In May, BCS recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month. BCS is proud to offer mental health services and fight the stigma associated with having a mental illness. 1 in 5 New Yorkers suffer from mental health disorders. We admire those who are open about their struggles, and thank them for their voice. A special thank you to Shaddia and the mental health professionals who do such vital work.
The first job Shaddia Torres had straight out of graduate school was working with families in crisis at BCS; she has been working with us for 13 years now. Today Shaddia is the Director of BCS PROS. She is a strong advocate for mental health services, and was interviewed by Vice last year. Recently Shaddia talked to us about working in the mental health field.
What do you do at BCS PROS?
PROS stands for Personalized Recovery Oriented Services. It’s meant to be a personalized plan for each person that walks through the door. Person-centered, strength-based, hopefully not pathologizing of any behavior. Of course it takes into account that these people have a diagnoses; but it also assumes that recovery is not only possible- it’s expected. What’s different about this type of setting versus other mental health settings is that we’re already planning for when you step down into a less intensive level of care.
How did you get into the Mental Health field?
My mom and dad are both social workers. My parents worked with the homeless and HIV Positive population and SROS (Single room occupancies in shelters). As a kid I spent a lot of time in shelters, not because I lived there but because both of my parents worked there. All of my jobs, even as a kid, were in the community. It’s interesting because both of my parents said “Don’t be a social worker.” I had applied to Syracuse University for the school of Arts & Sciences, because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I was trying to heed their advice to not be a social worker. Syracuse didn’t accept me to the school of Arts & Sciences, but they gave me a 2nd option- to go to their school of Social Work. So I thought “I’m going to get my foot in the door!” and I went and ended up loving it. I almost feel like I was born to be a social worker, I just didn’t know it.
“I believe that beginnings are really important.”
How do you feel about the stigma surrounding mental illness?
We have done a lot of work to try and destigmatize mental illness here. And really help our participants stay safe in the community and learn how to advocate for themselves. We have a group called “Race and Resistance” where participants discuss their experiences with oppression or racism and stigma, and also really support each other to try and see how to help keep the dialogue going, and make sure that we’re not contributing to an oppressive workspace or treatment. It takes work; in terms of making sure we’re being inclusive but also not stripping people of their autonomy.
What are your thoughts on self-care?
For me as a social worker, self-care is very important. The biggest challenges in this field are compassion fatigue and burnout. I think it’s so important that my staff are taking care of their own wellness and mental health. It’s very easy to feel deflated, and that there is no traction in this work. I also recognize that as a leader I need to make sure I’m keeping my cup full so I can continue to fill their cup. I always tell my staff, you have to lead with love, we’re all a work in progress. One of my supervisors has a poster in her office that says “Be patient with yourself, nothing in nature blooms all year.”
What is your favorite part of your job?
I LOVE the participants. I have never met a kinder, more accepting and forgiving group of people. It’s interesting because you think adults are going to be tough; oftentimes, they’re very receptive. I guess also because of the fact that this setting allows people to spend time every day together, they build really beautiful relationships amongst each other, and it’s really nice to see that this is a safe place.