"I’m a very sad man now that she’s gone," Leroy explained. He'd been at his wife's side the moment she died of a heart attack. "I wish I could have saved her."

Leroy, a U.S. veteran, said he'd been doing well staying sober up until that tragedy struck a few months ago. Now he's back on the streets of New Orleans, once again battling alcoholism and homelessness.

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.


"I don’t have anything from her, no pictures, nothing," he said. "[Her] landlord set everything out on the sidewalk and thieves took it all."

Leroy's story is one of many featured by Fifty Sandwiches, a series documenting people experiencing homelessness across the country through stories and photos.

The project was created by Justin Doering, a recent college graduate from Idaho, who raised enough funds on Kickstarter last year to travel solo coast to coast in his van. 34 states and 14,000 miles later, Doering had photographed 78 homeless people and heard their stories.

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

While traveling, Doering found participants on the streets, in recovery programs, and staying in shelters. He shared meals with them, and in turn, they shared their stories.

Here are five people Doering spoke to during his travels:

1. Stephanie, a 25-year-old living in Texas, who simply wants to be understood.

"I became homeless when I lost my father in 2009 to cancer," she told him. "I was really close with him and that hurt a lot."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"[My dog] is for my Autism. I have high-functioning Autism on the Asperger’s side of the spectrum. It affects your socialization skills, but it affects me mostly emotionally.
***
I wish people would be more understanding to be able to help people like us. All they really say to us is to go get a job. That doesn’t help us. Most job places won’t give us work."

2. Lee, an artist in Venice Beach, California, who speaks out for social justice.

"If we continue to hate each other over skin color, the world will fucking crumble," Lee told Doering. "They say be the change that you want to see. That’s what I’m trying to do."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"People are like ‘I love your hair,’ ‘I love your outfit,' if that’s what you love then what do you really love? When people ask me how I am in the morning, do they really want to know?"

3. Ian from Oregon, who's fighting to get past a turbulent childhood and a family that hadn't accepted him.

"I had a home but I was worried because I was insecure with my own sexuality," Ian said. "I had an idea in my head that there was pressure on me to have a wife and kids. I realized I was homosexual when I was younger but I suppressed a lot of it."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"In my Christian family, I was raised with this idea that I was bad, morally wrong, and that lead me to think I had something seriously wrong with me psychologically. What is so wrong [with] me and why didn’t I think like the rest of my family?"

4. Sheila from Sacramento, who was motivated to turn her life around after living through the devastating death of her dog.

"As we drove to the river and I saw where the smoke was, I already knew," she said. "It was my [homeless] camp. It was my [dog] JJ. Two years of being on the river, and the only days I tie him up there is a fire."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"It had to take my dogs death to realize I didn’t want to be homeless anymore. Cause it could’ve been me.
***
At Saint John’s, I’m six months and eight days clean and sober. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s an amazing feeling. ... When I move on from here, I’m going to the pound and getting another rescue dog too."

5. Wendell in Atlanta, Georgia, who's learning how to live with a mental illness.

"I have a history of bipolar depression," Wendell explained. "I can’t use that as an excuse [for abusing drugs], I can’t blame anything. ... Bipolar depression is like being down in the pits and there’s no way to get out."

Photo courtesy of Justin Doering/Fifty Sandwiches.

"I had an abusive childhood. I grew up without a father and guys around the neighborhood knew that and took advantage of it. I was beaten up. I was molested. That was just what ‘growing up’ was for me. ... I’ve been clean six months now. I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m back in my own family again, I’m speaking with my kids. That gives me a lot of encouragement."

"Each interview left me in awe of their story," Doering says, a reminder why every individual voice matters.

Having been interested in the issue for years, the 22-year-old thought he understood the complexities of homelessness relatively well. But after speaking to dozens of folks from a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for ending up without a home, he realized he couldn't possibly "capture a collective face to homelessness" from just one trip across the country.

"Each story was far too distinct from one another to categorize as an entire subset of the culture," he says. And that's the whole point: People experiencing homelessness can't be boxed into a few stereotypes; they're as diverse and deserving of our love and support as anyone else.

He hopes Fifty Sandwiches helps close "the gap between the perception and the reality of homelessness." After all, no one should be defined by their housing situation, and most of the people he talked to didn't start out homeless. "I felt it would be important to share their stories and give a voice to a population whose cries often go unheard," Doering says.

"I ended every single interview asking the question, 'If you could give any advice to the public in their treatment of homeless people, what would it be?'" Doering explains. "The overwhelming response was along the lines of, 'Treat us like we are people.'"

You can read more stories and learn about Fifty Sandwiches on the project's website.

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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As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.

Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

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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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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Your cat knows you better than you think.

Cats are often seen as being aloof or standoffish, even with their owners. Of course, that differs based on who that cat lives with and their lifetime of experience with humans. But when compared to man’s best friend, cats usually seem less interested in those around them, regardless of species.

However, a new study out of Japan has found that cats may be paying more attention to their fellow felines and human friends than most people thought. In fact, they could be listening to human conversations.

"What we discovered is astonishing," Saho Takagi, a research fellow specializing in animal science at Azabu University in Kanagawa Prefecture, told The Asahi Shimbun. "I want people to know the truth. Felines do not appear to listen to people's conversations, but as a matter of fact, they do."

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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.

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