Meet The 22-Year-Old Fighting Mental Health Stigma

11.29.18
Breyonna Pinkney is the founder of Pinkney Promise, a nonprofit that encourages mental health wellness for minority young adults ages 18-35. Photo: Karl Spencer.
11.29.18

Breyonna Pinkney struggled with mental health during her sophomore year of college at Howard University. Her struggle turned into triumph when she started her own non-profit that aims to tackle mental illness.

The Pinkney Promise Foundation, which she founded in 2017, focuses on the importance of mental health awareness and creating a space for people, especially African Americans, to talk openly about their issues.

The stigma behind mental illness is shifting, as celebrities like Adele, NBA player Demar DeRozan, and Beyoncé have opened up about their battles with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Their ability to talk about these problems has sparked debates on many different social platforms, but Pinkney, a Baltimore, Md. native, decided to go the extra mile and started her foundation in the Washington D.C. area.

YR Media correspondent Nayo Campbell spoke with Pickney about how she is using her own battle with depression to shape the mental health conversation.

Nayo Campbell: What is Pinkney Promise and how did you come up with the concept?

Breyonna Pinkney: Pinkney Promise is a 501c3 non-profit organization for mental health awareness. We have different workshops, community services, and creative events that bring like-minded people together to teach them how to cope in a healthy way, while simultaneously teaching about mental health and finding their true purpose.

A lot of people get mental health wellness and mental health illness confused, and my organization is to help others become aware of different mental illnesses and give them an outlet for them to express themselves.

You mentioned that this came from your own personal experiences. Can you share your battle with mental health?

My sophomore year of college, I faced depression. A lot of times, depression is taboo in the African-American community and we’re told to “man up” or “woman up” and handle your business. But there was a point in my life where I needed to deal with my emotions and find an outlet to cope.

In 2009, I lost my mother, and I didn’t really heal from that, but I kind of buried that feeling of losing someone. I also had to deal with homelessness and many other traumatic events and instead of dealing with it, I compressed it inside. I had to learn how to find my escape. I was able to find my escape through writing. From my writing, more people were able to relate to me about their battles, and I was able to learn about other people’s escapes, which then started the foundation.

What is your ultimate goal with Pinkney Promise?

My ultimate goal with the foundation is to bring more awareness to mental health. I want people to experience these events and see what works for them. We have a variety of events from writing, painting, and panel discussions where professional mental-health psychologists come in and speak. I want to get to a point where I help as many people as possible, and they are able to figure out how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

There is a lot of focus on mental health. Where do you want the conversation to go next?

I want to see more people be proactive about bringing awareness and sharing their story. A few celebrities–like Big Sean and Michelle Williams–speak about mental health and their depression. But there are so many different artists and celebrities we look up to who understand this topic, and if they spoke on it, it would affect so many lives.

But it will take a lot of time to break down that barrier and not appear as if we have it all together. It’s not the easiest to let people know your problems, but you have to conquer that and be able to talk about the places that you’ve been and how you got through it.

Where do you see your non-profit organization in the next five years?

In the next five years, I plan to have different programs at HBCUs around the country. I specifically want to target young adults in college. I came to college as an engineering major, I pledged Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and sometimes you get to this period of accomplishment where people are proud of you and people don’t realize you are going through stuff.

Mental health issues are super prevalent in college, but we tend to go to a happy hour or a party and we get to a place where we don’t tackle the issue. Therefore, I want to be able to bring this discussion up on numerous campuses in the future.

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