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Libraries full of human 'books' are spreading across the country.

'Show me a person who doesn't want to feel understood.'

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Dignity Health 2017

What would happen if you sat down and had an open and honest conversation with someone with completely opposing views?

Could it bring you closer together?

All images via the Human Library Organization, used with permission.


The Human Library Organization is counting on it.

In this day and age, it may seem like getting two people with different views together to discuss them is a recipe for disaster. Just read the comment section on any online post on a heated topic and you're bound to wish you hadn't. Political division and the ability to hide behind a screen and shout your thoughts through your fingertips has encouraged an "I'm right, you're wrong" discourse that seldom opens doors for productive dialogue.

Human Libraries — where actual people are on loan to readers instead of books — are a way to highlight the common ground.

At a Human Library, people volunteer to become "books" and make their experiences open and available. "Readers" are encouraged to ask them questions freely, and they'll get honest answers in return. There's no judgment, and no questions are off-limits.

You won't find people talking over each other. You won't find nasty comments or political agendas, and you won't lose faith in humanity. At the Human Library, you might actually feel better about the world you live in. You might even make a new friend!

The human "books" consist of people who have been marginalized or discriminated by society.

"Certain communities are being pinpointed as the 'bad people' because they believe different, or live different, or eat different, or look different, or have a different color, or ethnic or religious background," said Ronni Abergel, the Human Library Organization's founder.

Abergel has set out to counter that by building a space for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

Some of the "books" readers may find at a Human Library include a Muslim, a Jew, a cancer survivor, a recovering alcoholic, a police officer, a refugee, someone living with Alzheimer's, a veteran, a teacher, and the list goes on.

Even better? Human libraries are on the rise globally, including in the United States.

The Human Library Organization, originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, just marked its 16th year in service. This year they're as busy as they've ever been.

Allison McFadden-Keesling can vouch for the org's success. When she saw an article about the Human Library in a London newspaper in 2008, she immediately knew she wanted to set up an event for students at Oakland Community College in Michigan. Fast-forward to today, and she's getting ready to host her 11th Human Library event on campus in five years.

"The most pleasantly surprising thing about the Human Library is how close all the human books become to one another," she said. "It has a family reunion feel every time we host as previous human book participants return and others join."

Some of the human books found in Chicago!

From Michigan to Connecticut to Texas to Arkansas, Human Library events are growing — with 30 new U.S. partners having joined in the past month alone.

Abergel knows the rise in interest isn't a coincidence. There's a consistent theme he sees in the applications he receives daily: the negative and fearful tone of the election.

"The tone of the election has made it important for many to set up a Human Library to counter and to show that this is not who we are," he said.

In a world that seems to focus on controversy instead of compassion, it can be difficult to identify our shared humanity.

Human Libraries help to remind us there really is more that unites us than divides us. And as events now spread throughout 82 countries, with Human Libraries even set to launch soon in Pakistan and Jordan, you can tell that is a shared feeling.

"We can spend billions and billions on trying to build up homeland security and our safety, but real safety comes from having positive relations to other groups in your community," said Abergel.

"Real safety is not going to come from building walls. It’s going to come from reaching out and getting to know each other."

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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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.

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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.

U.S. men's and women's soccer teams will now receive equal pay.

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In February 2022, a settlement was reached, which has the U.S. Soccer Federation paying $22 million in back pay to the women's team players. And on May 18, U.S. Soccer Federation announced a deal that will have players for the USMNT and USWNT being paid equally until at least 2028.

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