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via National Geographic

Nat Geo's 'Year in Pictures 2021'

Even though 2021 was a year marred by a global pandemic, National Geographic still found a way to add 2 million photos to its vast archives this year. The publication is commemorating the tremendous work its photographers have done in 2021 by sharing some of their most remarkable shots in the January issue as part of its Year in Pictures campaign.

National Geographic hopes its readers will see it as more than “a collection of pretty photographs,” Whitney Johnson, director of visuals and immersive experiences, told National Geographic.

The images were chosen as powerful examples of human resilience in the face of a pandemic and climate crisis.

“In many ways, there are messages of hope, there are messages of compassion for one and another,” said Kathy Moran, deputy director of photography at National Geographic. “A number of the images featured show that there is hope, resilience, and there are solutions to many of the problems that we are facing as a society.”

National Geographic was kind enough to share some photos with Upworthy that embody 2021’s turbulence—from political rancor and climate change to COVID-19 developments and conflicts around the globe.

You can see more images on its Year in Pictures site. (You just have to provide your email.)


Dar Yasin/AP PHOTO

With a cooler of COVID-19 vaccines in hand, Nazir Ahmed looks for shepherds and nomadic herders in the meadows of Tosamaidan, southwest of Srinagar in the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In the race to vaccinate against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, healthcare workers have gone to extreme lengths to reach remote communities.

From Srinagar, it took Ahmed and a half dozen colleagues three hours driving and then walking to reach this isolated spot. They spent four hours searching for people and vaccinated more than 10.

Photo by Lynsey Addario

Firefighters spent months in 2021 battling to contain California's Dixie fire, which burned nearly a million acres and destroyed most of Greenville, a town with population of around 1000. The number and size of wildfires across western North America have increased in recent years, driven in part by climate change, which intensifies hot, dry conditions that suck water from living and dead plants, making them likelier to burn.

Part of the solution, scientists agree, is more widespread use of "good" fire: controlled, low-intensity burns that clear leaf litter and brush from the forest floor, reducing the fuel for wildfires.

Photo by Mel D. Cole

Police officer Michael Fanone struggles against Trump supporters after they dragged him down the steps of the U.S. Capitol. At a rally earlier that day, then President Donald Trump falsely claimed that he'd won the 2020 presidential election "in a landslide" and urged supporters to go to the Capitol, where the House of Representatives was certifying the election results.

"You'll never take back our country with weakness," Trump said. Five people died as a result of the attack. Some 140 police officers were injured. More than 600 people have been arrested. The assault on the Capitol is the focus of a congressional investigation.

Reuben Wu/National Geographic

Stonehenge, built some 5,000 years ago in southern England, first underwent conservation work in 1901 after one of the sarsens and its lintel fell—a concern for public safety. Preservation this past September involved repairing cracks and repacking joints with mortar to stabilize the stones and protect them from erosion.

Two months earlier, a judge had ruled that plans to move the nearby highway underground to reduce traffic and noise were unlawful, suspending a project many archaeologists worried would destroy undiscovered artifacts. Photographer Reuben Wu layered 11 exposures taken over 30 minutes to create the lighting effects in this image.

Photo by Kiana Hayeri

The U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, after a 20-year occupation, ended what’s been called America’s longest modern war. But the war there goes on for Hafiza, 70, seen here. She has lived near the city of Faizabad since the Taliban took over her home village in 2019.

Her sons’ choices leave Hafiza grieved and on uncertain ground: Two of them fought with the Afghan National Army, one with a militia and one with the Taliban. The fighting in Afghanistan was among dozens of ongoing conflicts around the world in 2021—recent to ancient, international to regional, stoked by greed, creed or history.

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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