Something is missing from this picture.

I'll give you a hint: It's the same thing that was missing from this picture, taken a month earlier.

Photo by Ron Sachs/Getty Images.

In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting any foreign aid organization that performs abortions from receiving federal funds.


No women were there to witness it.

Now Trump is moving forward with plans to make significant changes to America's health care system. And — as Trump's tweet showed — once again, women are nowhere to be seen.

50% of all Americans are women. Much like men, women sometimes get sick and have to go to the doctor. They also face some unique health care challenges — particularly related to the having of babies and the planning of if or when to have them.  

While it's true that none of the health insurance CEOs in the photo Trump tweeted are women and that his Health and Human Services secretary is a man and that all of his top advisers are male, sure, it's certainly possible his administration will involve women in its health care project somewhere along the line.

But given that he hasn't seen fit to include women thus far, the optics sure are fishy.

Not consulting women on health policy decisions leaves women with fewer options and more expensive care.

Before Obamacare prohibited "gender rating" health plans, women on some plans paid up to 80% more in premiums than men — often on the grounds that women's specific health care requirements, like birth control, gynecology, and mammograms, are somehow "extra."

Obamacare's contraception mandate, which requires insurers to cover birth control, is already under fire from conservative lawmakers who want to strike it from law, again on the assumption that such coverage should be considered optional because men don't require it.

Separately, Congress is getting dangerously close to defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection care, and reproductive health services to millions of women every year. The organization has already issued a warning that our existing infrastructure can't absorb the patients who would be displaced if it's forced to shut down.

This is what happens when the people in charge — who are often men — don't stop to ask women what they need.

Trump, historically, hasn't been all that great at understanding things that are outside his own very specific personal experience.

At a recent press conference, Trump expressed his frustration with the slow pace of Obamacare reform, saying, "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated." While it's true that he probably didn't realize that (after all, as a lifelong rich person, he's probably never had to worry about health care), just about everyone else on planet Earth — right, left, and center — did.

Trump, like most members of Congress and, apparently, health insurance company CEOs, has never been a woman. He's never been pregnant. He's never taken hormonal birth control. He's never had a mammogram or a pap smear. He's probably never bought tampons. The notion that he and a dozen male health honchos can hammer out a plan that's fundamentally fair to women and takes their particular challenges into account without consulting or involving women in the process is dubious at best.

The obvious next step? Trump needs to ask women what they need out of a health care law.

Women! Photo via iStock.

The good news is that there are plenty who are more than qualified to give the president some notes. He could ask any number of the dozens of female Ph.D.s at American universities who study health policy. He could ask Oregon Gov. Kate Brown or Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who oversaw successful implementations of the Affordable Care Act in their states.

Health insurer CEOs certainly aren't the be-all-end-all of advice, but if Trump wanted to ask one, he could get even in touch with Karen Ignagni of EmblemHealth.

Getting some women in the room isn't a panacea.

Trump is stubborn, and ultimately Congress is going to be the primary driver of Obamacare repeal and replace anyway. But for a president whose opinion seems to be moved by the last person he spoke to, having some qualified ladies tell him about the need for birth control, safe abortion, and cervical cancer screenings couldn't hurt. And he should want to hear from them!

Heck, even asking Ivanka would be a step forward.

She seems to favor a more gender-balanced approach to decision-making after all.

It might not change his approach.

But dear God. He could at least ask.

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.

via Pexels

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