People are finding ways to creatively join the fight against COVID-19
Photo courtesy of Ginny Engholm
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Most of us don't have much in common—or, we didn't, before the year 2020. Now, the entire human race is experiencing what it means to live through a global pandemic, in real-time.

Thankfully, people are finding innovative ways to channel their talents and energy for good. Many brands, organizations, and influencers are leading the way, and creatively capturing the world's attention by spreading hope, solidarity, and awareness during a challenging—and sometimes boring—time.

Meet Annie Engholm, a creative 9-year-old with a gift for jewelry-making. When the stay-at-home order went into effect and she was suddenly stuck at home with her family, Annie found herself with a lot of big feelings coupled with a surplus of spare time.


Photo courtesy of Ginny Engholm

She began crafting wearable art from the large bins of googly eyes, ribbon, construction paper and sparkly things she keeps stored on the enclosed back porch of her home. The creations were so downright awesome that her parents, Ginny and Scott, suggested she created an online store, Annie's Ever After Etsy Shop, to sell her wares.

Her mom says that Annie designs and makes everything herself, attaching pieces with a glue gun or by hand-sewing. Her dad taught her how to digitally upload the items to her Etsy shop, so she's able to take a photo of each item and place it in her store, all by herself. She also packages orders and hand makes a card for each one. "The only things we do for her is order the supplies, print the shipping labels, and take orders to the post office," said Ginny.

Annie quickly earned $264 in sales, which she decided to donate to a local hospital to, in her words, "help fight the virus." To date, she has donated a total of $500, but her goal is to hit $1,000.

"It makes me feel happy to put my emotions into something," Annie said. "I love to do crafts." She is hoping that by doing her part to fight the virus, social distancing will end quickly so she can see her friends again, because she really, really misses her friends.

Writer and mother of two Alice Gomstyn, a native of northern New Jersey, decided to use her talent and varied network to host a fundraiser perfectly suited for a pandemic: a virtual poetry slam.

Gomstyn, along with her co-host Kyra Gilbreath, organized the April 15 fundraiser as an hour-long video conference call. To get the Zoom link, participants were asked to donate at minimum $20, but many gave much more. Once the slam began, participants suggested subjects for rhyming poems that Gomstyn would quickly write and perform live, minutes later. The guests enjoyed a happy hour ambiance as they were entertained by an eclectic hodgepodge of poetry and musical parodies.

"It goes without saying that it's been a very stressful, scary time, especially if you live in the New York metro area and other hard-hit regions," said Gomstyn. "My favorite part of using my weird little speed-rhyming talent was making the people on my screen smile and laugh, the pandemic notwithstanding."The virtual poetry slam raised just under $1,700, which she gifted to a grassroots group founded in March—a New Jersey-based nonprofit devoted to buying meals from area restaurants and delivering them to healthcare workers at local hospitals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because most people are staying home (and running out of options on Netflix), large companies are taking the opportunity to entertain the masses while indirectly raising money to help the fight against COVID-19. Take, for example, 15-year-old Charli D'Amelio, the most followed person on TikTok (54.9 million followers!). She partnered with P&G to create the #DistanceDance challenge to raise awareness of social distancing and money for charity organizations Feeding America and Matthew: 25 Ministries.

To kick it off, Charli posted a video demonstrating a few simple dance moves with a caption encouraging fans to "stay home and do the #distancedance. Because of her massive following, the video had 95,000 views in the first ten minutes. Ten hours later, it was up to 6 million views and it's skyrocketed from there.

@charlidamelio Stay home & do the ##distancedance. Tag me & the hashtag in your video. P&G will donate to Feeding America & Matthew 25 for first 3M videos ##PGPartner
♬ Big Up's (feat. Yung Nnelg) - Jordyn, Nic Da Kid

A Miami-based singer and entertainer, Persephone Dove, told Upworthy she was inspired to join the challenge after seeing the citizens in Italy performing on their balconies. "Now, I can safely brighten peoples' day, while still working towards my dreams of stardom and making the world a better place at the same time."

Bottom line: staying home saves lives. It's awe-inspiring to see what can happen when people come together. The very best of humanity shines during the darkest times, and this is true now. So, to everyone who is taking a tough situation and using it for good, we are here for it.

Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

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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