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Something fascinating happened after these male baboons died. Men should keep this in mind.

The baboons show up halfway through. Just go with me here for a bit.

Men.


(Men)


We're awesome.

Totally awesome.

We like sports.

Cars.

Sports cars.

And car sports.

(We invented sh*t like this.)

So yeah, we're pretty much the best. Cut and print.

And sure, men are responsible for a lot of really awful, terrible, messed-up things in the world.

Like war. And poison gas. And Bumfights. (Do not Google Bumfights, dear God).

But we can't help it.

After all, we're naturally aggressive and violent.

(MANLY YELLING!)

And kind of thickheaded. And dominant. And emotionless.

It's just common knowledge.

It's how we're wired. Biologically.

It's in our DNA.

It all goes back to monkeys, you see?

Because we were monkeys once. And obviously, if you were a dude monkey, you had to be the biggest, baddest, most thickheaded, most dominant monkey. Because only the biggest, baddest, most thickheaded, most dominant monkeys got to mate with the lady monkeys and produce little monkey babies, who then went on to be big, bad boy monkeys themselves. And so on and so forth.

It's just, like, natural selection, bro. Evolution. Evolution and natural selection.

(Or maybe survival of the fittest? All those things are the same, right?)

Or so we've been told.

Except, well...

Have you ever, like, met any monkeys?

Like, some actual monkeys?

(Actual monkeys)

Like the baboons in that picture.

Baboons and humans share about 92% of our DNA. We're pretty close relatives. And, like humans, baboons are highly social animals. They travel in big packs called troops. And within each troop, there's a clear hierarchy. The biggest, most aggressive males are in charge.

And they're basically terrible jerks.

They hog all the resources. They pick on the smaller males. They mate with any female whenever, wherever they want. You know, just like you'd expect from a bunch of dude monkeys.

But here's the thing.

One day way back in the day, biologist Robert Sapolsky was studying a particular troop of baboons. And basically, they were just going along being their normal, gross selves. Until they were hit by a nasty strain of tuberculosis.

But weirdly, it only affected certain members of the population...

Specifically, the alpha males, who all died.

(Thus fulfilling the LiveJournal fantasies of every nerdy middle-school baboon.)

The females and the beta males? They survived.

And what's kind of amazing is what happened next. The relevant part starts at 44:30.

Basically, Sapolsky expected the troop to return to normal, with the remaining male baboons sliding into the roles of the alphas who had died.

But that didn't happen.

Instead, the surviving male baboons were like...

And the females were like...

So they just decided, as a group, to chill the heck out...

...and spend a lot more time grooming and feeding one another rather than beating each other up, and just generally be more respectful of one another.

Each time a new baboon joined the troop and tried to be a violent, aggressive jerkweed, the existing members of the troop shut it down.

They developed a culture.

(SFW!)

A culture that was different than 99% of all other baboon troops, and contrary to everything we thought we knew about them.

So where does that leave us men?

(Men!)

Well, we're told that we're programmed to be just like monkeys.

(The majesty!)

That it's burned into our DNA. That the only way to get to the top is to be violent, aggressive, and dominant.

(No, sir, you can't upgrade to business class with a bunch of expired Chuck E. Cheese's tickets.)

But it turns out that monkeys might not even be like monkeys.

(Though chasing those giant pelican-y things sure seems like a good time).

Not like we think they are, anyway.

Not necessarily.

And no, one case study doesn't "prove" that nurture is more important than nature or vice versa.

(That's not how science works, yo.)

But it does prove that we're not fated to behave any one certain way. We're not.

And it suggests that culture might be just as important, if not more important, than biology.

Which is great news.

Because culture, unlike biology, can change.

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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