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Destigmatizing mental health in the black community

Posted at 10:02 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 11:31:26-05

Within the last few years, there's been a profound push for mental health nationwide, but in the black community there is still a stigma about getting help. One young girl in Copperas Cove is making sure mental health care is at the top of her community's mind.

Looking at her now, you see a young girl competing and winning pageants.

Dorianna Gilbert, a 7th Grader in Copperas Cove ISD, and winner of Preteen Miss Five Hills 2021 said, "I just won in March, I won preteen Miss Five Hills."

Dorianna Gilbert is now confident in the skin she's in, but she wasn't always this way. When she was in the 3rd grade she says she remembers being bullied, teased, and taunted over things she couldn't control.

Dorianna said, "My platform of service this year is anti-bullying and awareness, and I chose that because I used to get bullied. They used to say just rude things to me."

She was suffering in silence until the taunting became too much to bear on her own. So, eventually, she turned to the only person she could, her mother.

"Once it started to become a daily thing, I started to get sadder and I has to tell someone because it didn't feel right bottling it up," said Dorianna. "Without her, I don’t know where I could be right now."

Shannoda Gilbert hung on to every word her daughter told her, grateful her daughter felt comfortable enough to talk to her about what she was going through.

"I have seen friends of mine whose kids have taken their lives behind in being bullied and stuff like that. So, for her to feel comfortable enough with me to come and talk to me about that it really meant a lot," said Mrs. Gilbert.

Initially, mental health was not always a priority for Mrs. Gilbert. After Shannoda lost her own mother at a young age and then spent some time in the military, her attitude changed when it comes to mental health.

Mrs. Gilbert said, "Me and my husband we both served in the military and went overseas so PTSD is always something that we always talk with our children about mental issues. There is definitely a stigma with black people in mental health "

Yulonda Washington, the Founder and Clinical Director of It's a Journey Counseling said, "Mental health is just as important as the health and the strength of your body."

Washington is a Killeen-based is a licensed professional counselor. She says while black people have come a long way when it comes to being open to therapy, she believes there is still a stigma when it comes to mental health in the black community.

Washington said, "It makes you appear weak because sometimes in the black community toughness is looked at as strong but behind the toughness a lot of times, they are just trying to hold it together as best as they can."

However, Washington is optimistic about the younger generations and their efforts to break the break down the stigma.

"We really want our children to grow and be emotionally intelligent people. So in order to start that we have to start early saying it’s OK if you wanna express your emotions, it’s OK if you need someone to talk to."

"You have to sit there and not have to listen to your child you have to be that support system," said Mrs. Gilbert.

The time Mrs. Gilbert took to spend listening to Dorianna sparked something in her.

Dorianna said, "I started learning how to stand up and I want other kids to know that it’s OK to stand up."

Dorianna has since expanded her anti-bullying campaign across the city of Copperas Cove and has hosted the CCISD annual suicide prevention walk. Dorianna hopes she can be the change she wants to see.

"I just wanted to be the one to make everyone rise as one. We’re all just trying to make an impact in the world," said Gilbert.

Although Dorianna's reign as Miss Preteen Five Hills is coming to an end, she plans to continue her community service work and advocate for bullying and mental health awareness.