In recent years, the filibuster has become an increasingly important part of how our government operates (or, when used to the extreme, how it doesn't operate).

Right now, in the wake of the election, there's an important battle about the filibuster beginning to form that could help shape the future of our country for decades to come.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) speaks after waging an almost 15-hour filibuster to force a vote on gun control on June 15, 2016. Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images.


The filibuster is an old parliamentary tool that allows the minority party to band together to block or delay a piece of legislation. When the results rolled in on election night and the Republican party found itself holding the majority of all three branches of government, there was talk of trying to weaken the filibuster rules. Doing so would make it nearly impossible for Democrats in Congress to outvote their Republican colleagues or get enough votes to get their own bills passed.

Make no mistake: This is something the Republican Party could do if it wanted, when it sets the new set of standing rules in the Senate come January. All it takes is a simple majority of 51 votes (there will be 51 Republican senators at the start of the new session). There's even the so called "nuclear option," which would eliminate the filibuster altogether. But it likely won't, and what makes this interesting is who is resisting weakening the filibuster rules and what they're arguing for.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chamber's longest-serving Republican, is standing up for ... Senate Democrats.

Hatch, who has served nearly 40 years in the Senate, knows a thing or two about the importance of minority powers as a form of checks and balances.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Republicans will take control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate in January — something that's only been the case for four years of Hatch's tenure. It's a unique position to be in, for sure — one that many of his Republican colleagues are surely thrilled about.

Hatch thinks that eliminating the filibuster would be a very bad idea, and he's probably right.

The only thing standing in the way of enacting Republicans' plans — which could include everything from repealing health care reform to making crucial changes to Social Security and Medicare — is the filibuster. Without it, there's barely a reason for the Democratic minority to show up to work in the morning, and there's no incentive for Republicans to seek compromise.

President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images.

That, in part, is why Hatch thinks we need to leave the filibuster as is.

"Are you kidding?" Hatch responded to a question asked by The Huffington Post about ending the filibuster. "I’m one of the biggest advocates for the filibuster. It’s the only way to protect the minority, and we’ve been in the minority a lot more than we’ve been in the majority. It’s just a great, great protection for the minority."

Yes, the party in power should (and will) control the congressional agenda. That doesn't mean it should cut others out of the process entirely.

When the party in the minority abuses the filibuster and uses it to stop everything being pushed through by the majority party, it's easy to see why some would want to do away with it (especially those in the majority). When they were in power, Democrats vented their frustrations about the Republicans' tendency to use the filibuster to block everything from pieces of legislation to federal judgeships.

Politics works best when those participating do so with a sense of compromise in their approach.

In 2013, Senate Democrats criticized Republicans' use of the filibuster. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

In January, as the Senate convenes for a new session, they'll vote on a new set of rules to determine whether or not to keep the filibuster.

Sure, wiping it out would clear the way for Republicans to get what they want right now. But as Hatch said, he knows what it's like being in the minority party. Come 2018, 2020, 2022, or 2024, the Democrats might regain control of Congress. There's no such thing as a permanent majority in U.S. politics.

Hatch, at 82 years old, is thinking to the future, even if it makes him a little less popular with his party in the present. Here's hoping his colleagues follow his lead, as some have already signaled they will.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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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