To feel good on the inside, we have to take care of ourselves on the outside. I ensure that I shower regularly and groom myself. These things may seem simple but when you are struggling with a mental illness it can be very difficult to do. That’s why I set up a routine to make sure that I practice good self-care daily.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Syanne Centeno. Syanne is the author of “Ana: A Memoir of Anorexia Nervosa,” a book that highlights her decade-long battle with Anorexia Nervosa. She is a former Miss Maryland for the Miss World Organization and has used her platform to raise awareness on mental illness. Syanne has appeared in numerous television, radio, and magazine interviews speaking about her mental health journey. Her goal is to show the world that no matter who you are, where you come from, or what your accomplishments are, anyone can have a mental illness. She works to spread the message that even though you have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish your dreams.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I became an author, I knew that my goal was to use my experiences with severe mental illness to raise awareness on mental health. I have loved writing since I was a 9 year-old little girl when I received my first diary. During this time I also went through bullying and began experiencing mental health issues that caused me to be hospitalized as an adolescent. Everything I went through shaped me into becoming an advocate so that I can do everything I can to educate the public on mental illness, thus reducing the stigma.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I believe that there is still a stigma about mental illness because there is a lack of education to the public. Since education lacks, people have difficulty understanding something that they themselves are not experiencing. I also think that movies and tv shows have portrayed those with mental illnesses inaccurately which only feeds into the stereotypes people have about individuals living with mental health issues.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
I use my voice and my story to help de-stigmatize mental illness. I am a former Miss Maryland for the Miss World Organization, and as a beauty queen we can be viewed as “having the perfect life.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. During my reign as Miss Maryland World I struggled with self-harm, mood swings, and anxiety. I was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and a Mood Disorder. I began to use my platform as a public figure to document my life with Borderline Personality Disorder and show people that they are not alone. I use my voice to encourage people to be honest about their struggles so that they are able to receive support.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
I decided to be public and honest about my journey with mental illness because I did not see any one else doing it, and it needed to be done. We need to normalize the conversation surrounding mental illness, and sharing my story day by day (as a public figure) can help us reach this goal. Publishing my memoir was a way for me to do this.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I think that in order to better support those struggling with mental illness, individuals need to be more present. Present when someone is confiding in them about their struggles and really listen to what that person is saying. We aren’t always looking for advice, we are often looking for a listening ear.
Society needs to be more willing to educate themselves on mental illness in order to better support those who have mental illness. The government needs to better fund programs that aid the mentally ill, which would in turn improve the community overall.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own well-being and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
6 of my strategies include:
- Engaging in art and creativity. I find that dedicating myself to completing an art piece provides comfort, increases my focus, and decreases my stress.
- I run an online Virtual Reality Peer Support Group and I have found that participating in the group has been helpful in reducing stress and sadness. Talking to people who can understand what you are going through can help you develop solutions for your concerns and is very encouraging.
- I cook! Providing good nutrition for my body is essential to my mental health. Cooking at home versus eating out makes a difference in my mood. If I decide to eat fast food one day I find that I can become irritable before my next meal because my body did not get the right nutrition.
- I take time to spend time with my family and friends. My best friend and I spend time together at least once a week. I use to isolate myself with my illness, and I now make the conscious decision to surround myself with people.
- I use medical cannabis. I am a medical cannabis patient and believe strongly in the benefits of the plant on both the mind and body. Since using medical cannabis, I have been able to stop using some of my medications (with medical supervision.) I believe strongly in holistic approaches to both physical and mental health and have seen the positive affects of a holistic lifestyle.
- I practice good self-care. To feel good on the inside, we have to take care of ourselves on the outside. I ensure that I shower regularly and groom myself. These things may seem simple but when you are struggling with a mental illness it can be very difficult to do. That’s why I set up a routine to make sure that I practice good self-care daily.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
One book that has always touched me and inspired me to be my best is “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” Anne Frank was a hero in the full sense of the word, but she was also a mental health champion. She went through the most horrific, terrifying event that any human being could ever go through, and she always kept her sense of positivism. She practiced good self-care, and journalized as a way to cope with the difficulties she was facing. As Anne Frank said herself, I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!