Comedian Andy Richter is best known as Conan O'Brien's quippy sidekick.

You may also know him as the guy who absolutely crushed CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on "Celebrity Jeopardy" to raise money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

Andy and Conan probably up to some shenanigans. Photo via Team Coco/YouTube.


Other than that, though, he keeps a relatively low profile.

Recently, Richter was invited to speak at the Sexy Beast Gala for Planned Parenthood, where he shared a surprisingly personal and meaningful story.  

“I’d like to share a story,” he began (emphasis mine):

"In 1992, my girlfriend and I were having a rough time. We’d been performing in a show together for a couple of years, but it had come to an end, and we found ourselves living apart. She was in New York City working three jobs; I was in Chicago jobless and sleeping on my mother’s couch. The strain of living apart, and the stress of being two young people attempting to make a living as performers and writers was really taking a toll on our relationship. So when she called me to tell me that she was pregnant, it was not exactly happy news."

Richter went on to explain that in that difficult moment, he was immensely grateful for the existence of Planned Parenthood.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

He continued:

"Luckily for us, Planned Parenthood existed. My girlfriend knew that she was not ready for motherhood, and I knew that I was in no way prepared to be a father. I drove from Chicago in my battered old Toyota pickup to be with her when she went to Planned Parenthood to terminate her pregnancy.

Her choice to get an abortion was a choice that she made with assuredness. She knew that she was doing the right thing for everyone involved. But I can’t say it was easy. She was sad, and I was sad, and it was sad. But to this day, I know that she will tell you that she made the right decision."

Shortly after, the stress and strain of their long-distance relationship took its toll, and Richter and his girlfriend broke up.

But not for long, he explained:

"What seems like five minutes after that, we realized that breaking up was the stupidest thing we’d ever done. So we got back together, and we got engaged, and we got married, and we had a couple kids, and a parrot and two dogs. And so far, we’ve been married for 22 wonderful years.

Planned Parenthood gave two young struggling people the ability to do the thing that is in their name: We got to plan parenthood.

When we could barely care for ourselves, much less a newborn, we were able to choose the time when we brought a child into our lives. Planned Parenthood allowed my wife to make the decisions she needed to make in order to control her body and her health, and maintain her life and her future. And for that, I will be eternally grateful."



Andy Richter (far right) and his family in 2015. Photo via Team Coco/YouTube.

Despite the fact that the procedure is common and has been federally legal for 43 years, abortion is still vilified, stigmatized, and blatantly misrepresented in the media.

Constant inflammatory rhetoric makes abortion providers like Planned Parenthood frequent targets for violence.

In November 2015, three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs when a man walked in and opened fire. It was mere months after an anti-abortion group started releasing misleading videos about Planned Parenthood's practices.

Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images.

The more people like Richter share their positive experiences with abortion, the more we can change the conversation around it.

In August 2016, actress Naya Rivera revealed in her book that she had an abortion while shooting "Glee." She told People that she made the decision to publicly share that part of her life because abortion "is not something a lot of people talk about. ... But I hope someone out there gets something out of [her story]." Comedian Chelsea Handler, "Girls" actor Jemima Kirke, and rapper Nicki Minaj have also opened up about their own experiences with abortion in recent years.

The reality of abortion is in stories like Andy's, Naya's, Chelsea's, Jemima's, and Nicki's. It's in the stories of the 1 in 3 women who will use their right to an abortion in their lifetimes.

In Richter's case, he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife faced a difficult decision and had to make a choice. The choice they made allowed them to start a family on their own terms, when they were ready to support one.

Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages via AP Images.

On a broader scale, safe access to abortion helps make society better for everyone by reducing child abuse, narrowing the gender gap, reducing crime, and (like it did for Richter and his wife) strengthening relationships — as people aren't forced to bring a child into the world that they don't feel equipped to take care of.

Every story like this that gets shared helps correct the misinformation that has been spread by the anti-abortion movement. These stories help the millions of people that Planned Parenthood reaches every year feel more secure in their ability to exercise their right to make decisions about their health, their safety, and their lives. And that's a good thing.

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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