CLAREMORE -- Cherokee Nation citizen and former Junior Miss Cherokee Kaitlyn Pinkerton has been recognized with an inaugural Cherokee Phoenix Seven Feathers Award in the health category for her work in mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
Pinkerton suffers from mental health issues and decided to use her battles as a platform to help others.
"I have depression and anxiety and I was suicidal, self-harming, and then I went to therapy and I got help. It's a daily battle. It's not something that will ever go away, it's not something that can ever go away. But it is a struggle, and it's worth talking about it because if I can help somebody then that makes me feel better," Pinkerton said.
During her run for Junior Miss Cherokee in 2017, Pinkerton talked about the stigma on mental health and suicide prevention, sparking interest from people wanting to help her continue to speak and advocate on the topic across the United States.
After making connections with sponsors to help with travel expenses and supplying information, during the next year Pinkerton was able to speak at the National Council for Urban Indian Health Conference in Washington, D.C.; the United National Indian Tribal Youth Conference in San Diego; with the National Indian Health Board; and at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Conference.
In 2018, she was named Junior Miss Cherokee and continued to advocate for mental health.
"Being Junior Miss Cherokee was absolutely amazing. I got to talk about mental health in Washington, D.C. I got to talk about it at the community meetings more. There was a fundraiser for a mental health treatment facility in Kansas that I got to speak at. It was such as amazing experience and being able to speak about mental health on a grander scale was just great," she said.
Through her presentations, she said she's received a lot of positive feedback from people who deal with mental health issues or know someone who has.
"There's been people coming up to me saying 'If I would have had you when I was younger,' 'If I would have seen you speak when I was younger,' 'If I had somebody like you when I was younger I would've understood that what I was going through was OK and that I wasn't really alone,'" she said.
Pinkerton, a Claremore High School junior, plans to attend college to obtain a Ph.D., in psychology and work for the Cherokee Nation or Indian Health Service. She is also a member of the Cherokee National Youth choir.
"I'm very proud of the work that she's done. I'm very proud of the fact that she puts herself out there as an advocate for mental health when she still struggles with it herself," Amy Pinkerton, Kaitlyn's mom and Seven Feathers Award nominator, said. "I think she sets a good example for people her age and older, and I think others need to see it. If she's open and honest about it then maybe somebody else will see that there's no shame. They will feel like they can get help as well."
In addition to her Seven Feathers Award, the National Indian Health Board also recognized her in September for Outstanding Service for her advocacy work on mental health awareness.