Youngest Miss America Teresa Scanlan: Depression conquered

The youngest Miss America became depressed during her reign. Why? Photo: Scanlan/ AP

WASHINGTON, September 11, 2013 — A visit to the home of Teresa Scanlan, the youngest Miss America since Bette Cooper in 1937, quickly revealed why Teresa was voted into the exclusive club.

While Teresa is a gorgeous young woman, there is much more that sets her apart.

Teresa comes from ‘good stock’. Her grandparents escaped a former communist Yugoslavian island called Ilavik, making Teresa’s mother the first native born American in the large Scanlan family. Teresa’s father, a child psychiatrist, and her mother, a home-school teacher, have seven children.

Born and raised in the town of Gering, Nebraska, Teresa was home schooled by her mother until high school. In her first year of high school, she became the lead in the school play. Shortly thereafter, Teresa won the tile of Miss Nebraska and within six months of graduating high school early by doubling up on classes, was awarded the crown of Miss America, 2011.

Teresa’s young 1937 counterpart Bette Cooper, disappeared for 24 hours after winning the crown because she was so overwhelmed by the expected ceremonies, appreances, speaking engagements and time away from home. Teresa jumped in with both feet, traveling up to 20,000 miles monthly and visiting countries including Russia, France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, The Holy Land and Greece. Her speaking engagements and appearances are far too numerous to list.

Three years after the pageant, Teresa is again in the news. The attention was brought on by her selecting to attend Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. and a small blurb in the school newspaper where Teresa spoke of suffering from depression during her whirlwind lifestyle of Miss America.

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It is interesting to examine why Teresa experienced depression, why she chose this school and what her future plans are. Most importantly, it is important to look at who, not what, Teresa is. What she is, is a former Miss America, a student. Who she is, by her own account, is a woman who loves God, family, country, food and fitness and dogs.

Teresa is may be a fascinating look into conservative Christian values and tight family structure and more important that no one is perfect despite all attempts and projections by others and one’s self.

Teresa was raised steeped in conservative Christianity and home schooled by her mother. Multiple studies suggest home schooled children accomplish more than students in typical institutions, engage in customized schooling and experience enhanced family relationships.

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association and State Department of Education, home schooled students are provided a safer learning environment and typically score higher on standardized academic testing by an average of 15-30 percentile points.

As Teresa explained and studies support, engaging in community affairs, creating normal friendships and attending social activities serve to round out the home learning experience adn ensure normal social development.

With a growth rate of about eight percent annually, home schooling is gaining popularity and currently it is estimated that over two million children are being home schooled.

At Patrick Henry College, being home schooled prior to matriculation is not unusual.

Teresa claims she wished to attend this college since it was built in 2000. This would make Teresa age seven when she chose her place of higher education. She knew at this tender age what school was for her.

She wishes to become a prosecuting attorney then a judge at the highest level. Patrick Henry College has a reputation for churning out such graduates and the curricula focuses on God and country.

Teresa seemingly has it all. Her parents credit God for blessing Teresa and shortchange their own efforts. Family and love is the core of Teresa’s strength.

Teresa has a great family, super success, a fine education in the works at the school of her childhood choice all by the age of 20. But at one point, she became darkly depressed; in fact, clinically depressed with serious potential consequences.

Teresa has shared her torment publically but in truth, her inner most thoughts are privately guarded and shared to very few. As she is open, friendly, welcoming and honest, one would have to get very close to her and gain her absolute trust to know her deepest thoughts. This is just an impression. Teresa has not said as much.

Teresa’s depression came in the middle of what should have been a time of carefree enjoyment of success and world travel excitement yet during this period, she treated her depression with food and some pictures toward the end of her reign reveal the weight gain of 30 lbs..

What happened?

Teresa was taken from what she described as a happy, content and carefree life and overnight had to access the world of adulthood with more activity, challenge, exposure, and experiences most older adults will never endure.

Teresa quickly discovered what being Miss America means to others: perfection. As Teresa says, she has since learned perfection does not exist. Every move she made, word uttered, facial expression and mannerisms were observed, stared at, calculated and criticized.

If she ever said anything negative, forgot to smile, or seemed unresponsive and not peppy, she could be labeled the “B” word.

Some said she was not pretty enough to be Miss America. Others criticized her hair or make up, said  she was too skinny, too fat, or a myriad of other sins. Worse yet, her core of strength, love and family, was miles away for the first time in her life.

As much as Teresa learned to be independent, the vicissitudes of the responsibilities of Miss America away from her core was too much to ask of a 17 year old or anyone of any age when felt thrust and pressed upon with little to no preparation.

Teresa claims just hearing the voices of those she loves was not enough to comfort her.

Teresa felt her down periods were from the stress of travel and other aspects of her reign but eventually realized she was not happy. She consulted her father, the child psychiatrist, and he arranged for treatment which included cutting back on the load of classes she was trying to tackle.

As Teresa well knows, young women are subjected to the media concept of what women should look and act like and strive, even to the cost of their health, to achieve unrealistic goals. Bulimia and anorexia nervosa are often the result. In fact, this issue was Teresa’s platform as Miss America.

Today, Teresa is again centered, balanced, happy and eager to move on with life. Make no mistake, she enjoyed her title and all that came with it and still does. However, now she takes it all with a grain of salt, shed her weight and focuses on her studies and goals.

She conquered her depression, in part, with lifestyle change and the realization there are Divine forces greater than herself.

Of course her core is again her rock in life. In fact, when Teresa said she had to pick up her mother at an airport at the conclusion of the interview, her face lit up.

She is wise to realize education is the key to success and achievement and the Miss America experience will soon be a blip on the radar of her life.

There is little doubt Teresa will achieve her goals and one goal, by her own admission, is to not peak at 17 years of age. She is out to set a new standard for herself in the world of law. It won’t be too long before folks are saying: “There she is- Justice Teresa Scanlan”.


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist









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