As a mental health professional, I often hear friends and family say, “I don’t know how you do it,” or “I could never do your job.” I never respond to those comments because more often than not the person is right. People don’t know how I do this job day-to-day, and most of them couldn’t sit through the first 30 minutes of a meeting where cases are staffed.
The Mental Health Field is Underrated
This profession is discounted regularly. That is, until a tragedy occurs and then it becomes the universal cop-out only contributing to the cycle of negative stigma that is still very present in our society. I’ve seen it repeatedly – people do not concern themselves with mental health issues until it impacts them directly. Once you experience it first hand – whether it be with your spouse, a friend, or an acquaintance, it most likely is not a priority for you. People are often afraid and pass judgment on issues they do not understand. I’ve experienced this as a professional and personally. Mental illness does not always mean violent and “crazy.” In fact, of those who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder – only 3%-5% of violent acts are attributed to a serious mental illness. Unfortunately, it is much more likely that someone living with a mental health issue will become a victim to a violent crime.
Our society has normalized and accepted a culture that puts more effort and resources into gun control, abortion laws, and religious freedoms than they have mental health services. While it would be easy to debate which area of concern deserves more priority I can’t help but wonder what good are these efforts if we do not have a physically and mentally healthy society? Mental health issues are not bruises or viruses. There are long-term effects from little to no treatment that are passed down from one generation to the next. Talk about mental health and the positive side of it. Talk about people who have sought out services, found them, used them, and are now better because of them. Share your own experiences with others and open the door for awareness and education in those who don’t understand. We have to start understanding before we can start changing, and that is why I chose the mental health field.You have to be willing to learn someones history in order to understand their story Click To Tweet
This Profession Is Not For Everyone
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure that this was the right occupation for me at first. I’ll never forget the first time I cried about a client. It was in a staff meeting and I still have some embarrassment about it today. Surprisingly, it happened around my one year anniversary with the agency I work for. It wasn’t a hard case as far as helping to manage the child’s behavior. It was the lack of power and input I had. I disagreed with the recommendations of others on the placement of the child, and my opinions were dismissed. With so many people involved including myself and my co-workers to help the child, I had no say in the final decision.
I felt helpless, defeated, and ignored. I worried (and still do) about something happening and having to live with that guilt. In the same meeting, after I pulled myself together, my boss looked at me and said, “When you lay your head down at night knowing you did everything right, knowing you did everything you could it no longer falls on you as a professional.” At the time, her words didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t eliminate my helpless feelings but she was right in more ways than one. On multiple occasions following the closure of this case I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I can go through this.” It may have taken a year to experience, but it can and will happen again. After a while, I realized that’s not a reason to give up on my profession of choice. If anything it’s a reason to continue. That’s why I chose the mental health field.
Be the Person You Needed When You Were Younger
More than once I’ve heard others share in this idea that people who enter the mental health field as a profession do so because they have personal mental health experience. Whatever the case may be I don’t find it to be necessarily important. Personal experiences, when shared appropriately can be beneficial in supporting clients but it’s not a requirement by any means. I’ve had my own involvement as a teenager after losing my father, and again much later in life. While my own experiences had a role in my interest to study and work in the field of psychology and social work, it wasn’t the basis of my decision.
The basis of my decision came from a genuine interest in cognitive processing and how trauma and disease of the brain alters mental and behavioral functioning. When I was 13 I lost my father. I had a huge support system in friends, family, school, and sports. If I needed someone I could have turned in any direction and found someone. A large support system doesn’t mean everything if you aren’t comfortable enough to go to any of them with your thoughts and feelings. There was one person though. She listened, talked, called, came to my house, and genuinely cared. If I didn’t want to talk about my dad that was ok, if I did that was ok. That’s what I needed. Someone who wasn’t walking on egg shells waiting for me to break, but if I did she was ready. In my own work I try to remind myself of this. Yes, I have a job to do, and an objective to meet, but when a kid looks at me and says “you’re only here because you have to be,” I know I need to make a change in my approach and how we spend our time together. I want to be the person I needed when I was younger.
You have to wake-up and feel it in your heart and mind before you walk into the office that this is where you want to be, and this where you need to be. That’s why I chose the mental health field.You have to want to do this job. Every day. Click To Tweet
Money isn’t Everything
Sometimes, I think… if I would just dumb myself down a little, remove my education history from my resume, and lead employers to believe that inputting data on an Excel spreadsheet is my biggest strength, I would deal with less occupational stress and make a shit ton of more money annually.
I’m not going to discount the work that I and my colleagues do on a daily basis. It’s hard in many ways. We work with and treat youth and adolescents that have the most complex and severe mental health needs. If I had a quarter for every time I heard something related to the emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of a child that physically made me cringe my student loans would have been paid off t
he first three months of my employment. With that, I also experience and contribute to the mental wellness of kids that have experienced nothing short of hell on earth. With those same kids, I get to witness success in numerous areas of their life. I see them cry, scream, and yell. But I also see them be kind to their peers and siblings in what might be their 3rd or 4th foster home, I see them accelerate in school, find employment, and learn how to drive a car. Mental health is not always a sunny field of flowers, but when it is, it is the prettiest and happiest place you could ever experience. That in and of itself has provided me with a form of compensation that a large paycheck could never replicate. That’s why I chose the mental health field.