“I have never really talked about my mental health journey before,” senior general business major Kenzee Blount said.
These are the first words the Independence, Mississippi, native uttered to me as I sat down with him on the first floor of the Union to discuss his mental health journey.
From an outside perspective, it is easy to assume Blount’s life is a walk in paradise. As an orientation leader, Leadership and Engagement ambassador, Director of Special Events for Active Minds, 2021 Homecoming King and so much more, it is hard to imagine his life is anything but perfection. With a smile that could light up a room and an abundance of confidence, he could be the poster child for the saying looks can be deceiving.
Blount’s mental health journey began at the start of his high school career when he became well acquainted with the unfortunate trials of life.
“Growing up in the South as a gay man, you suffer from a lot,” Blount said. “Before I came to terms with the fact that I was gay, I was being called slurs. That affects a person, that type of harassment.”
By the time Blount was in junior high, his mental health was in a low place. Balancing the expectations and judgments of the world around him with his own personal battles took a toll on his mental and emotional well being. Friends and family who accepted him with open arms when he started coming out nurtured Blount back to a place of normality and stability. As his high school journey came to an end, Blount had taken back the reins on his mental health.
“I had really accepting people who really helped me and pushed me back to my normal self,” Blount said.
Excited for a new life in a new place, Blount began his journey at the University of Mississippi with a level head and an open heart. The promise of starting over in an environment with like minded people was enticing to the giddy incoming freshman. His excitement was short-lived. Between November of his freshmen year and January of his sophomore year, Blount lost his father, grandmother and grandfather.
“Going through that and not knowing how to continue on without having those big supporters in my life, it was a dark place for me,” Blount said.
After losing three of his biggest supporters, it was hard for Blount to find the motivation to keep going. Trying to find the reason he continued to get out of bed each morning, go to class or immerse himself in the Ole Miss community was a nearly impossible task. He felt crushed under the weight of his grief.
Once again, Blount surrounded himself with friends and family that loved him and wanted him to succeed.
“You must figure out what you need to do to make them proud even though they are not here and continue on,” Blount said.
Through the anguish, Blount’s mother was his source of stability and strength. He did everything in his power to ensure his mother was cared for through the entire grief process.
“Continuing to make her proud and be that light in her life so she can continue on as well is my main focus. She is my person for my why,” Blount said.
As Blount continues on with his journey at the University of Mississippi, he spends a lot of time focusing on his mental health so he can remain a light for the people around him.
“It has been three years since all of that happened,” Blount said. “I am in my senior year, sometimes things just hit. I just focus on making sure that I am okay mentally before focusing on other people.”
The glitz and glamour of the Ole Miss experience is a promise that draws many to Oxford. It is hard not to be consumed by the picturesque nature of such a small town. The party never stops and eyes are watching at all times. Yet, behind the high of the haze, everyone has a moment when that picturesque smile fades.
Blount’s story is a memento to the fact that everyone is going through something. He continuously emphasized that it is ok to have bad days. To have days when you need to focus on yourself and your own well being before you can deal with anything outside of your own head. He encourages the student body to take advantage of resources available like counseling or the Active Minds organization.
“Your mental health journey is not one straight line, it is a roller coaster,” Blount said. “You go up and down all the time. I think it is important for people to know that you can have your highs and lows.”