Why I Chose The Mental Health Field


Psychology / Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Quote & Inspiration Credit: K. Nicole Writing
Be sure to head on over and check out her website and work for education, empowerment, and inspiration.

30 Replies to “Why I Chose The Mental Health Field”

  1. I think you are incredibly brave! Not everyone can come through this like you do – I admire how you really put your thoughts out there and that it’s more than just a paycheque for you. That’s awesome.

  2. I am in awe of those who are in the mental health field. Thank you for all your work and dedication. My uncle is a therapist and is so inspirational to me.

  3. Great read…I commend you and enjoyed sharing in your in depth understanding of the impact we can make when we are truly committed to helping others find optimal wellness.
    A director of mine often says, “It only takes one adult to care a child through their pain”…that’s what you’re doing!

  4. For some reason this post reminded me of a customer I helped when I worked as a banker. She was a social worker who was just getting back to work from a leave of absence she had to take after seeing so many hard cases. She didn’t go into detail but I could see in her face she had to deal with a really tough case and probably didn’t end too well and she felt responsible. Working in this field and in the mental health field takes a toll on you. What you do helps so many people who need it everyday. Thank you for what you do!

  5. That’s so inspirational! I applaud you for taking on this role, I can only imagine how stressful it can be! Suffering from mental health issues – it’s amazing we have ppl like you to take on this role!

  6. I can’t imagine the stress of this career ! Thank you for being strong enough to be doing this job ! It is not for everyone , and it sounds like you are doing an amazing job!

  7. I love reading the “why” behind the women who are in this field! It takes a special person to do this line of work!

  8. I find that you are wholeheartedly using your gift after reading this post. It is a special field for those with the gift of hope, empathy and I also imagine grace. I concur that it’s a shame more priority isn’t given to this area of our lives, because it will touch us all in one way or another. Mental, physical, spiritual—each so important. Thanks for sharing your beautiful message! xo~ D #beyouandthrive

  9. Great post. You do such important work.

    As someone who suffers with mental health issues, it’s so interesting to hear from the “other side” and could have benefitted from talking to someone like you in my younger years.

  10. I am so glad there are wonderful people at there like you. As a nurse, I too often see the need for stronger mental health support and it just is not there. It takes a very special person to do your work.

  11. Always love reading your thoughts! They reflect so much of mine. I wish more funding was thrown into mental health. I wouldn’t even bitch about my taxes if that’s where it went.

  12. So thankful for this post. My husband and I are in the process of adopting. Kids who have been in the system for at least a year, and come from trauma. Going through the adoption license training we are learning lots about how to raise a kid that’s gone through trauma, my white-middle class self can’t even fathom. So thankful for people like you, that help these precious kids through their pain.

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