RICHMOND, Va. -- Love and laughter holds the Easter family together. Gabi Easter and her mother Shannon both said the foundation of their family is built on trust and openness with each other.
"I had a very difficult childhood and was raised in a tumultuous abusive home," Shannon said. "I lost my sister to suicide when she was 25, my only sibling."
The fear of losing someone else she loved or watching them struggle with depression, prompted Shannon to talk openly with her three children from the time they were young.
Honesty, she said, was always encouraged.
"Early on in talking with my children, we talked a lot about, 'How are you? How are you, really? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?'"
When her children reached middle school age, it became apparent there was a genetic component to mental health issues in the family.
Gabi, now a sophomore in college, said she struggled in her early teens because she felt helpless in figuring out how to cope with her feelings.
"I think once I realized I struggled with anxiety and depression and so does my family -- it runs in my family -- I kind of took on that weight," Gabi said. "I was like, 'Am I ever going to feel better, is this ever actually going to turn out OK?'"
Shannon said she understood her daughter's anguish because many people struggle with the guilt of feeling sad when their lives are going well, and they have the support of a loving family.
"Basically, she was like 'Mom, I feel sad a lot and I don't have anything to be sad about really,' which I think is hard to understand if you struggle with depression," Shannon said.
Shannon said her two younger children also struggled with some anxiety during adolescence.
Seeing their children hurting and confused was difficult for the Easters, but they didn't hesitate to reach out for help.
They sought counseling and became active in their church youth group. Shannon said her children also dove into activities and sports that they enjoyed.
"For them, they've all found their niche for something that they love, like they're musicians, they do musical theater and write songs and sing," Shannon said.
She said she believed diet played an important component in mental health.
"I think what we eat, impacts how we feel and how we process emotions," she said.
However, the family's greatest growth and healing came from talking openly with each other and reserving judgment.
"I think once I was able to vocalize how I was feeling, that was the beginning of me getting help and feeling better," Gabi said. "Once you express how you're feeling, people will help you and you're not alone. But if you don't, and I know it takes a lot to talk about how you're feeling and it can be scary, but if you're not talking about it, people may not always know."
Now, after a year of a global pandemic filled with isolation and social unrest, the Easters hope to unite people who are feeling alone.
"We're all going to make mistakes," Shannon said. "I think where we have won is just with the openness of communication and not judging each other and understanding that it's OK to struggle. Struggling is OK. It makes us stronger."
Both Shannon and Gabi said they often take breaks from social media and headlines to focus on their own mental health.
"Social media plays a huge role in your inner dialogue and how you think about yourself," Gabi said.
Instead, both mom and daughter said they focus on family, close friendships, and spreading awareness about mental health issues and suicide in memory of their loved one.
"I tell my kids all the time that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem," Shannon said. "We can fix anything, right? Anything is fixable."
This past week, The Easters traveled to Florida to renew their 20-year marriage vows and spend quality time with their children.
"We have our faith, we believe it's OK to make mistakes, and it's OK to struggle and fall," Shannon said. "You get up and you get stronger."
The segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.