With all due respect to Governor Cuomo, this virus is not 'the great equalizer'
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At a recent press conference, after his brother Chris was diagnosed with COVID-19, New York governor Andrew Cuomo kept reiterating two sentiments: "We're all in this together," and "This virus is the great equalizer."

I understand the sentiment. I've said and written the "We're all in this together" line several times myself over the past few weeks.


And in one sense—an important sense—it's true. This pandemic is impacting the entire planet like nothing we've seen in our lifetimes. No one is untouched by it in some way. Anyone, rich or poor, can get sick and die from this virus. In that sense, it unites us as human beings, and I hope it will awaken us to our essential oneness.

But Cuomo was wrong on the second point. The fact that this is an equal opportunity virus doesn't make it "the great equalizer." The coronavirus pandemic doesn't equalize anything. In fact, it merely highlights and magnifies our existing inequalities.

I've been thinking lately about the sinking of the Titanic. Those 2,240 passengers and crew members were on that boat together. Everyone was a part of the fear and the tragedy as it sank.

They were all in it together. No one escaped the terror. They were all touched by it.

But they were not touched by it equally.


Gov. Cuomo seized the historical moment with a rousing speech to the National Guard: This is a 'rescue mission' assets.rebelmouse.io


Passengers aboard the Titanic ranged from some of the wealthiest people on Earth to third-class steerage passengers, who were mainly working-class immigrants. And during the voyage, the third-class passengers had to stay in their designated area of the ship, which was gated off from the top three decks where the wealthier passengers hung out. Ship stewards could open the steerage gates in an emergency, but otherwise, they stayed closed.

In the chaos of the ship sinking, some of those gates never got opened, which prevented some third-class passengers from getting to the deck with the lifeboats. Those folks drowned trapped in their assigned place, the only place they could afford, without even a fighting chance of survival.

The fact that they were "all in it together" didn't change the structures in place before the tragedy—structures that directly impacted their fate on that ship.

Of course, as we know, there weren't enough lifeboats for all of the passengers anyway. Barely half, in fact. Having an adequate number of lifeboats would have made the first-class top deck look "cluttered," which the wealthy ship owner didn't want for his wealthy passengers. Besides, the ship was supposed to be "unsinkable."

And so it was that the economic inequality clearly delineated in the ship's voyage played out in its sinking as well.

Because they were already on the upper decks, wealthy passengers got to the lifeboats first. Some were lowered into the ocean and rowed away from the ship before their boats were even full.

Despite the standard "women and children first" rule of saving people at sea, 52 out of the 79 children from third-class died in the sinking—about the same percentage as first-class men.

Overall, 61% of first-class passengers, 42% of second-class passengers, and 24% of third-class passengers survived.

Some might say, "Well of course fewer third-class passengers survived—they were farther from the lifeboats," and that's exactly the point. The wealthier passengers had an advantage from the get go. The poorer passengers had farther to go, and some of them were cut off completely.

The Titanic passengers were all in that boat together, but that didn't mean they were equally impacted by its sinking. And we will see the same impact of inequality play out in this pandemic as well.

It's true that wealthy people aren't immune from the virus, and some will die. But they still have an advantage from the start. Wealthy folks have access to the best medical care and the ability to afford it. For goodness knows what reason, the wealthy appear to be able to get tested for the virus even without showing symptoms, while the average American has a hard time getting a test unless they are ICU-level ill.

Poor people are starting at a disadvantage, as they are a) more likely to have underlying health conditions, b) less likely to seek medical help early over fears of not being able to afford it, and c) more likely to work in the vital-but-low-paying service industries we are now relying on to feed us, keep our grocery stores and hospitals clean, and transport our food and garbage, putting them at higher risk of exposure.


Wealthy nation offers concrete rectangles to people without homes during pandemic Shaun King/Instagram


So yeah. We're all in this together. But that doesn't change the fact that our vast economic inequality means this pandemic will affect people differently. This will be true both here in the U.S.—where 1 in 9 Americans in our "booming" economy were living below the poverty line—and around the world, where 1 in 3 do.

We learned from the Titanic that disasters don't play out equally, even if they impact everyone. We will learn the same thing with this crisis, and with every tragedy that follows until we make some fundamental changes in our economic systems.

If we want to claim that we're all in this together, let's make sure we have enough lifeboats for everyone and do something about the gates that keep people trapped in the lower decks before this ship sets sail again. Since we've clearly hit an iceberg and will need to rebuild the economy anyway, perhaps we can purposefully build it in a way that works for all, not just those on top.

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.

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