Mallory Fuller is a recent graduate  of Texas A&M University, a current Baylor University student pursuing a Masters in Communication Science and Disorders, a published children’s book author and advocate for mental health awareness, especially in youth.  She is only 24. Oh, and she just so happens to be 2021 Miss Texas. 

As part of her year-long  speaking tour with the Miss Texas Scholarship Organization, which has  already tallied over 23,000 miles in the first four months, Fuller recently visited Karnes County. 

Behind all the glitz and glamour of earning the title of Miss Texas, there’s more than just a beauty pageant at work. Each Miss America state and local candidate chooses their main focus, and for Fuller, her choice is both personal and powerful. 

“My mission is suicide prevention,” Fuller said. “I provide mental health awareness, as well as the suicide prevention and education so that I can potentially save lives because this information that I am giving people is critical to learning the warning signs of suicide, what to do if you recognize them and truly being able to prevent a suicide before it happens. 

“It’s a very proactive approach towards mental health and suicide prevention.”

The main portion of her tour of Karnes County was visiting local schools and giving a talk about suicide prevention. During her visit, Fuller visited Pettus ISD, Pawnee ISD, Runge ISD and Kenedy ISD. In front of high school students, she provided suicide prevention training, and at the local elementary schools, she had frank conversations about mental health with students, in a kid-friendly way. 

Fuller experienced the effects of mental health up-close when, at 15, she experienced  the loss of her good friend Johnny to suicide, which she explains to each of her audiences led to Fuller having to overcome her own mental health struggles, adding, “I talk about Johnny and I talk about how devastating that was for me, as well as for our community, because I’m from a small town as well.”

In her program, Fuller also explores the different myths associated with suicide, including the act of talking about suicide supposedly giving people the idea to commit the act. According to Fuller, the opposite is actually true. 

“When you ask somebody, if they are struggling with suicidal thoughts or you talk about it, it removes that taboo stigma and it allows them to open up about what’s going on in their world,” Fuller clarified. 

 In 2015, Fuller testified before the Texas Senate on behalf of the Jason Flatt Act, which was later passed into state law, making it “mandatory for educators to be trained in suicide prevention annually.” 

For Kenedy ISD Superintendent Diana Barrera-Ugarte, this education is eye-opening,  not just for the teachers and students, but for the parents also. 

“(Mental health) has touched everybody, -- it has recently touched my family as well” Barrera-Ugarte said. “And it can happen to anybody. This struggle is very real for a lot of teens right now and we want to do all that we can to raise awareness so that we can normalize those conversations.”

Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva, who had the pleasure of meeting Fullor when she spoke about her mission during a recent Karnes County Commissioners Court, carried Superintendent Barrera-Ugarte’s sentiment further, stressing the importance of opening up the dialogue on matters of mental health, and ridding the negative stigma that used to attached to it. 

“I’m glad that (Fuller) is sharing the message and kind of telling the students it’s okay to have thoughts,” Villanueva said, adding, “but, you know, it’s even better when you ask somebody for help.”

Villanueva described his belief on the ongoing mental health battle, one that is worsening in Karnes County -- much like everywhere else. While many have attributed the stark rise in suicide attempts and reports of mental health cases, Villanueva thinks the rise of reports could be a good thing; it could be the result of more people coming forward for help.

Villanueva said, “When you have somebody that young (Fuller) that’s talking to the younger generation, you know, it makes a difference. It really does.”

Barrera-Ugarte conveyed similar feelings, adding that she hopes more frank conversations like this can happen between students and staff, and child and parent. 

“We want our families to ask kids really how they’re feeling and what’s happening in their lives and really spend the time looking eyeball to eyeball and having real conversations.,” she said. “Because oftentimes, parents that have been existing in the house with their children say, ‘I had no idea.’ 

“So I would invite parents to have real conversations, really looking at their kids in the eye and turning the TV off and turning the phones off and really, you know, enjoying the conversation and connecting authentically.”

“We are seeing suicides, very young now,” Fuller said, adding, “and the conversation has to be started at an early age;  I really, truly believe that.”

According to a recent report released by the National Vital Statistics System, between 2007 and 2018, the national suicide rate among persons aged 10–24 increased 57.4%. According to the study, the increase was broad and experienced nationwide. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019, suicide ranked second in a top ten table of causes of death for ages 15-24. 

This is why Fuller wrote her first children’s book. “Henry’s Happy Heart” follows young Henry, as he learns to cope with feeling sad. 

“It’s teaching kids how to go see the counselor if they’re feeling really sad,” Fuller said, “...and just like they would go see the school nurse if they had a stomachache or a headache. 

“So if parents are interested in starting that conversation with their kids, it’s a great way to get it started, so that they have those mental health foundations and that they know that it’s okay to ask for help when they grow up.”

For Fuller, having those tough conversations early can be life-saving, but sometimes, the conversation is the hardest part, as she explained, “If you might be struggling with depression or anxiety or whatever it is, it’s okay to not be okay.”

“Henry’s Happy Heart” is available now on Amazon. Fuller will compete for the title of Miss America in Connecticut on Dec. 16.

•jwillden@mysoutex.com•

 

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