Cherokee teen speaks on mental health, suicide prevention
CLAREMORE – After suffering and seeking help for anxiety, depression and self-harm, 15-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Kaitlyn Pinkerton knew that it was time to step up and raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues.
While competing in the CN Junior Miss Cherokee competition in 2017, Pinkerton’s platform was on Native American mental health. Though she didn’t walk away with a crown, her platform sparked an interest from people wanting to help her continue to speak and advocate about suicide prevention across the United States.
“I didn’t think that multiple people were going through it, and I didn’t think that it was normal to hate yourself. I just want other people to know that everybody will have a mental illness, like it’s normal because I don’t want them to suffer alone,” Pinkerton said.
She said she met with people such as former Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts and One Fire Associates CEO Jami Bartgis, who helped her make connections to sponsors for help with traveling expenses, supplying information and helping her speak at different conferences nationwide.
“Suicide and all mental health issues still appear to come with a stigma. We all need more training and understanding of how to assist others. And, there never appears to be enough resources. Kaitlyn is seeking both increased access and awareness, which is key to improving mental health conditions in Indian Country and especially the Cherokee Nation,” Cowan Watts said.
Pinkerton said her experiences made her realize that not enough people talk about mental illness and suicide. “I was like somebody needs to talk about this. I might as well be the one to talk about it.”
Pinkerton has spoken at the National Council for Urban Indian Health conference in Washington, D.C., United National Indian Tribal Youth conference in San Diego, California, and was expected to speak at a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Native Connections conference in August.
Bartgis got Pinkerton in contact with the health simulation company Kognito, and at the conferences, Pinkerton has been presenting the company’s app called Friend2Friend. The app is a game-based simulation for teens to give them skills, knowledge and build awareness about mental health.
Bartgis said when she met Pinkerton she was impressed at how much information she had regarding mental illness based on research.
“She had already begun to identify the key issues for American Indian populations, including the impact of unresolved historical and intergenerational trauma on the suicide epidemics and the role of substance abuse as a form of self-medication that makes it easier for a person to attempt to end their life,” Bartgis said.
Pinkerton said she hopes to continue traveling and spreading the word on mental health issues and suicide prevention.
“You know, there’s only people talking about it when a celebrity’s killed themselves. That’s only there for a month or so. It’s not something that’s widely spoken about and it really needs to be. So I just want to keep doing that,” she said.