An artistic and outgoing child, Allyson recalls that she was about 13 years old when her mom noticed she was showing signs of depression. "I secluded myself," Allyson recalls. "I wasn’t doing things I enjoyed."
Allyson’s mom Roslyn was a single parent and Allyson an only child. Roslyn didn’t know exactly how to help her daughter. In hindsight, Allyson recalls struggling with self-esteem and paternal abandonment issues, which she says triggered the onset of her depression. Feeling like a burden to her single mother and finding it difficult to discuss these feelings openly in an otherwise close relationship, Allyson’s dark feelings increased.
"Even in my own family of highly educated men and women," she says, "it took a major event for us to speak openly about depression and mental health."
Concerned for her daughter, Roslyn brought Allyson to a counselor who diagnosed her with major depression. "I was receptive to talking to someone," says Allyson. "My mom thought counseling would alleviate some of the tension that I was unable to share with her. She didn’t know what to do when I wanted to be by myself." Counseling and working closely with her family physician helped Allyson learn to manage her depression.
The therapist gave Allyson a variety of tools to help her cope. "I’m not a diary keeper but I tried it because she suggested it," says Allyson, who appreciated how keeping track of her feelings helped her to identify if treatment was working. "The Families for Depression Awareness Parent/Teen guide would have been helpful for my mother and other family members who watched me struggle."
Another source of relief for Allyson was the dance studio. "It was probably the best self-help I could ever have," she says. "That’s where my passion is." Now twenty-three years old and a graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in musical theater, she finds time to dance. She recently toured as part of the ensemble cast for a production of the Broadway show, The Producers.
In addition to performing in a touring production, Allyson competes in local beauty pageants as a way to gain scholarships for school. Following her mother’s advice, she enjoys pageants that include a talent component such as the Miss America organization. "That way I am still working on my craft," says Allyson. Allyson became Miss St. Petersburg in 2006, and Miss Largo in 2008.
Recently, when she started to notice some signs of depression in her mother she knew what to do. "I knew how to help her because of my own experience," says Allyson. "And from information I found on the Families for Depression Awareness website."
Allyson has been involved with the Miss America organization, which requires that contestants also have a platform or organization they support. Allyson initially chose minorities and the arts, as it was a cause she felt strongly about. It was Roslyn who suggested Allyson change her platform to depression awareness. "That’s how I knew she was feeling better," says Allyson.
As an African American woman, Allyson is interested in the overall health care disparity in the African American community and the reasons for their greater reluctance to seek help.
As a role model Allyson realizes it's likely other young people -- especially young women -- struggle with the same issues she found debilitating. She became active in Families for Depression Awareness to help families and to let young women know that they can overcome this illness and its symptoms just as she did.
Although Allyson has successfully managed her depression, her busy lifestyle has made it a bit more challenging. Allyson takes comfort in having her friends and family to talk to. "Talking to them improves the quality of my life."
As Miss Largo 2008, Allyson will compete in the Miss Florida pageant with the hopes of earning a crown, and advancing to the national Miss America Pageant-- spreading the word about depression throughout her pursuit. She’s already held one of the first Sweeet! Bake Sales to raise money to place the Parent and Teen Depression/Bipolar Wellness Guides in schools.
"I talk to a lot of people who deal with depression," says Allyson. "They’re too afraid to get help. But that’s what I love about Families for Depression Awareness. They take away the stigma of talking to a professional."