May 25, 2017
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Behind the crown

Pageant winner reveals struggles with depression



Kaitlyn Rhey was 14 when she first experienced suicidal thoughts stemming from depression.

“Symptoms would come and go, and I never talked about it with anyone because I wasn’t educated,” said the 2017 Miss Kenosha, who was the featured speaker at Wednesday vigil in Civic Center Park to promote mental health awareness.

“I just thought, `It’ll go away.’” she said.

Wednesday’s vigil was part of Mental Health Awareness Month. It was coordinated by Bridges Community Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Kenosha County.

Rhey has worked with the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression. And while her pageant platform is “positive mental health,” she had never spoken publicly about her struggles with depression and suicide until now.

“Look at me. I have a crown on my head. Why would I be depressed?” she said. “I had to put a smile on my face at school functions, baton-twirling events. Everywhere I went, everyone thought that I was happy.”

During her freshman year of college, however, she hit her “all-time low,” she said.

“Looking back it was one of the worst experiences of my entire life,” she said, choking back tears. “I finally had enough of pretending everything was perfect.”

Rhey finally opened up to friends and family about her depression. In doing so, she said she realized that it wasn’t fair to them, but most importantly “it wasn’t fair to myself.”

Breaking through

She said breaking through the stigma surrounding mental health is essential to the recovery process.

Knowing what makes her happy and valuing herself, while setting realistic goals, has helped her to manage stress “a lot better,” she said.

“I know it sounds easy, and it’s not. It’s way more difficult. I’ve fallen off the track many times, and I still have bad days,” said Rhey who graduated Saturday from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and will be pursuing a master’s degree in nursing. She plans to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

“But it’s important for people to recognize that we do have the ability to improve our mental health and that people do care,” she said.

“Mental health is a journey. And taking care of yourself and your brain, should never stop.”

Three honored

At Wednesday’s event, Jack Rose, NAMI president, presented awards to three community members:

— Lisa Haen, associate director at Kenosha Human Development Services, received the David Wagner Mental Health Advocacy Award. Haen has worked with adolescents and programs to help the homeless.

— Jane Davis was given the Community Service Award. She organized NAMI’s first Oxford House for women, which helps them with recovery from drugs and alcohol addiction. She is also secretary for Congregations United to Serve Humanity. She is the chairwoman of “Restoring Our Communities,” which assists formerly incarcerated community members and their families.

— Janet DeLeo received NAMI’s Exceptional Volunteer Award. DeLeo led a campaign to bring the alliance’s services to western Kenosha County, including the organization’s “family to family” program and family and friends support group, at the Kenosha County Center in Bristol.


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