Former beauty queen shares story of battling mental illness to help break the stigma

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HUGHESVILLE, Md. – When Syanne Centeno was 20-years-old, she began competing in beauty pageants to further her community work with children, but also, to find her identity.

“We’re often referred to as chameleons because we can morph into any situation and anybody that we want to be.”, said Centeno as she was opening up about her personal struggle with borderline personality disorder.

Centeno, who was crowned Miss Maryland World in 2015, said that she found herself changing who she was to fit the part.

She said, “I had to sort of change myself when I went into pageantry because I was a girl who liked punk music and choppy hair, dark makeup, and I decided, ‘hey, I’m going to do pageants. I’m going to look like everybody else.”

Centeno is no stranger to mental illness.
At eight-years-old, she struggled with anorexia and at 11, she had begun hurting herself; behavior she said stemmed from her being bullied as a child.
By the time she started competing in pageants, Centeno said she had been fine for seven years, until she had to give up her title when she didn’t win Miss World America.

“If I didn’t have the identity of a pageant title holder, then I didn’t know who I was, and that’s often seen in people with borderline personality disorder. We have identity issues.”, explained Centeno.

It was then that she said she began cutting more, became delusional, and afraid of everything.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with borderline personality disorder often have mood swings and are uncertain of how they see themselves in the world.
Centeno said that she had cut all her hair off in hopes of looking like someone who she wanted to be, but she continued to decline.
Centeno hit a turning point when one day, she said, she got the urge to drive into a tree.

“I became very frightened because I was going to do it.”, she said.

Centeno had attempted suicide before, but this time she sought help.
She said, “I called one of my friends in desperation and I told her, ‘I can’t feel myself. I feel numb. I’m driving. I’m going to crash into a tree.’ And she said, ‘Why are you going to crash into a tree?’ and I said I can’t feel anything.”

Centeno’s friend talked her into driving to the urgent care.
From there, she said that she began her road to recovery.

Centeno now wants to use her own experience to encourage others to step forward and break the stigma of mental illness.

According to Mental Health America, a community-based non-profit, one-in-five adult suffers from some sort of mental condition, accounting for over 43 million Americans.
In opening up in a magazine about her situation, Centeno told DCW50 that a parent tried to get her fired from her job working with kids.

“There was a parent who saw that magazine… she left an anonymous note to my boss that stated she didn’t think I should be working with children because of my mental illness.”, explained Centeno.

Centeno said she was advised not to be so open about her mental illness, but she feels that is part of the problem.

She blames a lack of awareness and education for the negative stereotypes of those suffering.

She said, “There’s also this view that people with mental illness, that we’re all crazy, that we look a certain way, that we act a certain way, but really, we’re just normal people.”

To combat the negative sentiment toward people with mental illness, Centeno is pushing forward with her story and letting others know, they’re not alone.

She said, “I’ve been using the hashtag #endthestigma and then sharing my own story and I hope that people will create a movement with their own stories and realize that people are really supportive and want to help.”

Centeno is also the founder of the Warrior Princess Initiative, to help lift the spirits of children with life-threatening diseases.