Finland is one of the best countries in the world to be a mom. How does the U.S. compare?

Even among highly developed nations, there are vast disparities in the experience of becoming a mom.

We all know that the Nordic countries consistently rank sky high when it comes to many measures of wellness—happiness, health, quality of life, life expectancy, education, and the list goes on.

So perhaps it's not surprising that Finland is frequently touted as one of the best places to become a mother. As CBS This Morning points out, the country has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world. The Finnish government's maternity and paternity leave policies put many countries to shame. Residents enjoy top-notch, low-cost healthcare, which includes free checkups for kids after birth.


To top it off, every new mom receives a box full of gifts in the mail to make the first weeks and months with their baby easier, and the box itself can double as a bed for her baby.

In other words, Finnish moms have got it good from the get go.

When you look at the numbers compared to the U.S., it's even clearer how good Finnish moms have it.

First, there's the cost of healthcare. The average natural childbirth in a U.S. hospital costs around $12,000, and many insurances don't cover the whole cost. (I paid $1500 out of pocket after insurance for an unmedicated, uncomplicated childbirth in which baby and I stayed in the hospital for less than 24 hours.) In Finland, the whole childbirth will set families back a whopping $60.

Sixty. Six zero. For the whole childbirth.

Then there's the actual health of new moms. Finnish mothers are much more likely to survive childbirth and the postpartum period than American moms. In fact, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is six times higher than it is in Finland. Six. Times. And our rates have only gotten worse over the past few decades, while Finland's have gotten better.

Maternal death rates for African-American moms are three times higher in the U.S. than for white moms. That's one reason why Laura Smith, a black mother from Detroit living in Helsinki with her Finnish husband, told CBS that she chose to have her baby in Finland instead of the U.S. "My concerns mattered," she said. "My voice mattered. They saw me, they took care of me no matter what I look like. That's something I couldn't be certain about in the States."

How about paid maternity leave? In Finland, moms a guaranteed four months of paid maternity leave. Fathers get almost two months of paid leave, and then couples get another five-ish months of leave to share between them.

How much paid maternity and paternity leave are Americans guaranteed? None. Nada. Zilch. (And we're the only developed nation with that claim to fame. Winning!)

Instead of "Make America Great Again," maybe we should try to "Make America Great Like Finland." MAGLF!

Yes, Finns pay higher taxes for these benefits. But you don't hear many of them complaining.

Americans have a long-standing hatred for paying taxes. Issues with taxation are literally what drove our founders to declare independence from the crown, so distrust of taxes is woven into the fabric of our national identity. Therefore, when we hear that people pay a higher percent of their income in taxes in Finland, our first reaction is, "Aw, hell no."

But when you add up how much we pay for healthcare, how much we pay for daycare (subsidized by the Finnish government and adjusted according to income), how much we pay for college (yep, higher education is also covered in Finland), etc., what the Finns pay doesn't actually look that high. Everyone in a society benefits when people have their healthcare needs met, the populace is well educated, and families are able to care for their children without stressing over whether they can pay their bills.

When CBS told a Finnish mother that in parts of the U.S. moms receive no paid maternity leave, she asked, "Well how do you do that?" Excellent question.

"We are collecting a lot of taxes," said Finland's Family Affairs and Social Services Minister Annika Saarikko, "but if you go and ask from the Finns, 'Are you okay with that?' everybody is saying, 'Yes. We have good use with that system.'"

Many people argue that there are fundamental differences between the U.S. and Finland that make comparisons difficult. However, at least when it comes to healthcare, the argument falls flat—literally every other developed nation in the world provides universal healthcare.

Helsinki University Hospital Chief Physician Dr. Aydin Tekay told CBS This Morning that the only reason the Finnish healthcare system couldn't be replicated in the U.S. is because of politics.

Yep. MAGLF!

Watch the segment on CBS This Morning:

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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