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Three women feel stronger after sharing their mental health journeys

Three women are opening up about their mental health challenges in message of hope during Mental Health Month. One in 5 people will experience mental illness in their lifetime, yet the stigma surrounding it is still very real.

Emily Rice-Smith, 24, is a student at Western Michigan University and former Miss Michigan competitor. She has depression, anxiety and ADHD. Elaina Harris, 51, is a mother and retired. She has depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Erin Abel, 28, is a business owner. She has panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

All three women on different journeys but brave enough to speak up. "We don’t have control over it," Erin said. “In the beginning, it's hard to realize it. I always just thought it was me, like, is there something wrong with me?” She tried to cope on her own, “but you can’t. You need to realize that might not be possible.”

Navigating life with a mental illness can be hard, it can be confusing, scary and isolating. In fact, research shows 60% of people don’t get the help they need.

"I`m a very ambitious person, (an) over-achiever when I was young," Emily said. “To admit I needed help and my brain was failing me was difficult to do.”

For Elaina, she tried to commit suicide twice, the first time when she was just 12 years old. She thanks God there were people there to stop her, she says.

"I think at first, I'm like, no one is going to understand, they're going to think I'm crazy," Erin said. “I was completely embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know. I waited a long time, and I think that hurt me because it made (it) that much worse.” Erin said when we first get an inkling that something is wrong, “just go talk to somebody.”

To make such an admission is not a sign of weakness, says Emily, it uncovers a strength inside you never knew existed. “It is empowering in a sense because you admit you do need help but you're stronger for it."

Erin adds that there are days when you feel you can’t do it, "and that’s when you need to surround yourself with people that can help you with this journey."

It’s a reminder that you`re not alone.

"Don’t give up on yourself, and for others, truly reach out to people and let them know that they are loved,” Elaina said. “People need to feel that.”

"You can get out of the pit,” Emily said. “It will take a lot of work, and it will be hard, and you`ll have days where you’ll be like, ‘Man, I just took a huge step back.” But you can move forward in life. There is life after depression, there is life with depression.”

“I feel good about myself,” Elaina says. “And now I can finally see I love me, and I want to be happy, and I feel good about me. For me, it’s a release. I feel free and happy."

If you’re looking for help or know someone who is, click here for more information and resources.

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