[Life Path/Career Advice Filter]: How can someone a person with diagnosed depression work in the field of social justice?
January 12, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

[Life Path/Career Advice Filter]: How can someone a person with diagnosed depression work in the field of human rights and social justice?

A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression or mild bipolar disorder (not quite sure which really). I take meds and have to keep track of my current mental state so I can stop myself from sliding into a bad depressive state. I also have Nonverbal Learning Disorder which is related to the depression. It makes some types of work challenging for me (like with numbers). It's really annoying, but I'm not upset about it. At this point it's just a part of my life that I have to deal with.

I also have a passion for social justice, development, human rights, etc. I love working with my hands, and I really don't like working in an office. Spending that many hours inside an office with the florescent lights exacerbates my depression, heck, I think it depresses most people. Every job has office work, I know that, I just want to minimize it if possible.

I really want to help make people's lives better, but I worry that working in the most poverty-stricken communities - where I feel the need is greatest, will just exacerbate my depression further. I've spent some time in poorer communities in Africa and Israel volunteering and learning, and it's important to me to make my life have meaning through good work.

I might be capable of working just fine long-term (or medium-term) in the communities that seem to need it most. I don't know if I want to risk my mental health too much to try and find out.

I just graduated last year from university with a major in political science and a minor in communications if that helps any. I likely will have to get a masters at some point, but that could be another question entirely.

My question is, what kind of do-gooder's career could I find -- that is mostly out of the office? And/or where should I look to find my life path? (Way existential, I know..)

Or am I just stressing too much about this and should just chill out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would say this just in general: helping others may be just what you need in addition to your treatment. Meeting a challenge and living up to it could do wonders for your self-efficacy (sense of competence) and help mitigate the negative self-talk that is a hallmark of depression.
posted by Danila at 9:01 PM on January 12, 2011

A degree in public health will allow you to take field work positions with nonprofits, but it doesn't look like you've done much with health before. A master's in public policy with more experience, i.e. internships, like the ones you've got could probably help you land similar jobs. 'Program manager' or 'field coordinator' are the types of jobs I'm thinking of, for humanitarian programs.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:19 PM on January 12, 2011

If you've already spent time in Africa and Israel, this has surely given you some sense of how the work affects you emotionally?

As a teacher, I have generally found that the joy of genuinely helping someone was enough to make up for many, many, hours of bureaucracy, routine, and frustration with situations where I couldn't help.

Over time, you may well need to make sure that you take enough breaks to recharge your emotional batteries.

Don't have much advice about the specific kind of work you could/should do. The poorest communities are typically needy in many different ways. You might also consider that "those in greatest need" aren't necessarily always part of "the poorest communities" so doing meaningful work for social justice and human rights doesn't automatically necessitate living and/or working in the most poverty-stricken communities.
posted by bardophile at 9:33 PM on January 12, 2011

Have you considered political organizing or community outreach work? Done right, it's about motivating people and helping them identify and build their own power. If you're just getting depressed by the situation, you're doing it wrong. (Not that we don't all have frustrations or losses from time to time.) The job does require extroversion, a good way with people, thinking fast on your feet, and analytical skills.

What about leading work projects, such as Habitat for Humanity, a community garden, creek restoration, or trail-building?
posted by slidell at 10:08 PM on January 12, 2011

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