My journey to social work wasn’t inspired by a single “aha” moment, but rather a series of life events that made me realize I cared deeply about people and their well-being. I have always been interested in the human brain and psychology, but what drew me to social work over psychology was that I believed I would be learning about mental health with an emphasis on social justice. When I read the primary mission of social work, I knew that it was the career I aspired to have, as it aligned with so many values of my own. “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”1 The systems in place that are intended to help often cause more pain than aid. I knew this was a matter that I cared about and that I had a desire to help change it. In particular, I am invested in breaking down stigmas surrounding help and to provide those who have been through the carceral system with support.
The more and more I learned about mental health, the clearer it became that there were deep-rooted issues in the very foundation of institutions meant to help. Social work provides me with an education to both offer assistance to people in a one-on-one setting and also provides me with the knowledge of policy and policy reform. Furthering my knowledge and understanding of these institutions is the first step in understanding how to change them. I hope to have an opportunity to rebuild systems of help for communities that have historically been oppressed. A degree in social work will lead me to like-minded individuals and as a result will be an avenue towards changing and dismantling the harmful systems in place as part of a collective group.
I come from a family with a long history of mental illness, which were commonly ignored and untreated as the cultural stigmas and fear around seeking help were too intimidating to overcome. I saw the negative impact this had on my family and myself – I saw it consume my mother and ultimately it stole her away from me. I empathize and understand the how and why this happened, but I know that with the bright support, it could have been avoided. This has fueled me to continue my education so that I may better understand the affects culture has on an individual and assist those in similar situations.
I believe that it is imperative that social workers continuously work on breaking down the stigmas that surround mental health and to show those who are unsure that there is no shame in asking for assistance. Therapy is not just for when times are tough, it is also a space to share happiness and the good in life, it can also be a place for celebration.
I see the negative impact of untreated mental health all around me, often times resulting in an unintended cycle of intergenerational trauma. Many of us are deeply impacted by the carceral system, we see how harmful it is not just to the individual serving time but also to the family that they are torn away from. Often times, the individuals within the carceral system are also victims of trauma themselves. Often times, there is little to no support in place to treat and rehabilitate. As Dr. Kirk Jae James says “trauma is drama”2 and if we are not treating the trauma, then we will not see an end to its affects. We need systems in place that emphasize the importance of mental health treatment for individuals who are incarcerated to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect, and that they are provided with the support systems necessary to overcome the barriers they face.
I look forward to my career in social work, not just dismantling and rebuilding oppressive institutions, but to create sustainable change. I aim to be able to help initiate preventative policy and to gain funding for community programs, to help break down the stigmas around mental health and to help those who feel that society has given up on them. I’m not sure where this road will lead me and I know this journey will be challenging, but I hope to make a positive impact those whose paths I cross.
My Journey to Social Work was written by Hannah Couch. Hannah attended Suffolk University in Boston for her undergraduate degree and is currently enrolled in her first year at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. Her goal is to work with those who are incarcerated and assisting in the reentry process. She is also interested in studying animal assisted therapy.