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Social Work SOP: Mental Health Stigma & Me

Hiddengrace 6 / 118 68  
Jan 13, 2016   #1
Hi there! I'm applying for Social Work school and I have a good draft of my SOP. However, it's way too long (by about 900 words- yes, I'm wordy!). I need assistance making it sleeker and more concise while ensuring it answers all of the prompts and maintains my individual voice. I do have some questions about some paragraphs/ sections and if they should be deleted or kept, but I won't burden you with all those now, but maybe in a later post to this thread.

Thanks so much in advance to all that read and reply! :D

[b]Here it is in all it's verbose glory
(I added extra spacing to make it easier to read here and less like a big wall of text)

Having recently graduated with honors, earning my BA in Sociology with a minor in Psychology, I feel strongly that going to graduate school in Social Work is a very natural choice for me to make. I am also especially excited about beginning my studies towards the MSW Degree as a result of my current volunteer position for an institution that provides comprehensive youth services, including mental health and crises counseling for homeless and runaway youth, academic and legal support, as well as recreational activities. I believe that my educational background, professional experience, and personal hardships I've overcome have instilled me with the qualities needed to excel in the rigorous coursework and in the profession of Social Work. I bring along with me not only knowledge but passion for the fields of social work and mental health, unique but relevant work experience, a desire to learn, a passion for collaboration and leadership, and a love of challenges. As a future social worker, my professional dreams include making mental health care more accessible and reducing mental health stigma. I would love to contribute to more young people receiving help and support earlier in life instead of waiting to have these needs addressed. I would also love to contribute towards more awareness of mental health and its importance in adolescence. There are many suffering young people out there that lack understanding about mental health illnesses and mental health services. I want to be an advocate for others, ideally working underprivileged youth of diverse backgrounds.

Obtaining my bachelor's degree in Sociology/ Anthropology and minoring in Psychology set me on the path to Social Work. I was able to learn about the way our minds work from multiple standpoints. In my sociology classes I felt as if I were on the right path for the first time in my life. I realized that I could use this education to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. I focused quite a bit on discrimination and learned to see the world through a lens of interconnected oppression- no matter who you are, there are various ways in which society oppresses us all. Oppression of women, minority groups, religions, and oppression based on our work are all subjects I studied in detail. Due to excellence in my major, I was inducted into Alpha Kappa Delta, a sociological honors society that promotes scholarship in the study of sociology and the research of social problems.

During my third year, I interned for XXXX's Summer YYY Program. This opportunity allowed me to work with children aged seven to eleven who had experienced social and mental hardships after being traumatized by Hurricane Sandy. Many of these children had regressed, starting to experience behavior of a much younger child (such as bed wetting). In this internship I worked with another student as my co-counselor; together we worked with the children on various social skills (such as confidence, validation, and cooperation), created and lead various recreational activities, and assisted with the group therapy sessions lead by licensed social workers. We were also responsible for talking with them if they were upset or struggling.

Towards the end of 2014, I worked as an after school group leader and enrichment teacher for multiple schools in New York City. In this role, I worked with a group of middle school students to help them with homework, create and lead community and team building activities, and to teach Teen Action, a service learning curriculum. XXXXX, or X for short, provides after school enrichment and recreational activities for impoverished youth. I was able to get a distinct picture of my scholars' lives, and it was clear to me that there weren't many people in their lives who cared enough to understand them on a deeper level. I began to communicate with many of them about their daily frustrations and created a sense of community within my group.

Volunteering has always been important to me, especially when it comes to the mental health field and helping those that may be unable to get support. For over a year I have been volunteering online in the capacity of an active listener for BLANK.com. I use active listening skills, empathy and compassion to provide emotional support for members and guests of this online support-based website. Volunteering at BLANK has really helped to solidify my goal of becoming a clinical social worker because I have been able to work deeply with adults and teens, providing long term support. I've been able to strengthen my listening and communication skills, my patience, and my insight, as I often label emotions and try to see what the person may be trying to communicate without saying it directly.

BLANK has helped me to blossom in this field, as I am able to work one on one with members who need emotional support. As a listener, I am able to work with both teens (which requires experience as a listener and a background check) and adults. As a listener on 7 Cups, I've had over 600 conversations with members totaling almost 200 hours, helped over 120 people, and out of those 120, almost 70 came back to receive support from me a second time. I have been able to support these people in a positive way, creating a very positive and meaningful experience. At 7 Cups, I have also become a mentor and a mentor leader. This means that I mentor and coach other listeners to improve skills like empathy, professionalism, and boundary setting. I have also been able to focus on two topics that are very close to me: depression and chronic illness. I co-created a chronic illness support group with weekly guided discussions that I wrote, and I co-led weekly support discussions on those two subjects. I have also led a team of mentors to facilitate, create, and oversee listener- based community discussions and community events.

I'm currently volunteering as an Intake Counselor in the membership department of ZZZZZ, an organization that provides comprehensive services for young people, including counseling, health services, and crisis services for runaway and homeless youth. As an intake counselor, I am able to get to know young people on a deeper level. Many of the young people I assess don't have anyone in their lives who listens to them as deeply as an intake counselor. I am able to gain a picture of their lives by gently probing them on the topics of their home life and living situation, education and work history, activities they enjoy, mood and daily feelings, relationship with drugs and alcohol, and sexual history. After gaining a clear picture of the young person's life by having a non-judgmental compassionate conversation, I connect them with appropriate services offered by ZZZZZ by introducing them to various people, bringing them to appropriate offices and departments, helping them make appointments, and ensuring they receive necessary crisis counseling. It is at ZZZZZ where I feel I am able to make a concrete difference in the lives of young people, many of whom don't have anyone or anywhere else to turn to.

This is one of the reasons I have chosen to pursue social work; my personal background and the holistic emphasis on the well-being of clients leads to an interest in exploring social systems and the contexts that guide individual experiences. While I plan to be a clinician, I certainly don't want to limit my interests to client-centered therapy only. I want to advocate for and work towards systemic change to alleviate suffering and mental health stigma. It has become clear to me that mental illness isn't tangible, but it is very serious condition that creates silent suffering with emotions like fear and shame.

As I pursue my graduate education, I expect to learn in an environment committed to public service with likeminded individuals and inspiring professors where I am able to grow further as a social worker. I expect that it will be rigorous, even challenging, but I am ready to challenge myself further and am more than adequately prepared to succeed. I expect to find at Hunter a stimulating and inspiring intellectual environment, professors I can relate to as mentors and professional colleagues, and challenging coursework where I am charged to make meaningful contributions to social work and our community. I expect to fully participate as an active member of the Social Work community. Not only do I want to be an active participant in our diverse city (and society) but I want to do so in a responsible and collaborative way. Beyond being simply a participant, I look forward to being a force for social change.

Why is mental health stigma still so prevalent in our society? Can I possibly help to rewrite the way we think about mental health as something not to be ashamed of? Can I be a force of change to create a society where young people with mental health disorders gain opportunities instead of losing them? We acknowledge mental health in a way that accepts the importance but dismisses its relevance. The lack of knowledge or visual proof creates the illusion that mental health is not legitimate, yet stigma also creates identities for us. Society is quick to judge people with mental disorders, yet we still dance around the subject as if it is something toxic. The harder it becomes for us to talk about it, the harder it is for those that suffer to get help. The stereotypes that we build do nothing but confine the mentally ill and make it harder for them to speak up about their disorders. But I have hope that as a community of social workers we can transform the perception of mental illness from stigma into acceptance.

We all have the power to create communities that are filled with both acceptance and mental health awareness, but we have to actively create them. We need to stop dismissing people as crazy. When we stop using language like "He's so bipolar today" or "She acts so OCD about..." we are fostering a community of acceptance and one of awareness where it's not okay to use that kind of language or where it is okay to have a problem with it. Dr. Helen Farrell, who often speaks about overcoming the stereotypes of mental illness, proposes a solution that I quite agree with. Even though it is uncomfortable and makes us uneasy, she says we need to talk about mental illness and open doors to a dialogue about mental illness with our family, friends, and doctors. With open dialogue, we are fostering concern, acceptance, and solutions. We must maintain the fact that we can still thrive with mental illness; while it is a chronic condition, it does not prevent a bright future. Dr. Farrell explains we need to embrace our power and be part of the solution. We must hold onto hope for those that cannot hold it themselves.
covenant1992 4 / 7 1  
Jan 13, 2016   #2
vangiespen - / 4,133 1449  
Jan 14, 2016   #3
Katheryn, I agree that your essay is over verbose. It stems from your wishing to present the most comprehensive understanding of your social work interest. You have presented everything in relation to that except the kitchen sink. Now, just because the prompt tells you that you have a maximum of five pages, that doesn't mean you should present a full five pages. Specially if you have a tendency to be wordy. You should pick the most important information related to your work experience or background that you feel are the strongest and most compelling reasons for your desire to go into Social Work. You don't need to present an autobiography. You just need to present the most decision influencing experiences that you underwent during your career choosing process.

As I reviewed your essay, I realized that you were not able to offer a response to the following prompt requirement:What area(s) of difficulty do you anticipate? What have you done or are doing to address the difficulties? It is of the utmost importance that you deliver a precise response to these two questions because the response will create the foundation for your interest in specific subjects that you will be taking. Nobody expects you to be perfect. By not offering a response to those questions, you are implying that you are perfect. In which case, you would not need to attend these classes anymore :-) Show the reviewer your weakness and discuss how you plan to address it. It doesn't have to be an academic weakness, it can be a weakness that you realized you had while volunteering or participating in one of your numerous community activities.

That is the only weakness I can see in the essay you wrote. So address those and try to shorten the essay. Those editing actions should help better prepare this essay for submission :-)

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