Winslyn Parrish Is on a Mission to Destigmatize Therapy for Black Women

After losing her mother a year ago, Parrish has doubled down on her commitment to embrace community, prioritize her mental health, and lean into the health justice space—all while maintaining a 4.0. How does she do it? A lot of therapy.

For a young woman with more accomplishments than you could imagine, you might be surprised to learn, Winslyn Parrish embraces failures like an old friend. Whether it’s serving as sophomore class president during her time at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee or leading membership recruitment and retention for national community-service-based organization SISTUHS, Inc., following the coronavirus pandemic, every win in her life comes in the face of professional and personal loss. When I ask her if there’s anything on her mind during our conversation, she admits that while being a 2022 Glamour College Woman of the Year is a great honor, it’s tinged with sadness as well. Nearly a year ago, in November 2021, the 22-year-old lost her mother to multiple sclerosis.

Parrish, a master's student at FAMU studying health administration, says her undergraduate time on campus was filled with recruitment events for prospective students and duties on the school’s royal court, yet she was struggling to stay afloat. It wasn’t until her community and her organizations rallied behind her that she was finally able to look at her homework again, setting out to prove that everything to come would be in memory of her mother. She finished the semester with a 4.0 GPA.

She’s now a master’s student back at the same college that taught her what it meant to be a resilient Black woman. Parrish is continuing her education with a master’s of health administration thanks to her passion for equal access and informed care regardless of someone’s medical or economic condition. It’s a decision that stems from years of caring for her mother throughout childhood. Now she’s ready to take on the world on her terms—focusing on her mental health and destigmatizing therapy within her inner circle.

“The next chapter of my life I want to come is being solidified,” she says. “After my mom passed away, I didn’t even know how I was going to make it through the end of the semester, and I shut down. After that, opportunities just started rolling in. Now that I have all of these opportunities, and knowing where I want to make my mark, I want to know where I belong and where I need to be.”

Glamour: If you could describe your time at your HBCU in one word, what would it be?

Winslyn Parish: Building my love for FAMU has been impactful on who I am as a woman and as a person. I definitely feel like I’ve made my mark here on campus, just with everything I’ve done. My freshman year, I ran for sophomore class president and won that race. My sophomore year, I ran for Miss Junior Attendant of our royal court. And I kept on going—I was a presidential ambassador working with the university president and the vice president of student affairs. The people I’ve met and now transitioning into postgrad life and still being on the same campus and recruiting with the office of academic affairs for health professions—it’s all very impactful.

In times of grief and challenge, how were you able to lean into the community you built at FAMU?

One thing I’ve always said when it comes to FAMU—or even just HBCU culture in general—everyone knows everyone. We’re a big knit family in this culture. So when I lost my mom, it was an extremely hard time for me because it was completely unexpected. I went home, and I called my best friend who is in one of the organizations I’m a part of on campus, and I guess she just let everyone know. By the next morning I woke up to calls and text messages and got flowers that week delivered to me and my mother’s funeral home. Being overwhelmed with love like that in a time of grief was really what I needed. It made me cry multiple times because I just didn’t know that I had all that love behind me with everyone I touched at FAMU.

Working in recruiting, I’m sure you talk to prospective applicants who have questions about FAMU. What’s one thing you have advocated for or attempted to demystify surrounding HBCUs?

I’ve personally advocated for destigmatizing how HBCUs are viewed. For FAMU, one thing I always heard was that FAMU is a party school or that HBCUs don’t give financial aid. Combatting that is something I always advocated for. When people say we don’t have money for financial aid—which is true sometimes because of the federal system—I always told people, “Opportunities do not fall into your lap. You have to seek them out.” You have to stand out and keep your grades up to receive what you want to receive.

In your application, you spoke about your passion for the health profession and continuing that legacy. Tell me a bit about that.

My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was 9 or 10. It took her ability to walk from her—I have no memories of her being able to walk because it was such a traumatic experience. With the MS, her health declined very slowly, and my dad and I took turns nursing her and my grandmother, who I moved in with to help. Being in the midst of my sick grandmother and mom, I found a love for nursing. It’s all that I knew and what I thought I wanted to do—but I had a breakdown with my mental health and grades, and quickly realized it was a bad choice. I remember thinking, Okay, I love health care, but where in health care do I belong? I remember researching health care administration and realizing it was the best of both worlds for me. With my mother being sick and going to all these doctor’s appointments, I remember thinking of ways that the facility could cater to her more or the doctor could have explained her situation better to the family. All of that led me to health care administration.

Mentioning your time within the nursing major and how that was extremely taxing for you, on top of your numerous achievements and involvement, how do you find time to balance it all?

I have been in therapy since 2019 or early 2020. I got into it during that time because so many things were happening within my personal life and I needed a space to debrief. Therapy is stigmatized within the Black community. People hear the word therapy or psychiatrist and automatically think you’re crazy. In my four years at FAMU, I’ve honestly been an advocate for that as well. My organization, SISTUHS, Incorporated, had a panel on mental health, and some of the Black men would say that therapy isn’t for them and that you’re “paying to have a friend.” It always stuck with me. Would you rather hold in all of your emotions or talk about it? Education around mental health is what we need to focus on.

On that topic, how have you come to embrace your softness as a Black woman? Was that something you discovered through therapy?

I will say I’m still working on embracing that. It’s not something that happens overnight, but I’ve definitely come a long way since I first began therapy. When I first started, I kept it on the low; obviously, my parents didn't know. I accidentally left a therapy brochure on a coffee table in the living room, and my brother saw it. Later that night he came into the living room, and he just sat down and said he was proud of me for taking that step toward bettering my mental health and doing what’s best for me. He didn’t know that’s what actually pushed me into doing therapy. My props go to my therapist, because embracing who I am as a Black woman definitely comes from her over the years.

How do you celebrate yourself?

I love this question. This was a topic of mine in therapy over the summer. I felt like I was just being hit with opportunity after opportunity, but I was just going through the motions. I always felt that, although I worked hard and did what I needed to do to get those opportunities, I never celebrated. I told my therapist that I don’t know how to just sit and embrace what I’ve done. I’m honestly still learning how to celebrate myself.

What drives you to follow your dreams when it seems too impossible or abstract to reach?

My mom. My mom was never a quitter. She never detoured from what she wanted to do, no matter the circumstances. She had a very fiery spirit and was never afraid to speak her mind. Something that I’ve found in me, that just to be my pet peeve about her, was that she never let a thought rest. If she has something that she wants to create in her mind, it has to be done within her time span or, you know, hell is going to break loose.

Click here to read the profile on Glamour.

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