The term "epidemic" means "something that spreads really fast."

The flu, dengue fever, the recent Zika outbreak, or sudden plant-based outbreaks that threaten large number of crops are all classic examples of epidemics.

When an epidemic hits, it hits hard. The flu can make everyone in your office sick within days, and viral outbreaks can quickly threaten the population of an entire country.


A health professional fumigating against the Zika virus in Honduras. Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images.

But did you know that not all epidemics are bad?

Yes, there is such a thing as a "positive epidemic." And according to researchers at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, positive epidemics actually spread faster than negative ones.

Amazing, right?

Examples of positive epidemics include the spread of good viruses that protect their hosts instead of harming them or even beneficial social phenomenons like the use of agriculture technology spreading among humans.

We don't normally associate positive things with the word "epidemic," but when these positive epidemics (nicknamed "benes" for the purposes of this study) take hold, they are capable of affecting a lot more hosts than a negative epidemic can and in a much shorter amount of time too.

Or, to put it simply: The study found that good epidemics spread faster and wider than negative ones.

When you think about it, this pattern actually makes a lot of sense.

Imagine you just heard about a new Gmail trick that increases your productivity and saves you a ton of time. The first thing you're going to do is tell as many people as possible, right?

"F*** yeah! Gmail!!!" Photo via iStock.

When the people you tell find out about it, they get the same excited feeling as you and start telling as many people as they can. Pretty soon, your entire office building is buzzing about it. The fact that this "epidemic" is motivated by a positive feeling and a beneficial change in work flow means that it can spread without anyone trying to stop it.

A negative epidemic, on the other hand, like a stomach virus, still spreads within communities but has more obstacles trying to prevent it from doing so. If you have a stomach virus, you'll (hopefully) stay home from work, cancel your social plans, and lie down on your bathroom floor in the fetal position until you feel better, cutting out key opportunities for the virus to spread to other people.

"F*** no! Stomach virus!" Photo via iStock.

When it comes to those beneficial viruses I mentioned earlier, the kind that prevent a host from getting sick, those might increase your energy and happiness, which in turn make you more likely to interact with other people and spread the awesome, protective, healthy virus more quickly. The people you interact with then get the same protection.

Weirdly, this same epidemic pattern also applies to positive and negative words.

The researchers used Google's Ngram Corpus to track the popularity of certain beneficial words over time.

They found that when a word is highly useful and beneficial to society, its usage spreads very quickly. "Personal computer" and "aspirin" both became highly used words after they were invented and their popularity increased exponentially.


"Such a headache from staring at my personal computer. Someone get me an aspirin!" Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Because of the positive benefits associated with both aspirin and personal computers, people learned about both of them extremely quickly and wanted to share that knowledge — spreading the words far and wide at a rapid pace.

People say that positivity is contagious, and this study shows that in many ways that is ... literally true.

We're drawn to things that help us out, and we're eager to "infect" other people with them. Human society can make giant leaps based on positive and beneficial epidemics.

From the implementation of agriculture to the space age to your new fancy Gmail trick to paying it forward at the Starbucks drive-through, we all move forward as a society when we help spread the positive wealth around.

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.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

Keep Reading Show less

This guy would have a hard time saying "french fry." Tragic.

Processed food gets a bad rap. But without it, we might have never been able to even say the word “food.” Or “friendly,” or “fun” or “velociraptor” for that matter. Why is that?

“F’s” and “v’s” belong to a group of sounds known as labiodentals. They happen when you raise your bottom lip to touch your top teeth and are used in more than half of today’s human language. But science suggests we didn’t always have this linguistic ability.

As hunter gatherers, our ancestors ate a diet that was minimally processed and required more effort to chew. As a result, by adolescence their teeth would develop what’s called an edge-to-edge bite, where the jaw is elongated so that both the bottom and top teeth are completely flush with one another.

Cue the Neolithic period, where widespread agriculture meant more soft foods like stew and bread and less laborious chewing. Over time, the slight overbite that most people are born with stayed preserved, because chewing was less of an arduous process.
Keep Reading Show less
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.

Keep Reading Show less