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Honoring Melissa: The Story Behind Melissa's Connections Group at Tubman

Melissa snuggling with her dog Bentley

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than one in four adults living with mental health challenges also have a substance use problem (SAMHSA, 2023). Often, people experiencing these co-occurring disorders struggle to find sustainable help and support, and Melissa (pictured) was one.

Melissa struggled for years with addiction and depression, never finding a facility in New York that simultaneously treated her mental and chemical health challenges. Her mother Maria shared how difficult Melissa's journey was without that integrated support for both her mental and chemical health, which led to her death at age 28.

Melissa's Journey

Melissa experienced a childhood typical of a middle-class family; taking piano lessons, playing the flute, and participating in gymnastics, dance, soccer, and cross-country running. "She lit up the room with her personality at a young age," shared Maria, however in late middle school she started to experience depression and suffered from eating disorders. Melissa hid her depression from friends and family until it became too much for her to bear. Not long after graduating from high school, she began to use drugs in an apparent attempt to ease her suffering.  

"Melissa was a happy and brilliant child. She lit up the room with her personality."

As she progressively began using stronger drugs, Melissa experienced more distance between friends. With her family’s support, Melissa went into several rehab programs trying to break her addictions but often left them early because she became more depressed without drugs. Melissa always maintained a relationship with the therapist and psychiatrist who first helped her with anorexia. She was able to complete two years of college and obtain her accounting degree online, working as a tax accountant in her final two years of life.

The month before her death, Melissa had entered a facility to try and help with her depression. She had stopped drugs for three weeks in order to enter the program. In the end, a stressful day at work led her back to drugs, and she accidentally overdosed on her prescribed medications along with cocaine and heroin. She died at the age of 28.

Honoring Melissa and Helping Others

In all of Melissa’s years struggling with addiction and depression, there was not one program in New York that focused on co-disorders. They first focused on breaking the drug addiction but offered no supportive psychiatric treatment to manage the depression that worsened without the drugs. Maria and Melissa's sister Ann were looking for a way to honor Melissa and support people experiencing both mental and chemical health challenges. As Ann was looking for services that support both, she found Tubman. "We found that they looked at the whole person," said Maria.

"If only she had a place like Tubman that views the whole person and addresses all the challenges at one time! Tubman recognizes the inter-relationship between depression and addiction and offers programs to address these together along with other factors that might be at play.  That is why we started Melissa’s Group. We wanted to give others a support group that Melissa could not find. We know Melissa would be so happy that she helped inspire a group to help others, and we hope that learning a bit about her will help others realize how lucky they are to have Tubman and Melissa’s Connection Group."

It was then they reached out about doing something in honor of Melissa to help support other people experiencing both mental and chemical health challenges. Her mother Maria shares, "That's why we had the idea for doing Melissa's room - if there could be a place where people could come, that they could meet each other with similar problems, both mental and chemical (health), that they could understand each other".

Tubman is incredibly grateful for Ann and Maria's support and continues to offer a free drop-in support group, Melissa's Connections, for people experiencing chemical and mental health issues and concerns. The weekly group serves all genders and you can learn more by calling 612.825.0000.

Learn more about Melissa's Connections Group here.

If you're interested in supporting the healing of people experiencing mental and chemical health challenges, please consider giving. You can learn more and do so here