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Delta

Watch the unforgettable celebration Patricia threw for her mother, then scroll down to see how this wild week came to life.

Since Patricia moved to the United States nine years ago from Costa Rica, she hasn't been able to see her extended family as much as she wants.

She's been with her husband, David, for eight years, and together they have a 6-year-old son, David Jr. But except for the two of them, Patricia has no family in the United States.


David Sr., David Jr. and Patricia near their home in New York. Images via Delta/YouTube.

"Everybody is [in Costa Rica]," said Patricia. "My mom, my sister, my brother, my other brother, my younger brother, my cousins, aunts, uncles, my dad."

In fact, Patricia's family has never met her husband and only met her son once on a short trip a few years ago. She keeps in touch with her family via phone, Skype, and e-mail, but being far away remains a challenge, especially for Patricia's mom, Carmela.

"It's hard," Patricia said. "It's hard for everybody, for her, for me, for my son."

Patricia entered Delta's My Next Trip Back contest with the goal of making up for lost time.

As part of the contest, Delta asked for story submissions to be considered. She described how she hoped to win and return to Costa Rica to celebrate her mother's birthday — not just once, but SEVEN times. She wanted to throw parties for each of the birthdays she missed after moving to the States. And what better way to celebrate her mom and bring the whole family together?

The magnet on Patricia's fridge reads, "Missing someone?"

Just weeks after hearing the ad for the contest on the radio, Patricia was thrilled to learn she'd won.

Delta flew Patricia and her husband and son to Costa Rica...

...where her very happy family met them at the airport.

Except for Carmela. Patricia saved the biggest surprise for her.

While the Delta crew interviewed Carmela in her kitchen, Patricia and her family waited outside.

When the time was right, it was up to David Jr. to pull off the big reveal.

Carmela was beside herself. Hugs, tears, smiles, and a few more hugs for good measure. This was the homecoming Patricia had dreamed about.

Now that the surprise was out, Patricia and her family could get to the business of celebrating their matriarch.

With plenty of confetti...

...silliness...

...fireworks...

...and cake.

Lots and lots of cake.

And while seven parties is enough to make any mom feel like royalty, the real gift for her was having her family together for the first time in a long time.

Carmela and David Sr. dance together at one of her seven celebrations. Photo by Patricia Rios, used with permission.

Carmela had grown up without much money, and after raising a family of her own, she wasn't accustomed to being the center of attention.

"My mom [felt like a] queen," Patricia said. " She is our queen, but she [thinks] 'Oh it's for me? Just for me? This music is for me? I've never had something like that.'"

And coupled with the chance to reunite her family for an unforgettable celebration? There's just nothing like it.

"For us, it was a miracle," said Patricia. "It was a dream."


Or maybe, just maybe, it was a wish coming true.

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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