I'm Fighting Stigma Around Mental Illness, But I Want To Turn It Into A Job

This essay is one of 35 selected by a panel of judges for “Ambitions Interrupted,” a series from The GroundTruth Project and YouthVoices, its storytelling platform.

Name: Caitlin Rose Smart

Age: 19

Dream job: Mental health advocate

City, Country: Auckland, New Zealand

Current job/school: University student, call center worker

Challenge: Low-paying field

I personally believe that those who are the most passionate about something were first deeply affected by it.

I have struggled with mental health for nearly half of my life. There have been times when I wasn’t sure if I’d live to see the calendar change to 2016, let alone the next morning. I belong to the 16 percent of adults in New Zealand who been diagnosed with a mental disorder in their lifetime, according to the Ministry of Health. That number is only increasing.

Beyond the struggle itself, I understand the distress that others feel when they must navigate stigma against treatment. My life’s mission is to encourage people to focus on their mental well-being, advocate for those who do struggle with mental health and fight against stigma by increasing awareness. Although my work is voluntary right now, not paid, I hope to find a way to someday support myself through this work.

Part of the problem is that I haven’t seen a job that fits what I do. I want to develop campaigns that fight stigma and talk to policymakers in the mental health sector. However, this kind of work is contractual, short term and reliant on funding. It doesn’t pay well, either, so I’ll have to keep working on my budget cooking skills!

But in some ways, I am already a mental health advocate. I’m currently collaborating with others on creative spoken word about the superpowers that people gain from their experiences with mental distress. I’m also adding a health and well-being zone to Festival for the Future, a conference focused on youth development in New Zealand. It’s going to be a safe space for people who get too overwhelmed at the conference, plus a place for people to learn more about self-care.

I will continue to study statistics in college. Data analysis is vital to any field, and I know my quantitative skill set will be helpful to public health organizations in New Zealand. It’s quite possible that I’ll start off analyzing mental health data and then communicate it to professionals, policymakers and the public.

Just by dedicating myself to this mission, I am able to prove that people can be successful, even if their brain is a little different. Confronting your mental health issues is nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of – I need to make sure that this message is heard.

This story was originally submitted to YouthVoices, a platform powered by The GroundTruth Project that encourages young people to share stories about the issues affecting their generation. Submit your own essays and answer new questions here, or learn more about global youth unemployment with this interactive map.