Elin Errson heard a man was being deported back to Afghanistan from Sweden. She wasn't going to let that happen.  

On July 23, Errson did the only thing she thought she could do: She bought a ticket for his flight and protested.

The 21-year-old Swede knew the pilot could not take off without all passengers seated. So she refused to sit down on the plane to halt the man's deportation, even if it meant facing fines or jail time. Errson live-streamed her protest.


Standing Up Against Deportation

Because an Afghan was supposed to be deported on a flight to Istanbul, activist Elin Ersson refused to sit down. What happens in the next minutes shakes everyone on board…

Posted by DW Stories on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan," she said in her live-stream. "I am trying to change my country's rules. I don't like them. It is not right to send people to hell."

At first, other passengers and crew members were aggravated with her refusal to sit down. Some attempted to take her phone away, but she didn't let that deter her. She kept standing and kept live-streaming.

Other passengers joined her in protest after their initial hesitation. And soon enough, Errson and the asylum-seeker were removed from the plane, with passengers — and the world — applauding.

Errson's act of defiance illustrates just one of the many radical ways ordinary people can engage in human rights activism.

There's often this misconception that direct action with issues like immigration or international conflict requires a mass movement of people. But sometimes, you only need a handful of people — or even one person — to make a significant impact for good. Errson's plane protest is a great example.

In the past few years, we've seen more examples of smaller-scale direct actions against deportation proceedings. There's been an effective trend of activists blocking ICE buses filled with undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

In 2013, a group of activists chained themselves to the tires of a bus — but they didn't stop there. Some went to the courthouse and chained themselves to the entrance. Why? They wanted to prevent authorities from processing deportation orders and jail sentences for undocumented immigrants.

In June, another group of protesters fighting President Donald Trump's family separation policy attempted to block a bus full of migrant kids from crossing the border.

This summer, IfNotNow — a progressive Jewish American group — are asking Birthright Israel participants to speak up on during their tours and question the organization's erasure of Palestinians. One did so successfully. Some are even heading to airports to meet with Birthright Israel participants and give them educational materials about Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Now more than ever, it's imperative for people to take a stand.

Direct action might seem daunting. It's easier to go with the flow and ignore the harsh realities others face around us. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable, but sometimes discomfort is needed to bring about positive social change.

But Errson's words in her live-stream ring true: "What is more important, a life or your time?"

Sure, preventing a plane from taking off or blocking people from entering a courthouse can be an inconvenience for both activists and bystanders, but that shouldn't matter. In lot of these situations, like this one, it could be a matter of life or death for a vulnerable person.

It's up to each of us to decide which side we want to be on.

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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