08/21/2014 01:29 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2014

Your Homework Assignment

It has been all I can think about -- "How many more people need to die?"

The news of Robin Williams' death has really hit me hard, and I've been experiencing a number of different emotions as a result. One of the strongest I have felt is anger -- and rightfully so.

Roughly 37,000 people die a year from suicide, and it remains the #10 leading cause of death in The United States. To me, this is absolutely mind-boggling. The issues that are surrounding mental health are causing people to drop like flies, and it has truly reached epidemic proportions.

In my opinion, suicide is socially accepted. It is something that we have become desensitized to, just like school shootings. We hear about it on the news, comment on how sad it is, and go back to living our day-to-day lives. But in order for these headlines to stop and for people to stop taking their own lives, we can't just bat our eye at the subject anymore -- and we certainly cannot continue to perpetuate a negative stigma around both mental illness and addiction.

Let me give you an example. I just helped a family friend get into treatment for his alcoholism. At 80 years old, he was drinking a fifth of alcohol a day and following it up with aloe vera oil because the alcohol would burn his throat so bad. He has been suffering his entire life, but has finally come forward to get the help he's needed.

But it took decades.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 50 percent of people who are battling with a mental health issue are also abusing drugs and/or alcohol. One of the main reasons for this is because people are turning to substances to self-medicate instead of getting treatment. In my opinion, one of the causes behind that choice is the negative stigma that surrounds admitting a mental health condition and getting help for it. The same goes for people who are afraid to get help for their substance abuse problem.

It has become something that is engrained in our society -- don't talk about mental health issues or addiction. Or better yet "addiction is a choice," so why should we help those who need it?

It is these kinds of beliefs that keep me driven to raise awareness about these conditions -- both of which are diseases and certainly not choices. If you are one of the many people who are under this false impression, I ask of you one thing: please do your research. I am not a doctor or a therapist by any means, but I have done the work. I have looked at brain scans of addicts and the mentally ill, I have read the research and I have experienced this myself. I am better for knowing what both mental illnesses and addiction truly are, which are diseases that are treatable. No one should ever be made to feel that they cannot reach out for help when they need it, because that help is right around the corner.