Dear Abby:

Please accept my apology for thinking that every time you advise counseling you were "passing the buck." After years of abuse and three nightmare marriages, I am finally finding myself through psychiatric care.

After my husband of 27 years left me, I was shattered -- terrified. I couldn't stop crying. I made a desperate call to a mental health hotline and was advised to go to the nearest emergency hospital. My physician met me there and I admitted myself to their psychiatric ward. It was the beginning of a new life.

Everyone I encountered, from the person in admitting to the doctors and nurses, the staff and other patients, helped me. I started to heal. The classes were extremely helpful. The counselors were truly giving and caring. I signed myself out after five days, but continue going in for weekly counseling. My counselor recently told me I would make a great counselor.

I will soon begin taking courses at my local college to become certified. And now that I am healing, I'm doing volunteer work in mental health care and awareness. My goal is to make the public realize the importance of mental health.

I have learned you can live in fear or reach out for help. There is no reason for anyone to suffer when help is close at hand. There are toll-free hotline numbers for crisis intervention.

Thank you for always being there, Abby. I know you were there for me.

Sunshine in South Carolina

Thank YOU for sharing your personal success. When you were in crisis, you were wise to recognize it for what it was and get help. There should be no shame in such a positive, life-affirming act.

Another valuable resource for the mentally ill is an organization called the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). It offers emotional and educational support to people -- and families -- with all the major mental disorders. Its toll-free number is 800-950-6264. The Web site is www.nami.org.

Dear Abby:

I am struggling with a family problem that could permanently break the bonds with my parents. I am a dentist, married with a family, who followed my father's footsteps into the profession. After five years working at my father's practice, I purchased the practice at full market value.

When this happened, our roles were instantly reversed. I was now running the show. Over the next six years, I took the practice in new directions. My relationship with my parents became more strained and distant as they saw me become more successful.

Father is now retired, and recently needed to have two crowns redone. Although my parents' dental care is free, there was an outside laboratory bill for the fabrication of the two new crowns that came to about $300. I asked my father to pay the lab bill.

I thought things were all right until my mother came in for a routine cleaning a few weeks ago and called me every name in the book. She couldn't believe I would charge my own father for his dental work after raising me as their son.

What should I do? I told my mother I'd pay the lab bill myself.

Am I wrong on this? My parents and I seem to have completely different views.

D.D.S. in Deep Doo-Doo

Geez Louise, it was your FATHER! Where would you be today if you hadn't followed his career path? Allow me to share a philosophy I learned from my own dear mother: "If you're going to do something, give it your best effort." In your case, since you were providing your father's dental care "gratis," that means you should have gone all the way -- and been happy to do it.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate