Thousands of people are organizing a huge, nationwide vigil at detention camps across America.

Millions of Americans are seeing reports of migrants suffering abusive conditions in U.S. custody and wondering what they can do.

When you hear one story, you may assume it's an anomaly. When you hear a few stories, you might think they're just rumors. But at this point, the number of reports from on-the-ground sources documenting blatant human rights abuses on our soil cannot be ignored.

We have doctors, lawyers, public health officials, civil rights experts, and reporters sharing horrifying first-hand accounts of what is happening to people—to children—we have detained.

We have administration officials on video telling incredulous judges that children in overcrowded detention centers do not need access to showers, soap, toothbrushes, or blankets.

We have people arguing over whether our detention camps should be "technically" considered concentration camps, as if the question itself is not a sign that we've crossed a line somewhere.

We have reports of thousands of immigrant children being sexually abused in detention centers, some of them by staff members themselves.

We have innocent children dying in our custody.

Here's part of a first-hand account from Warren Binford, an internationally recognized children's rights scholar and Director of the Clinical Law Program at Willamette University in Oregon. She visited a Clint, Texas detention facility, spoke with the children being held inside, and shared what she found with PBS:

"Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision.

We have children caring for other young children. For example, we saw a little boy in diapers — or he had no diapers on. He should have had a diaper on. He was 2 years old. And when I was asked why he didn't have diapers on, I was told he didn't need it.

He immediately urinated. And he was in the care of another child. Children cannot take care of children, and yet that's how they are trying to run this facility. The children are hardly being fed anything nutritious, and they are being medically neglected.

We're seeing a flu outbreak, and we're also seeing a lice infestation. It is — we have children sleeping on the floor. It's the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections."

A mass mobilization effort is underway to stand in solidarity against human detention camps on July 12.

There are many ways that people have suggested helping. Donating money to legal advocacy groups who specialize in immigration law definitely helps. But what if we want to make a strong, unified stand against these atrocities? Millions of us want to speak as one voice to say, "No more of this. Not on our soil. Not on our watch."

Enter "Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps." On July 12, a mass gathering will take place at detention centers around the country, in addition to local communities, to shed a literal light on the inhumane conditions being faced by asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The mission of Lights of Liberty is simple:

"We are a coalition of people, many of whom are mothers, dedicated to human rights, and the fundamental principle behind democracy that all human beings have a right to life, liberty and dignity.

We are partnering with national, regional and local communities and organizations who believe that these fundamental rights are not negotiable and are willing to protect them.

On Friday July 12th, 2019, Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps, will bring thousands of Americans to detention camps across the country, into the streets and into their own front yards, to protest the inhumane conditions faced by refugees."

As of today, vigils are scheduled in 75 locations around the country and the world, with more being added every day. If you want to find an event near you or organize a vigil in your area, go here.

"Now is a time to stand for what is best in all of us, to stop the worst of us."

Organizations are lining up to sponsor the Lights of Liberty vigil. The United Farm Workers Foundation, The Dolores Huerta Foundation, Al Otro Lado, New Sanctuary Coalition, Black Movement Law Project, V-Day, the ACLU of Southern California , One Billion Rising, Code Pink, and more than a dozen other organizations have already signed up to sponsor the vigil. The main event is scheduled to take place in El Paso, Texas, where legislators, activists, organizers, and members of impacted communities are expected to speak at 7pm, leading up to the nationwide candlelight moment of silence at 9pm.

"We shine a light on the inhumane treatment of migrants and refugees by the current administration. To be silent is to be complicit. To sit this out is to be complacent. Now is a time to stand for what is best in all of us, to stop the worst of us. We must stand for one another. At New Sanctuary Coalition, we hold in our hearts a vision of a world worth fighting for," said Ravi Ragbir, Executive Director of New Sanctuary Coalition, in a press release.

"I've been inside these camps, and the conditions are beyond description. Twenty-four adults and six children that we know of have already died as a result," said Toby Gialluca, lawyer, activist and member of the organizing team of Lights for Liberty. "The world must take a stand against this administration and stop these camps before more lives are lost."

There is no doubt that it's hard to handle an influx of migrants and asylum-seekers. But that doesn't excuse torturing families and children. The administration has admitted to tearing children from their mother's arms on purpose to deter illegal border crossings, while at the same time blocking asylum seekers at trying to come legally through ports of entry. That leaves desperate people in impossible circumstances, and creates an even greater crisis.

There's no excuse for treatment like this. It's time to make our voices heard. Mark your calendars for July 12.

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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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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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