(KFVS) - As a substance abuse specialist Everyday Hero Heather Williams helps people through some of life's greatest challenges.
Williams believes we all have lived experiences to overcome.
Some are more difficult, visible and easy to judge.
But from Williams' perch, everyone is equal.
"I'm there to help them, to walk down the path with them."
Sometimes that's all we need.
A friend, an advocate, a source of strength.
Heather Williams is all three for people dealing with addiction and mental health issues.
"I get to spend every day getting to know people and seeing them as they genuinely are," she said. "And I think a lot of people don't view them like that. There's a lot of stigma, a lot of stereotype around addiction and mental illness."
A stigma she's working to eradicate.
"I'm a believer that language matters. In my house we don't say crazy, psycho, any of those stigmatizing words."
Williams works with individuals at the Community Counseling Center to overcome their individual struggles.
"You realize it's a small part of them," she said. "It's not all of who they are, it's a small part of who they are."
Her passion for mental health and suicide prevention comes not just from the fulfillment of helping others, but an earlier realization that we all have our struggles, including Williams herself.
"My recovery from an eating disorder. I didn't think I had one. I wasn't sick enough," she said. "It took me awhile to accept that 'oh yeah, this fits.' What I do with it now, being in recovery, how do I live it, re-frame it, use my experience to better connect with other people."
She's done that, telling her story at speaking events around the area and encouraging Southeast Missouri State University students through her SEMO Secrets project.
"We change the way that mental health is discussed on campus, we change the way that people talk about suicide, addiction, we have the ability to do that," she said.
Her work is never ending.
She travels to conferences and participating in suicide walks on the weekend.
"The CDC states that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 10-34. And that is heartbreaking to me."
"That's why the work we do is important," she said. "Hastag world changers. This is how you do it. You have discussions, you talk, you're there for people, you listen. I'm still naïve enough to think I can change the world."
World changer? Absolutely.
If you know of an Everyday Hero in your life, please let us know.
Just click here to make your nomination.
We'll profile an Everyday Hero each month on Heartland News and all of our heroes will be honored at the annual Red Cross recognition luncheon.