On Mental Health Action Day, AmeriCorps alumna Carissa shares how national service empowered her to become a social worker.
It’s been four years since I sat across from my professor during my final semester of undergrad. The countdown had begun—I had a year to figure out my next move as a young woman entering the world with a psychology degree. While inquiring about opportunities, my professor mentioned AmeriCorps as a path. Interested, yet hesitant, I wondered what national service had to do with improving the mental health crisis.
Four months later, I boarded a plane to Chicago to learn how to teach mental health first aid as part of the Healthy Minds Alliance AmeriCorps program. I remember practicing the training content in front of my hotel mirror for hours. However, sitting in a room of professionals with a variety of qualifications, my voice shook when I introduced myself. I thought, “Can I really do this?”
During my time with the program, I quickly realized the transformative power of national service. I confidently trained groups of people and was enlightened by every class. I learned quickly the value of personal stories, the turmoil of mental health challenges, and the hope for recovery. It was no longer about an experience, but a lifestyle of conversing, listening, and offering support.
One encounter really stood out to me, and it remains my driving force to persevere in this field, even when there may be easier roads to venture down. A woman approached me after a training session and thanked me for teaching her the skills to ask someone if they may be thinking about suicide. This woman believed that this skill she implemented on her own may have saved her family member's life. My voice shook again in my response to her, but not because of nervousness, but because I realized the impact I have as a social worker. This was a direct result of the lessons I learned through my service with AmeriCorps.
Since my service term ended, the Healthy Minds Alliance AmeriCorps program has grown exponentially. With more members than ever serving across the country, the program is leading the charge to establish the critical role national service plays in responding to our nation’s mental health crisis. With the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline shifting to the 3-digit number 988, Healthy Minds Alliance now supports crisis call centers nationwide. The 988 Lifeline helps thousands of people overcome suicidal crisis or mental-health related distress every day. These AmeriCorps members are trained and supported in answering calls, texts and chats that come into local crisis call centers, recruit other volunteers for the crisis call center, and reach out to the local community to build awareness around 988. This new program model is made possible by Public Health AmeriCorps funding, a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and AmeriCorps.
The Healthy Minds Alliance AmeriCorps program is developing the next generation of mental health workers, which is critical to addressing this crisis. These AmeriCorps members have grit, determination, and hope for a better future. They show up every day, boldly taking action and saving lives. They are superheroes in every sense of the word.
If you are interested in serving to improve the mental health crisis head to AmeriCorps.gov/Serve to find your opportunity to make an impact.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
Carissa served as an AmeriCorps member with Healthy Minds Alliance from 2019-2020. She earned her master's in social work from the University of Connecticut and now works full time as a social worker in an elementary school. Carissa is deeply passionate about advancing access to mental health services. In her spare time, she remains committed to supporting the work of Healthy Minds Alliance as a consultant.