My Experience as a Volunteer in Relation to Mental Health Issues
One-third of the Canadian population has mental disorders, including individuals regardless of their gender, socioeconomic status, and cultural background (Government of Canada, 2017). Even though mental health issues are widespread, some groups in society are much more likely to encounter such illnesses (2017). From my experience during the Reading Week project, children from low-income families are especially vulnerable to issues connected with mental state, which I would like to discuss in this paper. I will also provide a personal reflection on the volunteering project and explain sociological concepts that will be further related to my experience as a volunteer.
Turning to the Reading Week project, it was dedicated to community service in Vancouver by providing help to the variety of organizations, institutions, and deprived groups. Due to this project, I was assigned to volunteer at Queen Alexandra Elementary School where my role was to assist a teacher in grades four and five as well as to raise students’ awareness about environmental issues. While participating in the project, I have noticed several patterns described by sociologists. One of them is Wendell’s (1996) social construction of disability, a creation of ailments or other conditions through the combination of physical and societal factors. Contrary to a popular standpoint, disability is not necessarily an innate lack of health and capabilities, also, it could be caused by the environment and surroundings. In other words, internal causes, the model of healthcare, lifestyle, social structure, and even culture can lead to the construction of disability in communities (1996). Other important concepts that could be applied to my experience are concerted cultivation and the accomplishment of natural growth (Lareau, 2003). Concerted cultivation is the way of upbringing children by strictly scheduling their activities, having conversations, and treating the younger generation as equal and prerogative. On the other hand, the accomplishment of natural growth is dedicated to fulfilling basic needs as well as providing love and care rather than organizing their time.
Turning to the two types of parenting, concerted cultivation utilized by middle-class parents usually provides all the necessary skills that are highly valued by social institutions, while the accomplishment of natural growth adopted by working class pursues strong connections with family members (2003). Having described some crucial concepts, I would like to apply them to my own experience at Queen Alexandra Elementary School. While volunteering at this educational establishment, as a teaching assistant, I was directed to be extremely cautious with the students because of their mental state. Teachers treated children as mentally disabled rather than those who have different personalities and identities, which reminds me of the social construction of disability mentioned earlier in this paper. As the author of this concept, Wendell demonstrates that the large numbers of individuals cannot correspond to social standards and ideals in terms of capacity and capability, regardless the fact that such requirements are not inevitable for a decent life in society (2003). This argument supplements my experience at school where children are regarded as those who are unable to learn fundamental skills, such as self-discipline, memorizing important information, and commitment to the common work or goal. Moreover, the students may be not fully prepared for future interactions in society due to their ‘mental issues’; they are easily forgiven for any misbehavior and are expected to be carefree. Such an approach may be not the best preparation for the further life; therefore, I would agree with Wendell and offer a deconstruction of ailments through changing the attitude towards ‘mentally impaired’ students (2003). It is necessary to provide opportunities for such individuals by involving them in discipline and interaction rather than treating ones in a very specific and medicalized way (2003).
Even though the labeling of those who have mental health issues is crucial and should be changed, there is still another factor that largely contributes to the well-being of children (Klasen & Crombag, 2013). For instance, family and its income could be a reason that impacts children’s mental state, therefore it is important to not only ‘cure’ individuals with mental issues but also pay close attention to their environment and surroundings (Klasen & Crombag, 2013; Nguyen et al., 2018). As for my experience at Queen Alexandra Elementary School, I have noticed that the majority of students in grades four and five were from low-income families. In order to prove this, the school is located in one of the most impoverished districts in Vancouver where 23-42% of the population is in poverty, leading to the conclusion that the students of Queen Alexandra Elementary School are very likely to live in poor families (Gil Kelley, September 27, 2017). This was also supported when multiple students reported how their parents were forced to sell technical appliances or stopped heating their houses due to financial problems (Students, personal communication, February 12, 2019). Given such appalling information, I also found an explanation of why it was challenging to have closer interactions with those children.
Taking into account their circumstances, I related the concept of the accomplishment of natural growth to the fact that students were passive and not willing to engage with UBC students (Lareau, 2003). Perhaps, children’s parents who experience financial troubles taught ones to be fearful or distant from those who possess money and authority, which in this case were UBC volunteers (2003). This factor played an important role for not only students’ weak interactions with teachers and volunteers but also for their mental state. Overall, these data show a vicious circle that consists of poverty, the style of upbringing, and mental health issues, illustrating how income may correlate with mental disorders and a family factor (Klasen & Crombag, 2013; Nguyen et al., 2018). In conclusion, the society labels those who are not able to conform to the high standards of physical and mental capability by defining individuals as mentally ill, which only reasserts dominance over impoverished groups who are fearful of authorities (Lareau, 2003; Wendell, 1996).
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