Every day, Salwa wakes up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus to her college, but most days, her first class isn't until noon.

She can't take a later bus because there is no later bus.

She can't drive herself to school either. She's not allowed.


So when she arrives on campus hours before her class? She waits.

Salwa lives in Saudi Arabia, where women have been banned from driving cars for decades.

Saudi women are forced to rely on rides from friends, family, and "male guardians." Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.

There's no actual law on the books banning women from driving; it's against the social values set by religious clerics who advise the king and can ban pretty much whatever they want. They've argued that allowing women to drive would have serious negative impacts on society — everything from a "chaotic" mixing of genders in public to claiming that somehow the act of driving pushes up on the pelvis in a way that would cause birth defects. Which is, you know ... insane.

So Salwa is left taking the bus.

Leaving school to get to her internship at a nearby hospital is no picnic either.

"Female students are not allowed to exit the university without permission from a male guardian," Salwa told Upworthy through a translator. "This male guardian can be a father, brother, uncle, or even a cousin. So every time I want to leave the university, I must have two copies of a paper containing my male guardian's signature. I have to give the female security a copy so she'll let me leave, then I must give another copy to a security man who is always standing at the bus door. He doesn't let any girl ride the bus without this paper."

King Saud University, where Salwa goes to school. Photo by Basil Al Bayati/Wikimedia Commons.

Even though she has to plan her entire day navigating around these rules, Salwa is getting her education.

She's a senior majoring in clinical laboratory science at King Saud University in Riyadh: a city that once banned women from entering a certain Starbucks after a wall fell down that had previously separated families from single people.

(Other things banned in Saudi Arabia include Pokemon and cat selfies. Not just cats or selfies, but cat selfies: pictures of one's self with a cat or cats ... or anything else.)

Understandably, it's the strict prohibitions put upon women that anger Salwa the most.

Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.

"I'm really annoyed because I'm not a minor [who should] be treated like this," she told Upworthy. "I'm an adult girl who's reached the legal age. But they treat us like kids."

Recently, Uber announced a deal with the government in Saudi Arabia. Could this be the answer for women like Salwa who need to get around?

The ride-hailing service just announced a $3.5 billion investment the Saudi government, which marks the biggest single source overseas investment in the company's history and possibly a new chapter for Silicon Valley tech. Given that Uber has experienced some recent regulatory issues in parts of Europe, including the conviction of two of its French executives, it makes sense they are more aggressively pursuing markets elsewhere, like the Middle East and Asia.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

But it's not as simple as it sounds. Uber has partnered with a government that banned half its population from driving.

So when Saudi women utilize Uber, they're now giving the government a financial incentive not to lift the driving ban. Many of them, including Salwa, find that insulting and exploitative.

"Saudi Arabia is now taking benefits from Uber economically," she told Upworthy. "Thus, the government won't give us our rights since they are earning huge amounts of money due to this partnership. I'm here as a Saudi women calling for the withdrawal of Uber since it is the cause of a lot of suffering for us and makes our rights delayed."

Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.

She's not alone. Saudi women recently took to Twitter in big numbers to announce a boycott.

Before long, the hashtag "Saudi women announce Uber boycott," (which, yes, is shorter in Arabic) had 8,500 mentions in a week.

Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker responded to criticism of the deal saying, "Of course we think women should be allowed to drive. In the absence of that, we have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before — and we’re incredibly proud of that.”

But for Saudi women like Salwa, the driving ban isn't just a matter of getting around. It's about fairness.

"The clerics here are against women working, driving, or being independent," Salwa told Upworthy. "They claim that men's prestige will be lost if women did all that... Girls here are considered property."

Women attending a spring festival in Riyadh. Photo by Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images.

Since speaking out against Uber and her government, Salwa says she has been harassed and threatened on social media. She's not afraid, but she is angry. "If I could leave Saudi Arabia without getting permission from my male guardian, I would leave," she says.

Tomorrow, when Salwa wakes up at 5 a.m. to begin her commute, she still won't have the right to drive.

But she'll continue pursuing her education. She'll continue building her career, and she'll continue speaking her mind, fighting to be a person in a world that tells her she's property.

Maybe one day when the anger and courage of women like Salwa forces Saudi Arabia to a tipping point, she'll be free to walk, drive, take the bus, or take a cat selfie — whenever she wants.

For now though, she has to get to school.

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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