High fives to Morgan Freeman for transforming his ranch into a 124-acre honeybee sanctuary.

Morgan Freeman has donated his land to honeybees to help stave off a looming disaster.

America's favorite narrator is hoping to tell a new story for the world's waning honeybee population by giving them his 124 acres of land to live on. The 81-year-old actor took up beekeeping as a hobby in 2014 and converted his Mississippi ranch into a bee sanctuary. He brought in 26 bee hives from Arkansas and planted acre upon acre of bee-attracting vegetation including magnolia trees, lavender, and clover.

He fed the bees sugar water himself as they adjusted to their new home, and has said that he's never been stung despite not wearing a protective suit or hat. Freeman doesn't harvest the bees' honey or disrupt their hives; his goal is to help repopulate the dying honeybee population.


Freeman says his motivation for building a bee sanctuary is to help rebuild "the foundation of the growth of the planet."

In a 2016 interview on Larry King Live, Freeman explained why he decided to transform his ranch into a home for honeybees.

"There has been a frightening loss in bee colonies, particularly in this country," he told King. "To such an extent that scientists are now saying 'This is dangerous.'"

In 2014, shortly after he moved the hives to his ranch, Freeman chatted about his beekeeping hobby with Jimmy Fallon, "There is a concerted effort for bringing bees back onto the planet," he said. "We do not realize that they are the foundation, I think, of the growth of the planet, the vegetation..."

Humans rely on honeybees and other insects to pollinate our crops. If pollinators die off, our food supply will suffer. The chain reaction of losing the bee population could be devastating for life as we know it.

Why are the bees dying? There are multiple answers, and many point to human disruption.

Last year, according a survey conducted by Auburn University and University of Maryland, U.S. beekeepers said that 40 percent of their honeybee colonies had died off in the previous year—a 33% increase from the year prior. The reasons for the die off are multifaceted.

Colony Collapse Disorder has been affecting certain bee species for the past decade or so. Scientists have come up with multiple possible causes, including environmental stressors, insecticides, lack of genetic diversity in colonies, and mites that infest colonies.

Bees may also be a victim of climate change, according to the researchers who conducted the survey. Geoffrey Williams, assistant professor at Auburn, told Bloomberg, "Changes in climate and weather affect food and forage for bees. It’s pretty obvious that if you have bees already on the edge and you have a radical, quick weather shift, they aren’t going to do as well."

Pesticides are also to blame. Neonicotinoid pesticides, which are commonly used in agricultural areas, kill bees and inhibit their ability to reproduce. Scientists say these pesticides kill bee populations slowly, and are particularly harmful to queen bees, which affects bee populations over time.

Kudos to Freeman for creating healthy home for honeybees. Environmental responsibility belongs to all of us, and each act to protect and preserve our planet makes a difference.

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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