Did you see Tina Collins killin’ it in this month’s The Look column? The inspiring mental health advocate can certainly pull off the cold-shoulder look, but that was the least of what impressed us about her. Collins, who has struggled with schizoaffective disorder, is now a vocal advocate for those with mental illnesses.
“Mental illness is sort of the last frontier,” she says. “It’s complex, it doesn’t always show from the outside, people don’t really understand what others are experiencing. It’s still trying to come from the stigma it’s been under.”
Fittingly, she was very open about her own experience with schizoaffective disorder. Though it is managed well with medication and therapy, Collins says the illness does manifest in parts of her life.
“Parts of the process of getting dressed can be difficult for those with schizoaffective disorder and neurological symptoms,” she says. “I was tremendously proud of myself [for my participation in The Look]. I drove down to Harbor East without a problem, I was meeting new people, I had to try on different clothes and deal with jewelry…I love it, but it’s hard for me neurologically. It probably sounds funny to people that don’t have those obstacles day-to-day, but I just came out feeling really proud of myself. I’m so much better than I used to be.”
The experience was in some ways reminiscent of another challenging experience in her past: delivering a BaltimoreTEDx Talk. She gave a speech as part of an “Outliers”-themed event which has since been widely shared and circulated. (See the full talk here.)
“I had never done a talk before, but I just enjoyed it so much,” she says. “I just kind of throw myself into things at this point.”
Though her friends and some coworkers knew about her struggles with mental illness, the talk was a sort of “coming out” to the general public.
“I’ve talked about it before, but certainly not standing on stage, going into my specific symptoms,” she says. “It was so empowering and cathartic. Working on it and thinking about it definitely brought up some of the pain of the experience, so in that sense it wasn’t easy, but I think the more we open up the conversation about mental illness, the better.”
These days, she primarily serves as a full-time caregiver for her mother, but continues to pursue advocacy opportunities. (Earlier in October, she delivered a talk at the annual Planetree Conference.)
As for advice for those who may be struggling with a mental health disorder?
“You need to confront reality and deal with it to make your life better,” she says simply. “You need help.”