During her reign as Miss West Virginia 2015, Chelsea Malone, of Morgantown, has spent the past six months traveling and visiting schools through West Virginia. On March 17, Malone traveled to Pocahontas County in order to speak to Hillsboro and Marlinton Elementary School students about mental health awareness.
Throughout the assembly, Malone and the students discussed the various aspects of mental health – including what mental health is, the difference between physical and mental sickness, how to treat one another and who they can turn to.
When it came to figuring out the difference between physical and mental illness symptoms, Malone asked the students to think back on their friends and family who had been sick within the last month. Many students volunteered answers such as coughing, sore throats and runny noses, and Malone used their answers to point out that the symptoms of mental illness were not always easily seen.
“Although someone might not show physical symptoms, they could easily be just as sick as someone with the flu,” she said. “They don’t feel well, and we need to make sure we’re kind.”
Malone and the students then talked about ways to be helpful and kind to friends who might be feeling down. The students encouraged one another to be respectful of one another, to be nice, and to stand up for their friends if someone is bullying them.
Most importantly, though, Malone encouraged students to speak with the trusted adults in their lives if they ever struggle with their feelings. Together with the students, Malone formed a list of adults they could approach – including counselors, grandparents, parents and teachers.
At the end of the assembly, Malone led the students in song, singing John Denver’s “County Roads,” and handed out autographs, Mental Health Awareness bookmarks and hugs.
When asked what led her to choose Mental Health Advocacy at its Core: Community, Outreach, Research and Education as her platform, Malone credited personal experiences seen in both her life and the lives of those around her.
“Mental health is something that affects everybody,” she explained. “If it’s not you, I guarantee you know somebody who is struggling or has struggled with mental illness at some point in their life. It’s something that’s so widespread, but people refuse to talk about because of the stigma that surrounds it. Nobody wants to admit it and risk being seen differently.”
Malone, who struggled with depression throughout high school, understands the hardships that come with facing the realities of a situation and asking for help.
When visiting schools and meeting with students in assembly-style settings, Malone stresses the importance of knowing their available outlets and invites those who might have similar struggles to reach out to her via social media.
“It’s incredible how many students use social media nowadays,” she said. “I especially encourage those in middle and high school to reach out. I’m not a licensed professional, but I can share my own experiences with them and point them toward professionals in their area.
“To be able to talk to them and help them understand mental health and give them resources or just general places and people they can talk to if they’re struggling is something I think it really important.”
Malone, a Morgantown native, was crowned in July 2015 and traveled to New Jersey in September to compete in the Miss America Pageant. While she did not win, Malone placed within the Top 15 – a first for West Virginia in nearly 20 years.
In the months following her time at Miss America, Malone has spent the remainder of her reign traveling to schools across the state in an effort to raise awareness about mental health issues.
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.