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What's life like in Aleppo? This 7-year-old girl wants to show you.

Using Twitter, Bana al-Abed and her mother show us what life is like in Aleppo.

Most 7-year-olds don't have to grow up in a war zone; Bana al-Abed does.

Back in September, Bana and her mother, Fatemah, opened a Twitter account and, like many Twitter users, began sharing details from their daily lives. Unlike most Twitter users, however, Bana and Fatemah live in Aleppo, Syria.

Like other kids her age, Bana likes to spend time reading, writing, and drawing. Unlike others, escaping into reading is a distraction from the war, and her drawings are meant to get the attention of world leaders like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and U.S. President Barack Obama.


For more than five years, civil war has ravaged Syria. Perhaps no city understands this quite as well as Aleppo.

As is often the case, the war in Syria is complicated beyond a simple "good guys vs. bad guys" narrative. Syrian forces, led by Assad's regime, along with Russia, have taken on rebel groups within the country — including ISIS. While Russia's involvement is for the stated purpose of fighting ISIS, the country's airstrikes have taken out hospitals, schools, and resulted in the deaths of many civilians.

250,000 Syrian citizens have been killed, and more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced because of the war. Many of those who've fled their homes have sought refugee status; others, like Bana and Fatemah, have stayed behind. This is their home, and it's being destroyed.

Syrian Civil Defence members search for victims in a destroyed building after reported air strikes in Aleppo in October 2016. Photo by Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images.

Bana's tweets are a powerful reminder that as bombs fall, innocent lives are lost every day. She is a glimmer of humanity in a place that is often portrayed as faceless and lifeless.

Life seems pretty grim for the 7-year-old, who tweeted, "I am very afraid I will die tonight," on Oct. 2.

Death is inescapable and all around her. Bana has posted photos of dead children and dismembered limbs. (Warning: Those images are very graphic.) It's sad that anyone, let alone a child, should have to witness these kinds of horrors on a daily basis.

Even the little joys in her life, such as the garden where she used to play, have been taken from her by the cruelty of war.

Still, in all the sadness and worry, Bana holds out hope for a better world — one without bombs, killing, and destruction.

"A time will come when it's raining normal and not raining bombs in Syria," Fatemah tweeted on Nov. 2. "Good night dear friends."

In recent days, the bombings have gotten worse, and Bana's messages have become more direct.

On Nov. 24, Bana posted a video with a simple message: "Someone save me."

On Nov. 27, Fatemah shared a farewell message, certain that she and Bana would die in that night's bombings.

Luckily, they survived the attack. Their home was destroyed, and they witnessed their friends' deaths. But they're still here.

The very next day, Fatemah tweeted that they were under attack again.

It's easy to feel detached when something is happening half a world away. Bana's tweets are a reminder of just what is at stake if we ignore what's happening in Aleppo. Luckily, there are some great groups doing important work to help people like Bana and Fatemah on the ground in Aleppo.

There are steps you can take to help Bana, Fatemah, and others in Aleppo.

Groups like the Syrian American Medical Society and Doctors Without Borders have been crucial in providing first-line medical help to civilians affected by the war. With the city's hospitals destroyed, their work is more important than ever. Questscope has been instrumental in getting Syrians basic supplies for living, and Save the Children has launched its own humanitarian response in the city.

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.

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