Addressing mental health among military personnel is a top priority for Spc. Maura Spence-Carroll, who last month as Miss Fort Carson won the crown of Miss Colorado 2021 and will now compete for Miss America this December.

As the first active-duty soldier to win the Miss Colorado pageant, Spence-Carroll now has a very public platform to shine a light on destigmatizing mental health care in the military so personnel can get the assistance they need.

“Proactive, preventative care now is how we prevent service members and veterans from committing suicide tomorrow,” she said.

The 21-year-old intelligence analyst joined the Army in 2018 and assigned to 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

Spence-Carroll is in the process of identifying senior Army leaders willing to speak up about their own mental or behavioral health issues and the care they received so other service members understand it is OK to speak up and ask for help when needed.

“I really want to share with junior soldiers that you don’t have to be a sergeant first class or a captain in order to speak up and make a change,” she said. “You can do it as you are. Having the strength and the bravery to stand up for what you believe in when no one else is backing you at first can be scary, but it increases the opportunities for other people.”

Last autumn when Spence-Carroll was feeling overwhelmed, she reached out for professional help at Fort Carson and was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has also lived with anxiety and depression much of her life.

“Because of treatment and because I have a great support system; I am thriving,” she said. “I’m so incredibly thankful to the providers I have and especially the leadership I have because if it weren’t for them, I would still be struggling.”

She sees room for improvement across the entire Army.

“It is important to destigmatize mental health care, especially in the military,” Spence-Carroll said. “It is very important because that is the first step that’s preventing service members from receiving care. They feel like there is going to be a stigma, either socially, through their chain of command or professionally, and that should not exist.”

One place Spence-Carroll was never judged was around family. She came from a loving home and clearly remembers watching the Miss America pageant when she was 5. By 5th grade, her mother, Cidnie Carroll — a professional singer in a Celtic folk-rock band for many years — began teaching Spence-Carroll how to sing classical music.

Spence-Carroll learned "Con te Partirò," a song recorded by Andrea Bocelli, and fell in love with it.

She has been competing in pageants for nearly a decade and continues getting help from her mother via Zoom, where they often discuss musicality, technique and phrasing while rehearsing from her Army barracks.

Carroll described her daughter as highly intelligent, very independent and able to get along with all types of personalities.

“I’m extraordinarily proud of her,” Carroll said. “The most deeply held value in our family is service to others. She’s really going to be able to make a difference in the lives of people.”