It's been just over a week since the horrific massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but survivors have already been busy pushing for gun reform.

Within a day of the shooting, Douglas students became cable news fixtures, many calling on Congress to restrict access to semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 used to kill 17 of their teachers and classmates.

On Feb. 17, students gathered outside the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tarr, and Emma Gonzalez, among others, led the crowd in calls to reject the pro-gun narratives of groups like the NRA.


"The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and ... call BS," Gonzalez roared into the microphone in an instantly iconic speech. "Companies [try] to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn't reach the ears of the nation. We are prepared to call BS."

Cameron Kasky speaks at the Feb. 17 rally. Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Delaney Tarr. Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Emma Gonzalez. Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

On Feb. 20 and 21, students from nearby districts staged walkouts and marched down to Douglas High School for a vigil.

Many of the students came from West Boca High School, and traveled the 10 miles to Douglas High School on foot.

West Boca students Jakob Desouza and Ruth Williams hug as they gathered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 20. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

More West Boca students arrive at Douglas. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Students from Coral Glades High School, less than five miles from Douglas, staged a walk out of their own on Feb. 21.

Coral Glades students march. Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

[rebelmouse-image 19531402 dam="1" original_size="750x511" caption=""Stop protecting guns, start protecting kids." Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images." expand=1]"Stop protecting guns, start protecting kids." Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

On Feb. 21, to mark a week since the shooting, students in  the Washington, D.C., area marched to Capitol Hill for demonstrations.

Students from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, took part in the action.

Students from Montgomery Blair High School. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

[rebelmouse-image 19531404 dam="1" original_size="750x519" caption=""Your child is next." Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images." expand=1]"Your child is next." Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Hundreds of protesters, many of them students, carried signs and spoke out about gun violence outside the White House.

Signs with slogans like "We will not be next," "NRA, stop killing our kids," "Make America Safe Again," and "You can silence guns but not us" were raised in public protest of the pro-gun lobby.

Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images.

Protestors march to the White House. Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images.

[rebelmouse-image 19531408 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""Protect our lives, not your guns." Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images." expand=1]"Protect our lives, not your guns." Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

[rebelmouse-image 19531410 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""Why are kinder eggs banned but not assault rifles?" Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images." expand=1]"Why are kinder eggs banned but not assault rifles?" Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

[rebelmouse-image 19531413 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""We don't have to live like this, we don't have to die like this." Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images." expand=1]"We don't have to live like this, we don't have to die like this." Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

[rebelmouse-image 19531414 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""Enough is enough." Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images." expand=1]"Enough is enough." Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

That afternoon, President Trump met with a number of families affected by the shooting in a televised event, highlighted by an emotional question from Douglas senior Samuel Zeif.

Zeif was one of few people at the event to actually raise questions about inaction on gun control, asking, "How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How did we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?"

Samuel Zeif wipes his eyes after asking his questions. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Trump deflected calls for gun control, instead suggesting that we arm teachers.

[rebelmouse-image 19531417 dam="1" original_size="750x464" caption="Trump's notes for the event, which included a reminder to say "I hear you," were roundly mocked on social media afterwards. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images." expand=1]Trump's notes for the event, which included a reminder to say "I hear you," were roundly mocked on social media afterwards. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Also on Feb. 21st, students, activists, and supporters gathered at the Florida State Capitol building to demand action.

Earlier in the week, the state's House of Representatives voted against opening debate on new gun measures.

Douglas students, parents, and gun safety advocates march on Tallahassee. Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images.

The rally at the Florida State Capitol building. Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images.

Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images.

Students rally outside the Florida State Capitol building. Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images.

Douglas student Alfonso Calderon speaks at the Florida State Capitol building. Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, students from across Broward county again gathered at Douglas High School for their largest rally yet.

Kasky addressed the crowd from atop a car, yelling into a megaphone. Later that night, he would confront Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) at a CNN town hall.

Cameron Kasky addresses area students at Douglas High School. Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

It's easy to be cynical, to again say that nothing will change — but maybe this time is different? Only time will tell.

Let's hope so.

Correction 3/8/2018: A photo caption previously misidentified Alfonso Calderon.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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