In April 1917, Marjory Stoneman Douglas boarded a train in Miami with a bunch of other charismatic suffragettes.

Their destination was the state capital, Tallahassee, where they would eloquently make the case for women’s right to vote. “We could have been talking to a bunch of dead mackerel, for all the response we got,” said Douglas.

She had little respect for the “wool-hat boys,” the condescending, small-minded boors who were the state representatives. The women’s entreaties fell on stupid ears, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas would later remark that she was speaking “over the heads of the audience, to a future generation.”


That generation is here.

All illustrations by Sarah Lazarovic.

Over the past months, I’ve fallen in love with Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

I grew up not far from the school in Parkland that bears her name, where a mass shooting left 17 people dead and ignited a million young anti-violence activists. Yet, in my 20-odd sunburnt years in Florida, I had never once wondered who she was. The horror of the Parkland shooting changed all that.

How did I not know she had been Miami’s champion of women’s suffrage, civil rights, and the Everglades? How had I not known about this unconventional wit and writer and activist, the one who wore giant hats, slept until 10, wrote all day, and went dancing whenever she could?

Stoneman Douglas had fabulous oratory skills (if you don’t mind her saying so) that she got during her time at Wellesley College.

She referred to herself as "The Elocutioner," which was an apt superhero name for someone who could convince rowdy rooms to see straight on issues ranging from women’s rights to protecting migrant workers.

A reporter once remarked that “she had a tongue like a switchblade and the moral authority to embarrass bureaucrats and politicians and make things happen.”

Today, the energized students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas manifest their namesake’s strength of opinion and activism in a way I can’t imagine happening at a school with any lesser name, a Central High or a Riverdale.

Once upon a time, Stoneman Douglas’ literary agent sold one-liners that she authored to various publications. Now, the Twitter activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lob perfectly incisive zingers at Marco Rubio.

They are, in a very real way, her students.

It’s impossible not to imagine how proud Stoneman Douglas would have been of everything these students have done.

They were forced to become activists overnight, and they’ve handled the job so compellingly that the world is listening.

Stoneman Douglas herself took the long road to activism. For years she argued for good sense on many issues in her sharp and pleasantly zany Miami Herald column, "The Galley."

But it was only in time that she became the activist Florida needed her to be. “The Everglades: River of Grass,” Douglas’ first book, was published when she was 57. Of course, when you live to 108 — which she did — that’s barely middle age.

“River of Grass” sold hundreds of thousands of copies and forced the world to care about the Everglades. My favorite historical photo is of Douglas signing copies of her book in Burdines, a Florida department store where I spent my mall-rat years buying Hypercolor t-shirts.

Florida is a place where conservation and development fight eternally, so it’s less an irony than a matter of course that the city of Parkland owes its comfortable land to the partial draining of the Everglades. It’s something Marjory wouldn’t have liked. But Florida rarely says no to development, especially if it comes in the shape of a stucco strip mall with a nail salon and smoothie shop.

The Florida that Stoneman Douglas helped shape has many, many imperfections — but it’s certainly a more just and a more beautiful place because of her efforts.

What was so wonderful about Marjory Stoneman Douglas was her ability to staunchly advocate for animals, for plants, and for people — without letting setbacks and criticism defeat her tenacity or crush her wit.

Sound familiar?

This story originally appeared in YES! Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

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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