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These are some of the bravest faces around lakes country

For the last eight weeks, this newspaper hasn't been fun to read. It's been full of stories that have broken hearts. We know our mental health series has been exhausting and heavy, but we are so fortunate to be able to share it with you.

It is easy to talk about mental health from the nosebleeds where medical experts and statistics sit. It is a whole different ball game to get in closer. We owe this to the people willing to let us in. For the last eight Thursdays, there have been large photos of people from around the lakes area. They are the faces of people who were brave enough to stand up and say, "Here I am, here's what I suffer from." They are strong enough to be vulnerable in order to help others. They let us inside their lives and shared with us their most private pain. Not everyone is that selfless. They were.

Jessica Ekholm said, "I have depression."

Scott Geiselhart said, "I have PTSD."

Kristina Story said, "I have anxiety."

Heather Berry said, "My son died by suicide."

Keagan Gilbert said, "I have ADHD."

Joe Johnson said, "I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict."

Kyle Larson said, "I have schizophrenia."

Erika Gilsdorf said, "I have OCD."

With the help of these eight people, our community is hopefully a little bit more understanding, empathetic and aware of the fact that mental health issues are everywhere. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 adults suffer from some sort of mental health issue. Should 20% of our friends, family and neighbors have to walk around ashamed due to an issue that is no fault of their own? Of course not. We are more evolved than that, or at least we should be.

For years, mental health advocates have been trying to de-stigmatize mental health problems, and let's hope these efforts only pick up steam. Awareness is good, but let's shoot for that awareness to bring in some tangible results. Our hope is that shining a light into the ugliness that is there can lead to better legislation and investments into programs designed to help.

We can do better. We owe it to our community members who may or may not be talking about that "constant companion" that tears at them every day. There's no Go Fund Me accounts floating around for these things because they are not as obvious or black and white, so we've got to be more aware and care just a little bit more.

In addition to our incredible story subjects over the last eight weeks, we also want to give "props" to Erika Gilsdorf for this big idea and the folks at Becker County Energize, who work tirelessly to help make this community a healthier, happier place to live. This was cool. This was good. We all came together as a community for a bigger purpose, even if those coming together were competitors. Essentia Health and Sanford Health, this newspaper and Leighton Broadcasting ... you get it. Together, we were stronger. As a community, there is very little we can't do when driven by big hearts and good ideas.