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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

I just had my first interview for a mental health agency. The second interview is this week. They do a lot of the same work I’ve been doing; they act as a community, and rather than focusing on clinical work, they’re more about the strength-based approach and providing clients with nearby resources. It’s very similar to what I’ve been doing with my juvenile mentee. Their goal is to significantly improve the lives of those they treat, not to cure them. It’s about progress and planting seeds, and change isn’t something that will always be immediate. 

I was struggling with this very idea just this week. I went to my Adolescent Diversion Program class and everyone started talking about their cases, and I felt incredibly self-conscious about mine. Everyone else seemed to be doing so well. I compared my case to theirs and decided I wasn’t fit for this kind of work. I wondered if everyone else in the class wondered the same thing based on what I shared about my case. 

Then my therapist told me about how you can’t judge progress in mental health based on if the client is doing great. Everyone is different and some people aren’t ready to want to change for themselves. She told me to focus on all the seeds I’m planting. My classmates don’t know my mentee, just like I don’t know theirs. Just because I’m not seeing instant results with mine doesn’t mean I’m not helping him. He and I have a great relationship. The fact that he looks forward to meetings and conversations means I’m doing something right. A negative part of myself thinks he only likes coming because I take him to do fun things, but we do so much more than that. He wouldn’t come to volunteering or job-related things if he didn’t want to and he wouldn’t be thanking me for no reason. And worse case scenario, even if it really is about him wanting to get out of the house right now, it may be more for him at a later time. I’ve already known that mental health isn’t simple, and it’s definitely not a linear line, so why am I putting all this pressure and stress on the results?

Working in mental health is hard work, and it’s needed. Something else my therapist told me was that therapists don’t make significantly more than teachers or other low-paid jobs. It surprised me. Not enough to make me want to change fields, because I was never in it for the money in the first place, but because I feel like a field that is demanded should have more money going into it. It shocks me that doctors, who study and work on the body, make so much more than people who study and work on the mind. To me, mental and physical go hand-in-hand. I just want to be in a world where mental and physical illnesses are treated equally. Those with mental illnesses are a marginal group in society and are very much stigmatized. With all the work, passion, and heart that I know social workers have to offer, it saddens me that it’s harder to make a living out of it.

Again, pay isn’t going to make me want to quit. I will always have a passion for helping people. Something that has been weighing on me lately is whether or not I’m strong enough to handle sad and traumatic situations. I’ve seen some pretty awful things at this point working with my mentee. I’ve seen what it’s like for a kid to grow up with parents telling them they won’t amount to anything. I’ve seen insecurities in a teen that other children have planted in him. I’ve seen trauma after trauma pile up. I’ve seen poor attendance due to circumstances out of the teen’s control. I can’t even say or express the severity of what the reality is for some people.

Even though I cry at the situations I hear and my empathy feels like a weakness, I feel like I’m passionate enough to keep at it. I care more about trying to help than I do the results. I’m very goal-oriented, but I feel like my experiences have allowed me to be more lenient with goals. Goals can be based on improvement rather than the results. There’s a lot of bad things that go on in the mental health field, but helping is better than standing by. Bad things are going to happen no matter what, and the least I can do is try to make things better as best as I can. Something like brushing my teeth or getting ten minutes of peace and quiet may not be a win for me, but it can be a win for a lot of other people. 

Even though the mental health field has challenged me a lot, I still feel like I’m in the right place. 

What I do is help people recover from a lack of kindness they have encountered in their life. My job is to be kind, but anyone can be kind. You don’t have to be a social worker to be kind. You can help someone just by treating people with respect and kindness. If you see your kid or friend picking on another kid just because they are a little different, correct them. It doesn’t take long for bullying to amplify mental illness and for that to turn into something much worse. It starts with being kind and being empathetic to those around you. That’s it. 

Always choose kindness. 

Sydney Savage is a graduate of Michigan State University with a BA in psychology and a BA English (with a creative writing concentration). Part of her novel called "I Love You More Than Me" is published at Red Cedar Review, and an excerpt of her other novel, “Just Let Me Go” is published at Outrageous Fortune magazine. She will be getting her Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan and volunteering for CAPS. She plans to work with adolescents and eating disorder populations. Along with this, she'll be continuing her passion for novel writing and pursuing her dream of publication. She hopes to bring more mental health and body image themes into the book publishing market. She is a current member of Michigan Romance Writers. You can read some of her works on her personal blog and website: https://sydsavage13.wixsite.com/sydwriter13 Her twitter is @realsydsavage13 and her writing insta is @sydwriter13