By Danielle Apple
“How much does a social worker make?”
“You’ll never make any money”
“You really want to listen to people’s problems all day?”
“That’s a lot more school, good luck paying off loans”
These are just a few responses I hear when I tell people I want to work in the mental health field. Not exactly the most encouraging reactions. But for every negative comment, there is the person who replies, “That is exactly what we need more of in this world.” Despite living in a country where there are millions of people struggling with mental illness, there is a grave lack of adequate and accessible care. We say we need more mental health field professionals, yet we simultaneously discourage young people from pursuing careers as therapists and social workers and counselors. How many times have you heard people say social and mental health workers make no money? How often do we hear how difficult it is to treat people with mental illness? Then there is the general mental health stigma that continues to persist in our country. Many people still don’t buy into the benefits of therapy, and there is a hesitancy to ask for help. All of these factors make a career in mental health seem incredibly unappealing. So why am I structuring my life around becoming a psychologist? Why am I pursuing an advanced degree that will take me six or more years to complete? How do I ignore these discouraging reactions and persist in my goal when people around me doubt my life choices? My answer to these questions consists of one word: passion.
It wasn’t until I got to college where I truly realized my passion for mental health. I spent my high school years watching multiple family members struggle with mental illness, and when I sat through a lecture on clinical psychology in my first semester of college, something clicked. I had never before considered a career in mental health, and yet it suddenly seemed like the only possible avenue I could take. That seed of passion had already been planted in me years before; it just took a little extra fodder from my psychology professor for my seed to blossom. Fortunately, my family and close friends supported my decision. However, other people were not always as encouraging. When I told a fellow student that I was a psychology major, she responded, “Oh, the joke major.” When I told my doctor I wanted to go to graduate school for clinical psychology, he snorted and said, “Change to something else. You want to make money, don’t you?” And then there are the people with a sheer lack of knowledge as to what therapists actually do. These are the individuals who ask, “So you’re going to listen to people complain all day?” These snide comments sometimes made me question my entire plan and reconsider all of my goals and aspirations. Whenever the doubt and desperation began to set in, I refocused my attention on the passion that started my path towards a career in mental health.
Passion can be an enigma. Some people spend their whole lives searching for their passion, something to fuel their purpose. I was lucky enough to find mine in mental health. Seeing various friends and family members struggle with something so onerous and misunderstood and living in a society where the general reaction to mental illness is one of contempt and fear drove me to want to understand these complex illnesses and serve as a support for those affected. We don’t talk about mental illness nearly as much as we should, and consequently it becomes an even more stigmatized and elusive topic. People often feel alone in their struggles, and that’s where I want to help. By pursuing a career in mental health, I can provide the support that people need. I can be the person who will listen to their stories and tell them they are not alone and that there is at least one person in this world who cares. This is my passion. I wish we lived in a society that was more supportive of this career path. To those of you reading this who are considering a career in mental health but find yourself feeling continuously disheartened by fabricated statistics or condescending reactions, ask yourself why you became interested in this field in the first place. Most likely, there was a little seed of passion planted in you, whether by a loved one or a random lecture or even a personal experience. Every time someone tries to stop that seed from growing, kindly shove them aside and continue to nourish that seed until it blossoms into a beautiful, meaningful career.