I've learned the lessons of depression the hard way. It's something I experienced first in my late teens, and then again in my 30s.

Depression makes you feel so hopeless that you can't even see hope on the horizon. You can't feel joy or love or contentment, and you can't see a way you'll ever feel that way again. And at that point, what's the point?

The worst part about depression is how treacherously it saps your capacity to function. Treacherous because depression can feel like a personal weakness rather than what it is: a malfunction of our brain.

First, I want to say that, if you or someone you know is feeling this way, there's help, and you deserve help. Each county in Minnesota has mental health resources available.. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is toll-free: 800-273-8255.

Sometimes, just getting up the courage to ask for help can be difficult. I was struck by the bravery of a Lake City woman who has been a dairy farmer for 33 years. With year after year of terrible markets putting her family's financial future on the ropes, she felt "hopeless." But after taking the chance to reach out to a counselor, she is speaking out publicly so more people understand that, while seeking help won't raise dairy prices, it can raise awareness that there's help for mental health issues.

In my 30s, when my psychologist suggested that I take a diagnostic test, and then informed me that I clearly was suffering from depression, I rejected her diagnosis. What's wrong with me is me, I thought.

But I listened. And thank God for her. I honestly don't know where I would be if not for her empathy, but most of all her medical and professional expertise, which helped me get better.

I know how blessed I am to have had early help. Everyone should have the same access to mental health care, regardless of our insurance, our zip code or our age. Yet too many people can't get the help they need.

Recently, at schools in St. Paul and Rochester, I highlighted what thousands of Minnesota families and educators know to be a pressing need: expanding mental health services in our schools. I also discussed the growing understanding by Minnesotans of all ages that problems like depression, stress, and anxiety can upend anyone's life and need to be addressed.

We are making progress. Last year, I worked with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski to pass a law to bring mental health professionals from the National Health Service Corps into schools and community-based organizations.

And we need to do more. My bill to bring comprehensive mental health services to schools in Minnesota and across the country would expand access to care and help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health care. We need to get it passed. And, as we take up the Older Americans Act this year, I'll focus on what we can do to help older adults deal with the social isolation they feel in their later years.

Minnesota senators have long worked to help the millions of Americans who suffer mental health issues, and I'm determined to carry on this work. Sen. Paul Wellstone was the first to champion mental health parity - the fundamental value that insurance coverage for mental health should be just like coverage for any other medical service.

After Paul's death, Sen. Al Franken worked with Paul's son, David, to write the final rules for the law Paul pushed for.

Their work put us on the path toward true mental health parity, but we still have work to do to finish the job and to ensure all Minnesotans, and all Americans, have complete coverage for mental health services.

So, I ask you to join with me. Speak out. If you or someone you love are struggling with mental health challenges, don't let anything get in the way of getting help, any more than you would resist getting help if you had the flu or a broken arm.

My experience showed me how important getting help can be. Just as clearly as I remember the shock of my diagnosis, I also remember the sensation of slowly emerging from depression: a little more energy every day. A little more capacity to pay attention to the people and things I love. The colors of the world came back.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, DFL-Minn., has served as the junior senator since 2018.