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Trump misses the mark on his gun response, and we deserve better.

It's time for more than just "thoughts and prayers."

On Feb. 14, a former student walked into Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he shot and killed 17 people.

It was the 18th school shooting in this year's first 45 days. Like a number of other recent shootings, the gunman used a highly customizable AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Like many more, the shooter had a history of domestic violence.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, classmates of the suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, described him as “creepy and weird" and an "outcast" known for spreading anti-Muslim hate and wearing President Trump's ubiquitous "Make America Great Again" hat.


Students react following the shooting. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images.

When it came time to address the country in the wake of this tragedy, Trump did what many politicians do in these situations: He blamed mental illness.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior," Trump tweeted Thursday morning. "Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

But then what? In fact, according to BuzzFeed, the FBI was made aware of Cruz as a potential school shooting threat back in September. Cruz allegedly posted online, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

At what point should he have been stopped? Trump placed blame on people for not reporting Cruz to law enforcement, when in fact, he was.

Then there's the matter of mental health.

Trump addressed the county from the White House on Feb. 15, 2018. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

Speaking from the White House, Trump managed to avoid mentioning the word "gun" in his televised address. Rather, he tossed in a few religious references, saying, "In these moments of heartache and darkness, we hold onto God's word in Scripture: 'I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.'"

He committed to visiting the school sometime in the near future, and said that the country needs to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health."

Gun violence isn't a mental health issue, and even if it were, our government is failing to address "the difficult issue of mental health," generally.

A 2014 study by Drs. Jonathan M. Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish set out to explore the connection between mental illness and mass shootings.

Together, Metzl and MacLeish examined four of the major arguments made in the wake of mass shootings: that mental illness causes gun violence, that a psychiatric diagnosis can predict future violence, that we should fear "mentally ill loners," and that gun control won't prevent future mass shootings.

What they found was that mental illness and gun violence have a tenuous connection at best, and that a lot of the rhetoric around that connection is vastly oversimplified.

Even if mental health and gun violence shared a convincing causal relationship, the fact is that this administration has repeatedly tried to gut Americans' access to health care — including mental health That leaves us with just two options: Either our politicians don't believe this is actually a mental health issue, or they think it is but don't care enough to fix it.

Neither option is cutting it. We deserve better — so do our kids.

Columbine was 25 fatal school shootings ago. We've done shockingly little to prevent this from happening again. Our collective shrug has created a generation that sees this as a normal part of life.

But even they're not having it anymore. On the morning of Feb. 15, Parkland students Kelsey Friend and David Hogg went on CNN, and pointed out what's painfully obvious about solutions that involve little more than offering "thoughts and prayers" and blaming mental health. "What we need more than [thoughts and prayers] is action," said Hogg.

"We're children," he said. "You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role."

GIFs via CNN/Twitter.

Gun violence is a complex issue, which is why it's so important that it be studied. Unfortunately, we can't even get that right.

In 1996, Republicans in Congress put an end to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s studies about gun-related injuries and death. Fearing massive cuts to their overall funding, the CDC agreed to end its gun violence research.

In 2013, President Obama lifted the ban on the CDC's gun violence research. Unfortunately, again fearing backlash from pro-gun members of Congress who control the agency's budget, they've been reluctant to wade back into the divisive issue.

The first step to address the epidemic of gun violence is to acknowledge that there is, indeed, an epidemic of gun violence in America. We deserve leadership on this issue that goes beyond shrugging and blaming mental illness or offering our thoughts and prayers to victims.

We need action — and we need it now.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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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.

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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.

Peter Bence's performance of "Africa" is both entertaining and impressive.

Toto's "Africa" is one of the most beloved pop songs of all time. In fact, it's been touted by at least one neural scientist and by countless music fans as the No. 1 song ever written.

For a song released in the early 1980s, it has stood the test of time consistently, never feeling dated or constrained by its decade. "Africa" is practically in a genre of its own, which is probably why it's been covered so many times in so many styles by so many artists.

One rendition that's getting viral attention—not for the first time—may be unlike any you've ever seen.

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Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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