In 2011, Alexander* was arrested and tortured for protesting in his home country of Iran.

(*Name changed.)


He fled to England with his wife and children and applied for refugee status. But even though he and his family were safe, he was still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Then, in 2013, something unexpected changed the course of his life.

Alexander told his therapist about his love of poetry, and his therapist encouraged him to join Stone Flowers.

Artwork from the Stone Flowers album "Ngunda." Courtesy of Music Action International.

Created through a partnership between Music Action International and Freedom from Torture, Stone Flowers is a unique project that supports refugee torture survivors through psychological and physical therapy, help in securing protection in the U.K., welfare services information … and music.

Stone Flowers artists come together each week, write songs about their difficult experiences, and perform them as a way to raise awareness and heal their painful pasts. The organization works with people from all over the world, including Iran, Sudan, the Dominican Republic, Kuwait, and beyond.

At first, Alexander wasn't sure about joining the group.

In an article for Therapy Today, Alexander said:

"I was hesitant ... but, once I took the plunge, the warmth of my welcome into the group blew me away. ... There was no pressure from my new colleagues to tell my story — simply a deep, unspoken respect among all the group members for what we'd all been through."

"Ngunda" album release party at Amnesty International Headquarters in London. Photo courtesy of Music Action International and photographer Marc Sethi.

In time, Alexander did tell his story. His pivotal moment came when he finally got the courage to sing:

"I managed to sing a song aloud in my own language. That was so liberating and moving for me. Despite everything I'd been through, with a combination of the music group and therapy, I began to believe in a better future for me and my family."

He eventually wrote a song called "The Memory" about the abuse he suffered in Iran.

Lyrics for Alexander's song, "The Memory." Courtesy of Music Action International.

Music Action International's U.K. founder, Lis Murphy, is involved in the music therapy meetings with Alexander and the other members.

She also helps the performers establish all vocal and instrument arrangements and prepare them for formal recording sessions. Stone Flowers performs at local events in the U.K., including Peace Week in Manchester, the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, and their own album release this past June.

Artwork from the Stone Flowers album "Ngunda." Courtesy of Music Action International.

For Lis, the work is profoundly rewarding. As she explained to me:

"Performing and working with Stone Flowers is a truly amazing experience. To see firsthand how music enables people who have survived unbearable situations, to stand together and share their hopes, fears and joys in communities where there is often hostility towards them is very powerful."

The work they're doing is having a serious effect. Like Alexander, Stone Flowers member Lito fled persecution in his home country (the Democratic Republic of Congo) before he found safety in the U.K.

Lito discovered that performing with his newfound friends reminded him that he has a purpose and that there are better days ahead:

"After the performance I've always tried to keep them feelings with me at all times. Because it's the only feeling that reminds me of who I am and what I am and that I live for now, for what happens tomorrow I do not know — it's out of my reach. Therefore it's fair to say the group has transformed me and gave me a special mechanism and therapy."

"Ngunda" album release party at Amnesty International Headquarters in London. Photo courtesy of Music Action International and photographer Marc Sethi.

The Stone Flowers project is on to something, especially because group singing has been shown to help people cope with stress and trauma by releasing oxytocin and elevating endorphins.

Alexander's life looks pretty different these days. He says his involvement in Stone Flowers has helped him heal his emotional wounds and improve his relationship with his family.

"The group has a power and personality of its own and a power to help with the healing process. … My life partner and my children began to sense a difference in my behaviour; I felt able to be more present with them."

Stone Flowers now has 35 active members and is still going strong with "Ngunda," a new album filled with storytelling songs like the one Alexander wrote.

And it sounds like there may be more albums in the future.

As Lis puts it: "The quality of the creative material that has been produced has exceeded all our expectations. Each individual has something really important to say and the music they have written to express this is incredibly powerful."

Check out this intimate video of a Stone Flowers studio session:


Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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Connections Academy

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

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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.

A recent Twitter thread highlights life after turning 30.

There's something really scary about turning 30. Society places so much emphasis on reaching your fourth decade of life, giving it more importance than it actually needs. At 30, apparently, you're supposed to have figured out all the big things, including your career and your love life. It reminds me of the movie "13 Going on 30" when teenage Jenna is sitting in the closet repeating "30 and flirty and thriving" over to herself as some sort of mantra. I don't know about your experience, but the concept of "30 and flirty and thriving" for me ended up being a total myth. That's what people are trying to tell a Twitter user who needed reassurance that life "gets better" after 30.

Katherine Morgan, known as blktinabelcher on Twitter, is a writer and bookseller who asked a question of the Twitter hive mind to set her mind at ease.

"I’m 28, so I’m almost there, but can people in their 30s and older please (gently) tell me that it’s going to get better and I don’t need to have figured out my entire life in two years?" she wrote. The tweet took off, with more than 100,000 likes and thousands of replies. While everyone phrased their responses differently, the general consensus was you don't have to have anything figured out before you turn 30.

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Photo from Upworthy Library

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Teddy the two-toed sloth has become a proud papa and thanks to a video posted by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, we all get to witness the adorable reunion with his newborn son.

Mama sloth, aka Grizzly, gave birth to their healthy little one in Feb 2022, which delighted more than 3,000 people on Facebook.



The video, posted to the Florida zoo’s YouTube page, shows Grizzly slowly climbing toward her mate, who is at first blissfully unaware as he continues munching on leaves. Typical dad.

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