These women turned to mental health work because of the pandemic

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Samantha Kubik, 26, has worked with luxury goods for the past five years. But during the pandemic, Kubik said, she became disillusioned with using her energy to sell people things she didn’t need and constantly put out fires for something as trivial as jewelry.

She realized she wanted to lift people’s spirits instead of stress in the end – and she could finally see how important mental health care was, she said.

A year ago, Kubik volunteered for a suicide hotline for weekly evening or night shifts. The difference between this and her daily work was immediately apparent.

“There is such a level of respect, support and appreciation on the hotline,” Kubik said. “Having my own mental health problems, I know what impact mental health services can have.”

This summer, Kubik changed paths and began applying for master’s degrees in consulting. She is one of many women who have chosen to leave their chosen area since the beginning of the pandemic to pursue a career in mental health.

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Women are already overrepresented in this area: in 2017, they made up about 82% of therapists, 73% of counselors and 67% of psychologists, according to the US Department of Labor. This share has increased over the past two decades, according to the American Psychological Association: women made up 50 percent of the psychology workforce in 2004 and 70 percent in 2019.

However, mental health care is still not available to many Americans. The 2022 American Mental Health Report found that 56 percent of Americans with mental illness do not receive treatment. The pandemic exacerbated the crisis: it led to increased anxiety and depression and a shortage of treatment and resources.

Moreover, women suffered disproportionate job losses during the pandemic – and employers are often providers of health insurance. Others decided to quit their jobs amid the Great Resignation and pursue opportunities that felt more in line with their values.

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The pandemic opened Mindy Barnett’s eyes to what really mattered to her. The 48-year-old is entering her second year with a master’s degree in clinical psychology and family therapy this fall and attending online classes while running her own public relations firm and juggling her duties as a single mother.

“After the pandemic, I had time to think about my own life, the level of stress I was dealing with, owning a public relations firm and my newfound interest in mental health,” she said. Barnett represents mental health experts in her role as a publicist and attributes this exposure in part to her growing interest in entering the field.

However, becoming a clinician is not the only path that women follow in mental health. Anushka Diaz, 26, left her three-year publicity job to become a mental health researcher. She said she did not feel a connection to advertising, and the pandemic made her wonder if she would still be happy there in 10 years. She is now close to completing a master’s degree in global mental health and society.

This move uses Diaz’s bachelor’s degree in psychology and anthropology, she said, and makes her feel like she’s contributing to things that really interest her in changing the world, especially in her native India.

“I have a feeling that voices of suffering and joy remain in the conversation when we look at mental health from a single lens to fix the problem before we try to understand it,” Diaz said. “A variety of personal experiences and observations on how mental health care is structured have told me that something is wrong. People I knew would be looking for therapy and on medication, but the feeling that I was getting better just seemed in the background after a while. ”

The decision to start over in a new profession at times felt like a regression for Diaz, she said. She still suffers from burnout when she dives into research – a problem that people face in the field of mental health. Sometimes one wonders if it would not be better to pursue a career where personal and professional issues do not intersect.

“These lines blur very often and I easily feel emotionally drained,” Diaz said. In fact, a July 2020 study of more than 2,000 psychiatrists in North America found that 78% had high levels of burnout and 16% met the requirements for a severe diagnosis of depression. Women are more likely to experience both.

But women continue to enter the field of mental health and some are taking preventative measures to take care of themselves. Diaz copes with the burnout by focusing more on self-care, finding time to enjoy unrelated activities, and spending time with friends with whom he can talk openly about struggles.

Kubik, for her part, hopes the area’s mobility will allow her to focus on a different aspect of mental health work if being a clinician becomes too difficult. Meanwhile, she is also exploring coping mechanisms, such as yoga and breathing, to protect her own mental health, she said.

Quanesha Johnson, 41, has resigned as a schoolteacher to open a private consulting practice before the pandemic. But she said she knows the importance of finding balance, especially during this time: for her, it comes in the form of a community of mentally focused colleagues who provide support. Johnson found that mental health work during the pandemic further underscored the “importance of proper rest, caring for your body, and that although I’m a helper, it’s good to seek support for myself,” she said.

Johnson noted that even when dealing with the emotional burden of issues such as workload, racial injustice and working from home, she has never been more active in providing mental health education and support.

“I want to help increase representation in this area and see that mental health resources are equally accessible to people of color,” she said.

In fact, the pandemic has shown many women that their careers are not as fulfilling as they could be. But this realization is not the same as an automatic switch – for many people, keeping the job they have is crucial to maintaining economic stability.

For Kubik and Diaz, who made the leap, there are fears that they will not be able to secure jobs. But, they said, they are sure that is what they need to do.

“Work is such a big part of our day and I wanted to be able to enjoy what I do,” said Kubik. “More importantly, I realized that I felt energetic about working with people and making a difference in their lives.”

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