Taking on the responsibility of starting a career while dealing with severe mental health problems
December 5, 2011 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm a lousy student about to graduate university, and I am interested in career opportunities which would allow me to help immigrants settle into their new lives (in Canada). My degree is in no way related to this, and I feel that mental health issues have severely diminished my mental abilities. Nonetheless, any help anyone can give me would be greatly appreciated.

I will be graduating university soon. I am 23 and female. I don't have very many skills at all; I don't feel like I've learned what I was supposed to learn in university re: critical thinking, ability to write easily, general cultural knowledge. In the past I have gotten jobs due to my ability to speak french ( I live in Quebec).

Despite my less than impressive skill set, I am pushing forward and trying to think of some kind of career that might be fulfilling to me.

I've always thought I might like to have a career wherein I help immigrants settle into their new lives in Canada. I have no idea what kind of qualifications I might need for this, or where I might start looking. Does anyone know where I might start out? Does this kind of job even exist?

My university degree is a general liberal arts degree, and my grades are, unfortunately, not stellar (I have around a 80% average). On top of that, I've had severe mental health issues in the past year and I feel as though my memory, concentration, intelligence, social skills, emotions and ability to learn new skills are severely diminished compared to what they used to be. I am pretty sure I am going to sign up for therapy in the new year. But I feel despairing because it seems like these lost abilities are irretrievable. Any thoughts on that? Do you think therapy could help me regain some confidence/ help me feel like my head is more than an empty ball with tumbleweeds rolling through? Has anyone experienced this loss of abilities and been able to gain some of them back?

Basically I suppose I am just like any other 20something who does not know what to do with themselves. But specifically I would like to know how I should go about starting a career in helping newcomers to our country. I am generally an empathetic, understanding and sensitive person (or at least I was before a severe depression/ something or other seemed to pull all these abilities out of me).

tl;dr: 1) Where can I start looking for this type of work? Would volunteering be the best way to begin?
2) Given my bad academic record, and my mental health problems, am I even qualified to have any kind of a job? If my life is such a mess, is it even feasible for me to be thinking about taking on responsibilities?
3) Have you ever lost mental faculties to the point that you really and truly feel like you have lost yourself, but then with the help of a therapist you were able to gain some semblance of yourself back?

thanks so much in advance. I am new to metafilter and am so glad I have found it. I used to think the whole internet was garbage but now I know better!
posted by costanza to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I should mention that I live in Montreal.
posted by costanza at 3:55 PM on December 5, 2011

Which university are you at? I know Concordia has social outreach programs that match your interests, and I'm pretty sure Université de Montréal also does; would you be able to start off by volunteering a few hours a week, until you gained some experience in that field?

You mention that you speak French -- the Centre des Femmes on Saint-Urbain has a program that helps recently-arrived women get settled in Montreal. English and foreign language skills are a big plus in this context.

Are you part of an immigrant community, or do you have friends who are? That could also be a way to find this kind of work.

And now for a more personal note: I've been there. I had severe depression during university (also in Montreal), and it wrecked my grades, my social skills and my motivation. A few years later, I have a great life (albeit on the other side of the world) with a fantastic job and lots of opportunities. Your mental health issues do not define you. Your grades do not define you. It's hard to remember that in university, where everything you do is centred around academic achievement, but no one has ever asked to see my transcript. My last job interview didn't even require a resumé. Life is so much bigger than university.

Feel free to memail me if you want to chat or if you need help finding resources in Montreal.
posted by OLechat at 4:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wait, when I was an undergrad in Montreal, an 80 was an A-! Is that somehow not true at your university? Why is that a bad average? That's a good average! I mean it's not a get-admitted-to-Harvard-Law average, but it doesn't sound like that was in your plans anyways.

I also have done the depression-killing-my-brain thing, and bounced wwwayyyyyyy back within six months of starting both individual and group therapy (and some external stressors resolving themselves, so that helped). Two years later, my life is pretty much nonstop intellectual stimulation (grad school) and I feel like I'm keeping up, interested in it, motivated to work, etc. I've even started making new friends who aren't classmates (which I seriously thought was never going to happen). None of those skills you mentioned are gone for good.

I can't help much with the career question I'm afraid, except to mention that I have a friend who does exactly what you're looking for through Americorps in the US. She says it's incredibly interesting and rewarding work (though, not the financial kind of reward). Maybe Canada has something comparable to Americorps?
posted by ootandaboot at 4:37 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I vote for volunteering at first. I did a fair amount of work with immigrants when I lived in the US, and it ranged from easy help for educated people to potentially draining social-services type work. One night I could help an immigrant doctor complete his resume and the next day deal with an illiterate, undocumented family in constant crisis from issues involving illegally low pay, serious medical problems, truancy, abortion, and a teenage runaway.

If you volunteer first, you'll get a sense of what problems are out there and what type of work you prefer. Also, volunteering can be a good way to reclaim your brain from depression, because you'll be focusing on others and staying socially active.
posted by ceiba at 4:50 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I somehow skipped over the part where you mentioned your average is around 80%. It may be the Liberal Arts influence getting to you. I know when I did LA at Dawson (and when some friends did it at Concordia) anything below a 90 was considered unacceptable -- not by the profs, but by our peers. Compound outside influence with internal mental struggle and you have a pretty efficient confidence-deflator. An 80 is actually pretty great, and even if it wasn't (or if you weren't getting grades around 80%), it would be just fine.
posted by OLechat at 4:53 PM on December 5, 2011

First: don't be so hard on yourself! It's okay not to have everything figured out, and you sound as though you're starting to pick out a direction. That's great!

I don't have any specific resources for you, as I'm from the U.S., but I worked in refugee/immigrant resettlement for years (my Canadian grad school colleagues have had similar experiences, if that helps). I started out as a volunteer English tutor, and networked my way into a full-time position. You don't necessarily need a specific degree as the work in some of those organizations varies quite a bit, but you do need to demonstrate a strong capacity for working well in multicultural contexts (both your colleagues and clients may come from very diverse backgrounds).

Working in social services can be very rewarding and challenging in a good way, but it can also be extremely stressful and draining depending on your workload to resources ratio. In my experience you hit the ground running with very little training. Ex: In my first full-time position I was trained in one day by an intern. Work environments in agencies can vary as well between extremely supportive to tense and competitive (due to low pay and few opportunities for advancement). It can be overwhelming, so be sure you're ready.

Volunteering, internships, or part-time work might be a good way to ease your way into the industry without committing yourself to something you don't end up liking (although I really loved it).

I wish I could point you to specific agencies, but I hope this helps anyway. Good luck!
posted by swingbraid at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2011

You could apply for CIC,RCMP, (or even DFAIT), which are involved with immigrants and immigration in various capacities. They also pay well. They're also a piece of pie to get into if you're bilingual and willing to wait a few months or years to be successful in a job process, even if that means taking an administrative assistant position.
posted by Yowser at 5:00 PM on December 5, 2011

Tell some engineering students about your 80% average, and watch them turn green! Your grades may not be what you expected coming from high school or CEGEP, but they're definitely alright, so don't beat yourself up too much.

If you're looking for places to volunteer, maybe give Project Genesis a look? I know someone who volunteered for them, and seemed to like it.
posted by vasi at 5:28 PM on December 5, 2011

I am so sorry that you have been going through all this. The things you are worried about losing, they are definitely not irretrievable. You seem to have gone through a fairly tough year, especially with the depression. Be gentle with yourself and realize that this is ok. Life changes, depression rolls in and rears its ugly head and you feel like your life is a mess and those things (intelligence, etc.) are gone. When in fact, they are just confused and hidden behind the shadow and brain fog that depression causes. Go to therapy, find and use all the support you can. Depression has a really ugly way of convicing you that its all in your head and to not get help. Ignore it. Take all and everything that can get you on a path to feeling better.

I went through something similar in my first 3 years of undergrad, and through a combination of ongoing therapy and medication, have been slowly but steadily coming back (I can memail you more details if you like and think it would be helpful to you. I'm still struggling, but therapy has been invaluable to make me feel like a real person again. Have you consider medication for your depression? I tried therapy for awhile without the medication and wasn't able to make any headway until I found the right one. It brought my emotions back into enough of a natural balance to be able to start doing the things my therapist was suggesting. Both of them together have been much more effective than either on their own.

About the grade thing, I go to university in Ontario and an 80 average is definitely not lousy! Give yourself some credit for having an above average grade point average, and congrats.

Best of luck to you.
posted by snowysoul at 5:35 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ontario has something called OCASI (Ontario Council of Agencies Seving Immigrants) which runs a variety of settlement services. It looks like the equivalent organization in Quebec is the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI).
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:43 PM on December 5, 2011

I had something resembling an 80% average in university and it got me into a prestigious journalism school (too bad I dropped out) and then on to my dream job, for which I was one of about 80 people hired from a pool of some 8,000. What I'm saying is that 80% is a good average.

As for your career goal, CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) funds a number of agencies that do exactly this kind of work. I can't speak to Montreal, but I volunteer with a CIC-funded group in Ottawa called the Catholic Immigration Centre (don't worry, the Catholic is just a name.) Check out their website and give them a call. I would be surprised if there isn't something exactly the same in Montreal. If there is, I'm sure they know about it.
posted by fso at 6:25 PM on December 5, 2011

The job that you are describing is called "settlement worker," and these people tend to have degrees in social work as well as current social work accreditation. This is not necessarily always the case though, and you can get into settlement work with education in many other fields. What I recommend you do is find your local Family Services, Immigrant Services, Settlement Services, or Family and Community Social Services (FCSS) agency and volunteer. Volunteering really is the way to get your feet in the door - especially if you don't have the ideal education and experience, volunteering with an agency will let them get to know you and your skills and if they like you, you'll be top of the list when an opening happens.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:38 PM on December 5, 2011

I definitely encourage you to do some therapy. Depression does a real number on your ability to think clearly, analyze situations and remember things. The good news is you're young and all that will come back. It really will!

As for your grades, I have no idea whether an 80% is considered good grades in university this days, but the good news in that department is that once you leave university, no one cares what your grades were like. Unless you want to go to grad school or a professional programme, those grades won't matter ever again. And even if you do want to do either of those things, there are all kinds of other things you can do to make your application more impressive.

A liberal arts degree doesn't give you many practical skills, it's true. It really is all about critical thinking and the ability to meet deadlines (in my opinion). I know you feel like you haven't learned any of that, but if you have an 80% you have learned a lot more than you realize. It might take some time to rest and recover, but in a while you may be able to better appreciate all you really did learn.

To gain practical skills in the area you are interested in, I would look for volunteer opportunities. There are a lot of different immigrant services organizations in Montreal and probably a few of them will be happy to have some volunteers. These ones and these ones, for example.

Do you have a careers centre at your university? Or counselling services that helps with this kind of thing? I would start there. You are certainly not the only person to be coming to the end of their degree at a loss of what to do next. They will likely have some good advice.
posted by looli at 7:31 PM on December 5, 2011

You could work for a social/community services agency, perhaps in an intercultural or settlement program. You could also work for other agencies that target or have large populations of immigrants. And there's Immigration Canada too. The current government is cutting services and farming stuff out, but there are still opportunities. Try the YM/YWCA, Employment Resource Centres, women's shelters, etc. Look on CharityVillage.com for jobs. You most likely do not need a specialized degree or further training to do this and make $14-20 an hour to start.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:01 PM on December 5, 2011

Do you think therapy could help me regain some confidence/ help me feel like my head is more than an empty ball with tumbleweeds rolling through?

Yes. Robert Sapolsky gets his name dropped from time to time, but one of the things he talks about is how stress itself can cause memory problems. The stress chemicals crowd out the remembering-stuff chemicals, or something like that (obv. I'm not trained).
posted by rhizome at 8:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for your answers (and keep them coming!) I am working on restoring my hope and your answers are really helping me. I marked a few as "best" but they are all very helpful. I will look into all of your suggestions once finals are over. Keep it coming!
posted by costanza at 9:09 PM on December 5, 2011

Does Katimavik sound like it might work for you?
posted by zadcat at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2011

I plan to check out all the various links people have posted once I am done my semester.

Zadcat, re: Katimavik: yes, I've always wished I had done that, but now I'm 23 and their cut off age is 21. But thanks for the suggestion.

Does anyone have any advice on what orientation of psychology might be best for when I look for a therapist? Preferably a type that involves more than just listening to me speak- I don't think that will do the trick.

Snowy soul: thanks for the encouragement! Actually I am on medication, Cipralex. I don't find it does anything at all, but I don't know much about anti depressants (I've always been skeptical).
posted by costanza at 10:33 AM on December 6, 2011

A lot of people seem to find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helpful. A lot of it seems to be focused on teaching one's mind not to keep falling into the same old rut of despair, which sounds like it could help you–but obviously, YMMV, everybody has different needs.

I would recommend just trying new therapists until you find one who's right for you, it's not at all unusual to go through a few bad fits. Good luck!
posted by vasi at 2:04 PM on December 10, 2011

« Older Best book summarizing current biblical scholarship...   |   Taxi gift cards in DC/VA Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.