I've always been interested in children's mental health and supporting the growth of families. I've done this in various roles as a school counselor, teacher, curriculum developer, and therapist - while at the same time experiencing my own mental health journey. When I became a mother, my interest in children’s mental health intensified and became a completely different process toward making decisions about my own child's mental health. Though I had experienced and learned a lot in my own mental health journey, making decisions for my children, who are the most precious people to me, felt very differently. It’s with this experience as a family member that I have become a strong advocate for children’s mental health.
As parents, my husband and I underwent a lot of indecision about our child’s mental health treatment and felt first hand the stigma that surrounds those decisions. This indecision took me to an uncomfortable place and I knew this was a place lots of parents and caregivers that have children with mental health challenges have been. As I weighed whether or not to seek formal treatment for my child I looked at the consequences of non-treatment in comparison to the positive benefits of treatment. Despite the difficulties, we knew that we had to break through the stigma that was binding us in decision-making and do what was best for our family and children.
Having this experience led me to informally share my lived experience with other parents and caregivers in order to encourage and support them in their own mental health treatment decision making process. I found this process of supporting others inspiring and invigorating, and realized that it was significant and important work. More parents and caregivers out there need the opportunity to learn the facts about mental health and break through stigma in the same way I did. I realized that the biggest struggle that parents in my community were facing was the overall negative community view of mental health diagnosis and treatment. This realization led me to engage in more organized advocacy work to educate the community about successful relationships and mental health diagnosis and treatment.
Interestingly enough, as Kristin Melton - the citizen and parent - large organizations and public forums weren't returning my phone calls with requests to come and speak about relationships and mental health. So I had to take advantage of another platform upon which to base my advocacy work. In 2008 I found the Mrs. International pageant system and was excited because, unlike other pageant systems, this system requires contestants to have community involvement with a social cause that they’re passionate about. In addition, the woman selected as Mrs. International each year is chosen through scoring that is based heavily upon an interview and public speaking about the contestant’s chosen social cause. In 2009 I became Mrs. Illinois International and this year I am Mrs. Midwest International 2012. With these titles new doors have been opened for me to engage the public in education and stigma reduction work. As Mrs. Midwest I will be competing for the title of Mrs. International 2012 this July with the intent of bringing as much awareness to the children's mental health cause as possible and making green ribbon advocacy a world wide mission.
Ironically enough, the same stigma that I experienced in pursuing mental health diagnosis and treatment for myself and my family also exists when you’re a titleholder or pageant contestant. Stereotypes precede me and some people are unwilling to listen to me because they make pre-judgments about my character and intelligence based upon the fact that I enjoy pageantry. The media sensationalizes the mistakes some contestants make, which reinforces the stereotype - just like what happens in the media regarding children with a mental health challenge and the implication that violence or uncontrollable behavior is a trait of all mental health challenges. In the same way that I fight stigma about children's mental health, I'm committed to changing the stigma surrounding pageants and embracing the strengths it develops in contestants and titleholders. In my opinion, I have never seen a more dedicated group of people with a culture that embraces personal goal making, extreme volunteerism, and the patience to deal with inaccurate judgmental views. In fact, these positive attributes are what makes any titleholder an excellent advocate for children's mental health. I am proud to promote this cause and I do so with my heart AND my sash and crown.