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NFL

When my sister used the words "free bleeding," I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

Rachel had started an organization called Kitty Packs to help eradicate free bleeding in the homeless community, and she wanted my support. The only problem? I really didn't know what "free bleeding" was.

My name is Joshua Garnett. I’m an offensive guard for the San Francisco 49ers. I bleed all the time. And I was a human biology major at Stanford too, so blood and the human body are subjects I’m pretty familiar with. But this one had me stumped, so I asked Rachel to sit down and explain to me what it was all about.


Joshua Garnett is an offensive guard for the San Francisco 49ers. Photo via the San Francisco 49ers.

Free bleeding, as it turns out, is what happens when a person with their period can’t access pads or tampons. They’re forced to either come up with an unhealthy alternative or bleed on themselves.

That's why Rachel created Kitty Packs: to provide packages of sanitary items to people who can’t afford or can’t access them on their own. And as soon as she explained it to me, I was in.

Photo via iStock.

But why had I never heard of free bleeding until my sister created an organization to combat it?

I’m not a prudish guy. Growing up with a twin sister, I learned early about issues surrounding menstruation, and I’m not uncomfortable talking about it. And yet, it had never occurred to me to think of what people who can’t afford sanitary products do when they get their period.

Photo via Joshua Garnett, used with permission.

The reason I’d never heard of free bleeding is simple: People don’t want to talk about it. In fact, people don’t want to talk about periods at all — especially cisgender men. But the problem with that is that when people don’t talk about these important issues, they never learn about people who need their help. Problems like free bleeding fly under the radar.

That has to end.

Football players are thought to be about as manly as it gets. So I’m here to tell you: It’s not un-manly to talk about menstruation.

There are a lot of really inaccurate stereotypes surrounding the idea of what it takes to be a "manly man." Part of that is avoiding topics that seem too feminine, like menstruation. But the fact is that menstruation affects all genders, not just women — people who are gender nonbinary and transgender are affected by it too.

Photo via iStock.

But regardless of what gender a person who menstruates is, it’s never un-manly to care about someone’s well-being. People on their periods have to suffer through a lot — especially if they have to worry about whether they can afford sanitary supplies that month. As a cis man, the least that I can do is try to bring attention and support to that struggle.

That’s why I think it’s so important for me to use my platform and my resources as an NFL player to bring support to Kitty Packs and other organizations combatting free bleeding.

People without the resources to get tampons and pads definitely don’t have the resources to make their voices heard on a national level. But I do — and that’s why I’ve decided to raise my voice to get others involved in helping fight free bleeding in low-income and homeless communities.

There are a few ways you can help.

For one, you can go to your local grocery store and pick up a package of sanitary supplies and drop them off at your local homeless shelter. People often think to donate other things, like food and clothing, but forget about sanitary needs. Donating them whenever you can afford to is a huge help.

[rebelmouse-image 19533304 dam="1" original_size="563x750" caption="Joshua dropping off sanitary supplies at FESCO Family Shelter in Hayward, California. Photo via Joshua Garnett." expand=1]Joshua dropping off sanitary supplies at FESCO Family Shelter in Hayward, California. Photo via Joshua Garnett.

And yes, they’re expensive (even for a guy on the NFL's payroll). That’s half the problem — just imagine trying to budget for a box of these every month while you’re struggling to feed your family.

The other thing you can do is just be more vocal and work to help de-stigmatize periods: Do away with the idea that you can’t pick up a pack of tampons at the store. Don’t make a face when your friend mentions their cycle. The more comfortable we get with menstruation, the better equipped we are to fight free bleeding.

Photo via iStock.

In the end, it’s not about men or women. It’s about helping people who need it.

Menstruation has become a gendered topic, but it shouldn’t be. It’s something that affects everyone, whether directly or not. Even if you don’t have a period, someone you love does — and the greater society that you’re a part of is faced with menstruation issues every day. Step up and do your part to help solve those problems.

Joshua Garnett is one of more than 750 NFL players who will lace up for charitable causes as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative. Starting November 28, NFL players will reveal their custom cleats, many of which will be auctioned to raise money for the charitable organizations they support. For more information, visit www.nfl.com/mycausemycleats.

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.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

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One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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