Growing up, I knew my father had struggled with bouts of depression. That’s one of the things that made him such a skilled therapist. But as I grew older, I started to recognize the same struggles in myself. I had crippling anxiety from a young age, but never realized that it wasn’t something everyone had, so I mostly said nothing. To alleviate my anxiety, I used drugs and alcohol. But as I came into adulthood, it became clear that my substance abuse was just a coping mechanism for my mental struggles. I was hospitalized multiple times, and feared that potentially I was not someone who could be a functioning adult. This was incredibly disappointing for someone who had always been told she’d grow up to do great things. I couldn’t even walk down the street and go to CVS without feeling like I was going to pass out. Very, very slowly, I came to understand that by caring for my mental health, I could actively save my own life and eventually become the person I always wanted to be. Today, I have a series of things I do to maintain my mental health. I am an active participant in a 12-step program, I go to therapy, I meditate every day, and I believe exercise is one of the most beneficial tools to balance my brain chemistry. All of those things make up my mental health “tree.” Basically, the things I do to stay happy and healthy. I have seen so many people struggle, including my nephew Connor, and I have some very strong beliefs on the topic. Most important is this: Mental illness and addiction are absolutely deadly diseases. They can kill you. However, they are also TREATABLE ones. In the same way a diabetic needs insulin, people with mental health and addiction struggles need to be treated by professionals. That can come in many forms, ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy to medication-assisted treatment. What’s important is that every person have the opportunity to find what’s right for them.