It was in grade 10 Careers class that I decided I wanted to become a social worker. In grade 12, when I began applying to social work programs, my friends, and peers looked skeptical. “You can’t be a social worker. You have depression.” In my mind that was the exact reason why I believed I would be a good social worker. I believed my lived experience would add value to my potential social work career. Instead of telling clients what the research said about their experience, I could pull from my own similar experience to help understand and guide them (and of course, use research). I can’t be a social worker because I’m depressed? Challenge accepted!
During my first year, I felt a wave of depression wash over me. I reached out to a professor and asked what mental health resources were available at the university. I expressed to him my shame in wanting to be a social work and not being able to keep it together. He told me that some of the best social workers are the ones with lived experience since they are able to connect with the people and communities they work with on a unique level. His words validated me and that is the attitude I kept with me throughout my university education.
Many opportunities I have had in university and after related to mental health have been BECAUSE I have a mental health issue along with a social work degree. My combined experience sometimes has put me in the position of “expert”. My knowledge of social work strategies, policy and advocacy compliments what my lived experience brings to the table (special insider knowledge). You don’t even need to have a degree or diploma to use your lived experience for advocacy and social change. There are many paid and volunteer opportunities out there that see your value and want to have you on their team!
Dialectical Living is one organization that sees the immense value of hiring mental health professionals with lived experience (“prosumers”). It is great to be working alongside people I can relate to who also come from a variety of backgrounds.
You can have a mental health issue and use your experiences to improve mental health care, support others with lived experience, educate the community and so much more!