Abbie Davis with AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia & AFSP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Moutier
When I was younger I dreamed of being a princess. I adored the beautiful dresses, the horse drawn carriages, and of course, the crown. I never thought that one day I would actually get to wear a crown, and be called a queen.
While I don’t get to ride around in a horse drawn carriage, as Miss Teen Ohio International 2016, I do get to wear beautiful gowns, and I do have a crown – kept in a small, transparent plastic carrying case – that I break out for special occasions.
No one was more surprised than I was to have won, not just because I was a pageant newbie, but because of the platform I had chosen: the cause I had decided to represent, and volunteer my time to, as part of my pageant experience. Most people competing in pageants choose something related to the environment, or a cause involving animal rights, social welfare, or a well-known physical disease.
I chose suicide prevention.
Just a few weeks before the date of the pageant, on a snowy January evening, I got home from rehearsal for a musical I was in at my high school. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was go to bed, because I had school the next day. I tiredly trudged up the stairs to my room, when I felt my phone vibrate. I stopped and looked down: it was a text from one of my schoolmates telling me that my good friend Chase had died.
My heart stopped. I don’t even think I started crying right away, I was so in shock. Half an hour later, I received another text, this one relating that my friend had died by suicide.
I had known Chase for four years. We were in our high school’s musicals together. He was the most outgoing person I had ever met. He was extremely talented at dancing, and was always there for me when I got nervous before a performance, or whenever I needed some advice.
And now he was gone.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Thankfully, school was canceled the next day because of the snow. It took me weeks to accept that this had happened. I kept telling myself, “Chase wouldn’t do this.” I kept expecting to get a text from him saying he wanted to hang out. But it never came. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything I could have done.
But, I decided, maybe there was something I could do now.
Suicide isn’t something that’s talked about a lot in the pageant world. I was nervous that I would be passed over because of my platform. But it seemed important to me to speak out about this topic. Maybe if I did, people would be more aware of the issue: what the warning signs are, and what they can do to help prevent it. I wanted to let other people know that it’s okay to talk about it, and reach out for help.
When I told people I chose suicide prevention as my platform, they often looked stunned. Some said it was too sad of a topic, something you wouldn’t want to talk about during the interview portion of the pageant. But that’s exactly what we all should be doing: talking. There should be no more quiet conversations about suicide; there should be loud conversations about prevention. You never know who could be quietly struggling. I had learned that, myself, just a few weeks earlier. Someone who may be smiling the brightest, and laughing the loudest — someone like Chase — may silently have a battle raging inside them.
Bringing awareness to the issue of suicide in the pageant world was something I wanted to do, no matter what people thought. It was important to me because of Chase.
The night of the pageant, I stood up on the pageant stage in front of several hundred people, and felt proud of what I was talking about. I also realized, no matter who won, this was only the beginning.
After I was crowned, I went on to participate in one of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness campus walks, and raised over $1200 in just a month for AFSP. I want to keep the conversation going, help erase any stigma some may still feel around mental health, and guide people to resources that can help others.
So yes, I am a pageant queen, but I am also a person who feels sadness, and wants to make a difference in this world. Let’s work together, and speak out about suicide. Let’s integrate the conversation more openly into every walk of life, including pageantry, and shine a light on the beauty inside each of us.