When Miles Taylor was a teenager, she and her little brother moved in with their grandma Betty, who essentially became a single parent at nearly 80 years old.

An untenable family situation prompted the change, which Betty took in stride. It was a move that must have taken some "grit and guts and probably a real fine-tuned sense of humor" on Betty's part, says Taylor.

Taylor is now a sociologist at Florida State University. She says Betty, who died in 2015 at the age of 100, was a huge influence in her life. Betty was resilient, quick-witted, compassionate, and could at times be incredibly stubborn (as the doctor who tried to get Betty to stop eating candy learned). "And she had an unbelievable capacity for love," says Taylor.


Miles Taylor and her grandma Betty. Photos used with permission.

As Betty got older, she started needing some extra help, and Taylor was there to contribute.

"It was small things in the beginning," Taylor says. "She needed help putting up a Christmas tree. Then, as she got a bit older, she needed help with getting groceries delivered." Taylor, her brother, friends, and neighbors all helped out.

Then, in 2011, when Betty was about 96, she fell and broke a bone in her back. Taylor knew that from then on, Betty would need a lot more than just help with the Christmas tree, so she stepped into the role of Betty's full-time caregiver.

In 2015, about 1 in 7 American adults served as caregivers for someone over 50, according to an AARP report.

The numbers are even higher if you count those taking care of other recipients, like adults or children with injuries or disabilities. Many of these caregivers are pretty young as well — about a quarter are under 35.

Although many people feel positively about being caretakers, it can be physically, mentally, and emotionally tough work. In fact, there have been many studies and papers about the stresses of being a caretaker.

Most of these studies have focused on the caregivers' relationships or on the stresses around very personal tasks (such as helping people bathe). But when Taylor stepped into this role, she realized there was another, huge aspect of a caregiver's job — one she had known about but couldn't have predicted how stressful it'd be.

Navigating the health care system blindsided Taylor.

Handling Betty's personal care was one thing, but Taylor was surprised at how much time she had to spend just figuring out the health care system. Even as someone who had time and a bit of inside knowledge, it was really difficult.

For example, Taylor knew if Betty was ever to get mobile again after the fall, she'd need rehab to help with strength and balance. But a snafu with how the hospital had listed Betty on their charts meant her insurance wouldn't cover rehab. It took weeks to fix.

"It was very frustrating," Taylor says. Over and over again, she experienced similar issues.

Though Taylor says she was never disappointed in the care Betty received, many of the various institutions — hospitals, insurance agencies, care services — were fragmented. They didn't communicate, which meant the job of sorting everything out fell to Taylor.

When Taylor talked to other caregivers, many of them felt the same way.

Now Taylor has published a paper she hopes will help reveal this invisible workload.

As she cared for Betty, Taylor found support in her friend and colleague Dr. Amélie Quesnel-Vallée of McGill University in Quebec. Quesnel-Vallée was also caring for an older family member — her mother. And though Quesnel-Vallée lives in Canada, they found a lot of similarities in their experiences.

Together, they wrote a scientific paper informed by their own experiences as caregivers, published in The Gerontologist. They're hoping researchers and policymakers will take notice and maybe even make some long-term changes.

"It's important those caregiving hours and that caregiving stress is recognized," says Taylor.

But they also had a message — not just for health care professionals, but for other caregivers too:

"On the more personal side of things, a message we'd like to send out to caregivers themselves is they're not alone," says Taylor.

The AARP report suggested that most caregivers in the U.S. are stepping into this caregiver-plus-case-worker kind of role. It's important for caregivers to know that although it's often invisible, their work is valuable and valued.

Caregiving is hard, often invisible work. Through sharing stories like this, we can help bring it into the light and give it the attention and credit it deserves.

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.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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