Advancing Mental Health Awareness in Minority Communities
Brianna Laurenceau, UCF Senior & Mental Health Advocate
At 21 years old, Brianna Laurenceau is leading a charge to fight the stigma associated with mental health in the African-American community. To say that the University of Central Florida (UCF) senior is busy is an understatement. Brianna is President of the John T. Washington Honor society. She has a full school course load and is working on applying to graduate programs to continue on her path towards her dream of being a Physician’s Assistant. In addition to her impressive academic schedule, Brianna also works.
So when her roommate dared Brianna to compete in Alpha Phi Alpha’s Miss Black and Gold pageant, she was skeptical. Brianna is poised, well spoken, and intelligent; all things that any pageant queen would aspire to be. She is also largely introverted, which has played to many of the strengths that have made her so successful for her young age. For their senior year, Brianna and her roommate had decided that they would challenge one another to venture outside of their comfort zones. And thus, on a dare, Brianna found herself competing in the Miss Black and Gold pageant. Because of that dare, Brianna found herself winning. Her winning platform? Ending the stigma associated with mental health in the African-American community.
Raised in South Florida, mental illness was not a common topic in Brianna’s life. She says, “in the African-American community, my friends, they don’t really look at mental illness as a thing. So you don’t ever know when someone is going through something. Families in the community don’t talk about it. The thought is, ‘just pray about it’ and it will be okay. And that is not the case at all, it (mental illness) is an actual health problem and it is an illness. Faith can be helpful in the mental illness recovery process, but like other illnesses it requires medical attention.” During Brianna’s first semester at UCF she enrolled in a Community Health course. The course allowed students to pick any topic that intrigued them to write a paper about, Brianna picked mental health and her advocacy journey began.
By the time she found herself competing in Miss Black and Gold 2018, deciding on her platform was simple. She explains, “Making it my platform, my biggest goal is to use my standing in the UCF community. If I can speak out, I am not only reaching people in my life about mental health but I am reaching a larger minority community about mental health. It is okay to speak out. It is okay to go to the counseling center on campus. It is okay to do all these things because at the end of the day, it is about you and you deserve to make sure that you’re okay.”
As part of her awareness campaign, Brianna reached out to NAMI Greater Orlando and we are overjoyed to be able to partner with this young and impactful community leader in her ongoing efforts to end stigma.