Miss Colorado hopes to destigmatize mental health in the military

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When Maura Spence-Carroll was a little girl, she begged her mother to let her enter a contest.

“I watched the Miss America pageant on TV at one point when I was very young, and I was in love with it from that first viewing,” 21-year-old Katy, from Texas, told TODAY Health. adding that it had taken many years. for her mother to finally nod.

Spence-Carroll’s mother thought the pageantry would be a good way for her daughter to gain self-confidence.

“She also thought it would be a unique situation,” said Spence-Carroll. “A decade later, I’m still in love with Miss America, so she was a little behind that estimate.”

Her love of pageantry paid off: the Texas native was crowned Miss Colorado this summer in the pageant system she loved as a child.

Maura Spence-Carroll was crowned Miss Colorado in the summer of 2021.Courtesy of Maura Spence-Carroll

But that’s not the only important title she holds. Spence-Carroll is a US Army Specialist stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado where she works as an Intelligence Analyst, as well as a Security Officer.

She said TODAY that her decision to enlist in the military was twofold.

“I knew I wanted to leave my hometown, but I also needed a way to pay for my education and gain experience in life,” she said, adding that she knew from an early age she wanted to be a lawyer.

Because Spence-Carroll’s parents could not financially support his educational efforts, the military became an attractive option.

“With the GI Bill, I will be able to pay for my undergraduate degree, and the scholarships I got from Miss America will go to law school,” Spence-Carroll explained.

While the active-duty soldier balances two professional careers, the subject that excites her the most is a little more personal.

“After being diagnosed with ADHD in 2020, I had a better understanding of how military behavioral health resources work,” Spence-Carroll explained. “I also understood the cultural and command barriers for servicemen receiving mental health care.”

Spence-Carroll said he knew changes had to happen.

“I decided the best way to make sure this happened was to do it myself,” she said.

Spence-Carroll hopes she can use her platform to inspire change.Courtesy of Maura Spence-Carroll

The Colorado-based soldier, who hopes to be promoted to sergeant soon, said TODAY that one of the most difficult barriers to care is the social stigma surrounding receiving treatment in the military community.

“Female Veterans are more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts, primarily due to access and willingness to use firearms as opposed to other means of self-harm, and Veterans and the military are more likely to kill themselves than the civilian average, ”said Spence-Carroll.

She continued: “We have found that access to healthcare, social support and a sense of belonging to a community – like that found in the military – are the best tools to prevent suicide. . “

In December, Spence-Carroll will represent Colorado on the national stage at the 100th Miss America Pageant in Connecticut.

“The message I share with struggling veterans is the same message I share with everyone I meet who may or may not be going through a difficult time,” said Spence-Carroll. “You are a valued person, friend and member of our community, and treatment options exist.”

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