfield Fairgrounds staff, Tri-Town Police Departments and officers, Tri-Town Public Health Nurse Julia Lobel and Directors Kendell Longo and Traci Mello, Masconomet Counselors Kristin Duffy and Alexis Kostas, Masconomet Senior Interns, the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Helpline representative Gail Cavanaugh-McAuliffe, our TTC Board members and Coalition members, the community professionals and TTC friends who volunteered their time, and to all the caring adults who showed up and participated.”


TTC has compiled the following resources for caring adults:


Or use this direct link:


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