2016 Miss USA Deshauna Barber on Military Life and Mental Health

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It’s interesting when you interview Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber on the telephone.

Instead of looking at a stunningly beautiful woman, you’re listening to an incredibly smart, assertive and opinionated young woman. Because not only is Deshauna Barber Miss USA, but also an active duty captain in the Army Reserves.

Vital Updates spoke with Barber as she prepared for the Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas. Barber passed her crown to Kara McCullough on Sunday.

Barber won the title of Miss USA 2016 (left) and is also in the Army Reserves. Credit: TMZ/Youtube

As part of her final Miss USA duties, Barber is serving as an ambassador for National Women’s Health Week. She is among other inspirational women serving as ambassador who symbolize health and vitality, including Joan Lunden. Lunden, a likeable, well-respected journalist, recently had a very public battle with breast cancer.

Vital Updates focused its interview with Barber on mental health, specifically the mental health of women in the military, but also mental health among all women.

‘There is no way to be nice’

Barber doesn’t mince words about the military: It’s not for everyone.

“There is no way for me to be nice,” she said of her leadership role in the military.

Barber the beauty queen does an about-face when she leaves the runway for the military base. “I try to find a way to not come off as a B-I-T-C-H, but I think that when you’re in the type of male-dominated industry where men get away with things, you have to put your foot down early and often or you’ll be taken advantage of.”

Barber is an active duty captain in the Army Reserves. Credit: U.S. Army Reserve/YouTube

She called the military “a wonderful organization, but it comes with sacrifices and things you need to be aware of,” adding, “The military is something you can’t just jump in and out of. You can’t leave. If you’re going to take on that huge type of commitment think long and hard.”

She says young women who visit a recruiter need to remember, “It’s a recruiter’s job to recruit you. They may make things sound super glorious.”

And with women like Barber serving as role models for young women who want to break into previously male-dominated roles, she feels a responsibility to be blunt.

“I get lots of girls who come up to me and say, ‘You inspired me to go into the military, I go to basic training next month,’” Barber said. “I always try to make sure they have a family member or long lost friend or loved one who really knows them well who has served in the military to offer them more insight.”

Barber has used her Miss USA platform to discuss issues related to PTSD and suicide in the military.

Barber on ‘13 Reasons Why’

Vital Updates asked Barber what her thoughts were on the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”

In the series, a teenage girl commits suicide, and then sends everyone who upset her a tape.  The tape begins by announcing her suicide.

As for why she did it? “If you’re listening to this, you’re one of the reasons why,” the tape begins.

“13 Reasons Why” is a controversial series on Netflix about teen suicide. Credit: Clevver News/YouTube

Morning show pundits on every network debated whether the series is safe for teenage girls to watch, or if it may actually trigger suicide.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said Barber, who has watched the series. “It’s on point on bullying and how the internet impacts our youth today. Suicide rates for middle and high school students are incredibly high.”

She said sticking our heads in the sand about suicide or covering up the ills that cause them is not the way to address the problem.

“In some school districts, there’s no punishment if you’re not physically touching someone,” Barber said. “They may not be putting their hands on you, but they are impacting your self-esteem,” she said of bullies.

Anxiety attacks rattle Barber before pageants

Last month, Deshauna participated in the Miss Universe Pageant in Manila, Philippines and finished in the top nine.

Barber competing in Miss Universe USA 2016. Credit: New Morning/YouTube

“It definitely was the best three weeks of my life,” Barber said of the pageant experience. “As much as I wanted to win Miss Universe the main thing I wanted was Miss USA. So, I was very much content.”

On the topic of mental health, perhaps there are few things more nerve-wracking than competing in a beauty pageant before millions of live television viewers.

While some may say it’s a superficial example, it really isn’t when it’s your livelihood.

“The night before Miss Universe I was trying to keep myself from having some anxiety attacks, because I had that at Miss USA,” Barber says.

Related: Eating More Fruits and Veggies Can Improve Mental Health

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”