Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA

MHA is a positive and rewarding environment to do my internship

When I found out that I would be moving to Erie in a more permanent fashion, I decided to find a place to volunteer and get to know the community better in Erie. I decided to volunteer at the Mental Health Association. While I was volunteering, I learned that the values and mission of the Mental Health Association matched my goals for how I would interact in the community.

I chose to complete an internship here in Erie, despite attending Purdue University in the state of Indiana. My major is behavioral neuroscience. However, after volunteering here, I understood that my medical view of psychology and recovery would hamper my ability to help mental health consumers. This knowledge helped me come into my internship at the Mental Health Association knowing that I would only get out of this experience what I put into it.

Perhaps the most rewarding experience during my internship was the ability to help consumers with advocacy. I learned about the everyday struggles of a mental health consumer and the potential solutions. I also became very interested in the legal and political barriers that cause roadblocks in recovery (example: an individual with a felony does not qualify for much of the supportive housing). I often became frustrated by how the system prevents some members from being where they want to be in their life. Another rewarding experience was attending the support groups. At the groups, I learned not only valuable recovery tools that I can use in my daily life, but also about the many sides of mental illness that are never shown in a textbook.

Finally, every day I was able to interact with consumers. I came into this internship hoping that I could educate and help the consumers, but I leave the internship knowing that they educated me beyond any of my expectations. I am sad to leave such a positive and rewarding environment where I am surrounded by individuals who truly care about my well-being and the well-being of their peers.

However, none of the above experiences compare to the largest lesson that I learned at the Mental Health Association. The most important lesson that I will carry with me throughout my professional career and thereafter is that mental health consumers are not defined or limited by their mental illness. They are people first and always will be in my heart.

Hannah Coates
Purdue University

March 6th, 2014

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