By Jonah Stevenson, Service Leader serving on the Parker-Varney Elementary School Team.
Mental Health Awareness month sees an upward tick in the amount of vulnerable stories shared and reflection on our mental states with the intention of trying to earn support from those who aren’t aware of the struggles many deal with on the daily. I’ve had the opportunity to share my experience on the daily to help others understand the transparency of a coworker or friend. Having the opportunity to serve in two completely different fifth-grade classrooms with City Year has been incredibly rewarding and exhausting, and student academic and social-emotional growth is more apparent even through the daily capricious nonsense that can fill the classroom walls. It has been quite the process of dealing with so many types of emotions, but each step I’ve taken to work on mental health has led me to become the advocate I am and continue to aspire to become. By devoting time to talking about the service needed, overcoming specific challenges, and pursuing work to support others through similar situations, I see the deep impact of working in the mental health field and the role City Year plays with it.
As last years' service year came to an end, I felt I had to reflect on my struggling physiological and mental well-being to have a quality and productive Service Leader year. I approached this year with the holistic idea to provide transparency about my daily mental struggles whenever I could, allowing other corps members to do the same and setting the roots to prevent a tumultuous year. In September, I dedicated my red jacket to all those struggling with mental illness and to show I could be living proof that it would be possible to make it through the ten months. It’s been wonderful to see how City Year approaches mental health in different ways as well as seeing corps members getting the services that they deserve. The connection to social worker Kayla Putnam from Manchester Community Health, as well as other corps member outlets (e.g. EAP, Mental Health Center of Manchester, etc.), has empowered corps members to find a space to talk out issues and learn to self-care effectively rather than bottling up emotions for their future selves to take care of.
Although there are so many great resources available to AmeriCorps members and myself, I can say that my mental health isn’t in the consistent zone I wish it was in. A lot of folks look for labels when it comes to mental health and mental illness and try to find solutions based on those labels rather than the experiences felt from the individual. The experiences I deal with don’t really fit into an identification given from the DSM (basis of how professionals label patients). It’s easy for me to encourage a student to keep trying through a frustration bout, but when it comes to my own frustration I’m stuck navigating every little memory clip in my mind, trying to prove I am this awful person in an incredibly counterproductive manner. Progress through these experiences looks different for everyone. And even though I’ve struggled immensely since my move to Manchester, there is a lot to be proud of: the perseverance on days where I just want to give up everything, going to therapy on a day where I think everything is “fine,” and socializing with friends even when I have the urge to flake on plans. I have Radiohead to thank for allowing me to simultaneously cry and feel euphoric as well as dedication to helping others navigate unfortunate personal situations.
I’ve decided to take my dedication a step further by dedicating myself to a career in social work, specifically with the mental health of children and adolescents. I want to take the tools and skills that I learned that best fit myself and the community and apply them to help those who are apprehensive to getting better and assist individuals who live with inequity daily. Assisting and supporting the mental well-being of the youth in our society should be one of the top priorities for adults who believe in advocating for social justice for all. I’m excited at the prospect of becoming a social worker or something similar in the mental healthcare realm.
City Year has been far from easy, but it has been incredibly worthwhile. I look back at all the growth that I’ve done in my two years as well as reflecting on the growth of my teammates and I am so proud to know such resilient human beings. As the year comes to an end, I intend to leave as much of a lasting impression on those I currently serve so they can become just as strong of mental health advocates as I’ve attempted to do in my service at CYNH. I do know the thoughts that linger in my mind won’t ever completely disappear, but I can say with a smile that being transparent and an advocate for others’ mental well-being is one of the most rewarding ventures I’ve ever taken on.
If you’d like to learn more about Mental Health Awareness Month, check out Mental Health America. You can also learn more about how Manchester is addressing mental health by heading to the Manchester Community Health Center.