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Our perception of mental health has changed a lot in recent years — and for the better. Once a subject riddled with taboos, society as a whole is so much more open to discussing its far-reaching impacts these days. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that people from all walks of life receive the mental health care they need.
It’s there that Grace Sholl Between.
Having followed her own mental health journey, Grace is a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) student at Griffith University, is currently making waves with her advocacy work. She has also worked alongside Queensland Mental Health Research Center and is about to complete a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
Given her professional and personal experience in the field of mental health, we spoke with Grace about how she thinks the system needs to evolve to better serve young people.
PEDSTRIAN.TV: How did you know this was the path you wanted to take?
Grace Sholl: My mother and father were in the army, so I grew up in an interesting environment. I saw how difficult things were sometimes, especially for my father, who has a history of mental illness. I always wished I could help more and do something to make them happy, so when I was three I decided to become a doctor to help people like my parents. However, I have always hated blood and guts. Still, I’ve always been a pretty good listener – I was developmentally delayed growing up, so I learned to pay close attention to what was going on around me so I didn’t fall too far behind my peers.
I was also one of those boring kids who questioned everything – more specifically, I was fascinated by why we do what we do and why we are who we are. I never really felt like I fit in as a kid, constantly feeling like the odd one out due to my single family, learning difficulties and declining mental health, so I became obsessed with the idea of breaking up and figuring out what made me ‘me’.
It wasn’t until eighth grade that I discovered psychology as a career path, and ever since that day I have been stubbornly committed to becoming a psychologist.
PEDSTRIAN.TV: How has your experience at Griffith helped shape your journey?
Griffith has supported me and given me opportunities for growth since day one. After experiencing discrimination and ableism in high school, I specifically chose Griffith because of their renowned support for people with disabilities and the fact that they respect mental illness and physical illness equally – something with which I had a lot of problems. The disability support team are the most amazing people, and I’ve had a close personal relationship with my support worker since I started school in 2019. After having had to fight for my right to exist and have equal opportunity all my life, it means that the world can finally step back and have someone else who fights alongside me, defending not only my needs, but also my abilities and my strengths.
I felt equally safe as a queer young woman at Griffith – and again, I specifically chose Griffith because of their LGBTQIA+ student policies and dedication to ensuring a safe learning environment. . Griffith has given me countless opportunities to grow and establish myself professionally, requiring me to use my professional skills and lived experience on the university equity committee and as a member of the the review of learning and teaching disabilities (in which we examined the accessibility of learning and teaching at Griffith, the support offered to students with disabilities and the general culture of the university towards people with disabilities , and makes recommendations for improvement).
PEDSTRIAN.TV: How do you think the system needs to change to improve youth mental health?
Grace Sholl: To improve youth mental health, we need to look at how people with mental health issues and young people are treated in society. We are often treated as inferior and incompetent because of our health or our age. Our thoughts and opinions are not respected because we have “less life experience” or do not hold a formal qualification.
Anyone with access to mental health care, especially young people, should be treated as an expert on their own life. As someone who has lived with a mental illness for six years and is almost out of school, I say that textbook definitions fail to accurately capture what it is honestly to live with a mental health issue. .
While there is a slow move towards a lived experience model, there is often little or no representation of young people – the people making these system-changing decisions often have no regular and meaningful contact with young people and no understanding of the impact the changes will have on them, for better or for worse. And when young people are involved, there is a questionable lack of diversity and a reluctance to acknowledge the power imbalance young defenders face.
PEDSTRIAN.TV: Why are advocacy and community so important to mental health support?
Grace Sholl: Growing up, I felt incredibly isolated in the issues I faced. I felt like I was broken because there was no one I could relate to. Because of this, it took me six years, until I was on the brink and considering ending my life, to ask for help. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, and when I tried to tell my friends about it after my diagnosis of depression and anxiety, I was let down and told I had too much problems to be there. I was told by my school that I couldn’t be a leader, by adults in my life that I was too emotional, and by the media that people like me were a burden on society.
But I had my father as a role model, a shining example for me that even though life was difficult, I could chart my own course and be as successful and as happy as anyone else, and I could live a meaningful life and giving back to the world.
Having a community of people with similar lived experience fulfills that overriding and fundamental need for social acceptance – to be seen and understood without a single shared word. It’s about giving yourself the means not only to survive, but also to prosper. As a youngster, I got to see older people from the same background as me who are happy and successful despite everything thrown at them.
Advocacy reframes these systematic hierarchies in health care so that they are “nothing about us without us”. It’s about giving people the most basic human right – a voice in making decisions about their own lives, regardless of age or circumstances. It’s acknowledging ourselves as experts in our own lives, respecting the fact that I’ve lived as Grace for the past 20 years and have an understanding of what support is best for me. It’s about coming to a mutual agreement with young people about how much information to share with the adults in their lives. It is about respecting the fact that the hospital is not a helpful option for many of us who have experienced trauma in underfunded mental health services, or giving us the tools to understand and take decisions about our care.
PEDESTRIAN.TV: Do you have any advice for people who want to go down a similar path to yours?
Grace Sholl: The most important thing is this: a degree in psychology does not replace therapy. I had consulted a psychologist for three years before starting my studies, so I had developed healthy coping strategies and had a good understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. A psychology degree can give you insight into yourself, but therapy gives you the tools to use that insight effectively.
Be mindful of your own experiences and needs. Sometimes it can be very uncomfortable to study a mental illness you’ve experienced or give advice on an issue you’re still personally struggling with – and that’s okay!
Set appropriate boundaries and avoid tasks that are too personal or triggering. Focus on areas of mental health in which you have experience and are comfortable with.
If Grace’s journey has inspired you to carve out a career helping others, then make your career count with Griffith University. If you need a little more inspiration, try taking this personalized quiz to see which study paths would suit you.