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February 7, 2004

Miss Deaf Kansas an educator on a mission

From: Kansas City Star - Kansas City,MO,USA - Feb 7, 2004

Pageant winner is looking forward to raising awareness about mental health

The Kansas City Star

"I do want to make a difference in other people's lives when it comes to this kind of thing. I'm not holding anything back."
Erin Land

Erin Land was crowned the new Miss Deaf Kansas in the Kansas Association for the Deaf's pageant for 2003-2005 on Saturday.

A full-time paraprofessional at the Kansas School for the Deaf, 23-year-old Land is not just a teacher. She is an educator with a mission.

Land, of , is zeroed in on mental health as her personal crusade for raising awareness. Her interest on the subject was born about three years ago – when her mother died.

"My mom killed herself because of depression. It's because of her I'm interested in mental health. I hope to help other people."

Her platform presentation at the Miss Deaf Kansas pageant was a talk about mental health counseling. The gist of her message was that mental illness is not an embarrassment. It's a disorder and that can be managed, she said.

Depression runs in Land's family, on her mother's side.

Land said although she believes her mother struggled with depression for many years, her childhood memories are of a mother who gave her everything.

Without a father or siblings, Land said they had only each other.

"She had only me," she said. "All my life, my mom was my life, my everything – from a mother to an interpreter to a best friend."

That began to change when Land went to Washington, D.C., to attend Gallaudet University.

It was a new life experience for her. She made friends and became busy studying and exploring her new environment.

"I was in my third year in college when I found out she killed herself," Land said. "I struggled with my studies and shut out everyone from helping me. I didn't want help. I just wanted to be by myself. I was angry at my mom for leaving me all alone."

During that time, people thought Land would not make it through college. So with determination, she decided to prove them wrong.

"I took psychology classes to understand why mom did it. Then next thing I knew, I had my bachelor degree in my hands. I made it.

"I'm here where I am now because of my mom."

For Land, "now" means using her knowledge to educate people on mental illness.

It's a testament to how Land is moving on and trying to make something positive come out of her mother's death.

She told the audience, during her pageant platform, that 18.8 million people in the United States were diagnosed with depression in 1998, according to the U.S. census.

"The information is still new," she said during a telephone interview Tuesday. "Many don't know about the true meaning of mental health and many may not know they have the problem."

She said there are many different ways to tell if someone is depressed. They say things like, "Life isn't worth living." They complain about things they'd normally ignore or they get into moods.

It's hard for some people to admit they're depressed, she said.

"All you can do is be positive, listen to them, offer them a shoulder, offer to send them to a professional. Of course, they have to know it's not going to be easy and they won't be well over night. It takes time, patience and self willingness."

As the new Miss Deaf Kansas, Land's responsibilities include being a good role model, representing deaf people to the hearing community, volunteering and encouraging deaf awareness.

But Land said, personally, she wants to use her standing to help remove the stigma of mental illness and promote mental health among deaf people.

After all, it's real reason she decided to enter the pageant.

"I do want to make a difference in other people's lives when it comes to this kind of thing. I'm not holding anything back."

Land will advance to the Miss Deaf America pageant in July. 2003-2005 Miss Deaf Kansas

Erin Land

• Age: 23

• Hometown: She was raised in Johnson County and lives in the Shawnee Mission area.

• High School: Land attended the Kansas School for the Deaf from kindergarten to 12th grade.

• College: Bachelor's degree in psychology from Gallaudet University

• Occupation: Paraprofessional at Kansas School for the Deaf