Our perception of mental health has changed a lot in recent years — and for the better. Once a topic riddled with taboo, society as a whole is so much more open to discussing its wide-reaching impacts these days. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that people from all backgrounds receive the mental health care they need.
That’s where Grace Sholl comes in.
Having been on her own mental health journey, Grace is a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) student at Griffith University, currently making waves with her advocacy work. She has also worked alongside the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research and is on her way to completing a Masters of Clinical Psychology.
Considering her professional and personal experience in the mental health space, we sat down with Grace about how she thinks the system needs to evolve to serve young people best.
PEDESTRIAN.TV: How did you know this was the path you wanted to take?
Grace Sholl: Both my mum and dad were in the army, so I grew up in an interesting environment. I saw how difficult things were at times, especially for my dad, who has a history of mental ill-health. I always wished I could help more and do something to make them happy, so when I was three, I decided I’d become a doctor to help people like my parents. However, I’ve always hated blood and guts. Still, I’ve also always been a fairly good listener – I was developmentally delayed growing up, so I learnt to pay special attention to what was happening around me so I wouldn’t fall too far behind my peers.
I was also one of those annoying kids that questioned everything – more specifically, I was fascinated about why we do what we do and why we are who we are. I never quite felt like I ‘fit in’ as a kid, constantly feeling like the odd one out due to my unique family, my learning difficulties, and my declining mental health, so I became obsessed with pulling myself apart and understanding what made me ‘me’.
It wasn’t until grade eight that I learnt about psychology as a career path, and from that day on, I’ve been stubbornly dedicated to becoming a psychologist.
PEDESTRIAN.TV: How did your experience at Griffith help shape your journey?
Griffith has supported me and given me opportunities for growth since day one. After experiencing discrimination and ableism at high school, I specifically chose Griffith due to their renowned disability support, and the fact that they respect mental illness and physical illness equally – something I’ve had a lot of trouble with. The Disability Support Team are the most amazing people, and I’ve had a close personal relationship with my support worker since I started my degree back in 2019. After having to fight for my right to exist and have equal opportunities my whole life, it means the world to finally be able to step back and have someone else fight alongside me, advocating for not just my needs but my abilities and strengths too.
I’ve felt equally safe as a young queer woman at Griffith – and again, I specifically picked Griffith due to their policies on LGBTQIA+ students and their dedication to ensuring a safe learning environment. Griffith has given me countless opportunities to develop and establish myself professionally, asking me to utilise my professional skills and lived experience expertise on the university Equity Committee and as a panel member of the Learning & Teaching Disability Review (wherein we reviewed the accessibility of learning and teaching at Griffith, the support available to disabled students, and the general culture of the university towards disabled people, and made recommendations for improvements).
PEDESTRIAN.TV: How do you think the system needs to change to improve young folks’ mental health?
Grace Sholl: To improve young people’s mental health, we need to address how both people with mental health concerns and young people are treated in society. We’re often treated as inferior and incompetent due to our health status or age. Our thoughts and opinions are disrespected as we have ‘less life experience’ or don’t hold a formal qualification.
Anyone accessing mental health care, especially young people, need to be treated as experts in their own lives. As someone who has lived with mental illness for six years and almost finished their degree, I say that textbook definitions fail to accurately capture what it is honestly like to live with a mental health concern.
While there is a slow move to a lived experience focused model, there is often little to no youth representation – the people making these system-changing decisions often have no regular and meaningful contact with young people and no understanding of the impact changes will have on them, for better or for worse. And when young people are involved, there’s a questionable lack of diversity and reluctance to acknowledge the power imbalance that young advocates face.
PEDESTRIAN.TV: Why is advocacy and community so important for mental health support?
Grace Sholl: Growing up, I felt incredibly isolated in the issues I was experiencing. I felt like I was broken because there was no one I could relate to. Because of that, it took me six years, until I was on the edge and considering ending my life, to seek support. I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone, and when I tried to tell my friends after my depression and anxiety diagnosis, I was abandoned and told I was too much trouble to be around. 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 drain on society.
But I had my dad as a role model, a shining example to me that though life was hard, I could bulldoze my own path and be just as successful and happy as anyone else, and I could live a meaningful life and give back to the world.
Having a community of people with a similar lived experience fulfils that basic, primal need for social acceptance – to be seen and understood without a single word shared. It’s empowering each other to not only survive but thrive. As a young person, I’ve been able to see older people with the same background as me who are happy and successful despite everything that has been thrown at them.
Advocacy is reframing these systematic hierarchies in healthcare to be ‘nothing about us without us’. It’s giving people the most basic human right – a voice when making decisions about their own lives, no matter their age or circumstance. It’s acknowledging us as experts in our own lives, respecting that I’ve lived as Grace for the past 20 years and that I have an understanding of what support works best for me. It’s coming to a mutual agreement with young people about how much information has to be shared with the adults in their lives. It’s respecting that hospital isn’t a helpful option for many of us who’ve experienced trauma in underfunded mental health wards, or giving us the tools to understand and make decisions about our care.
PEDESTRIAN.TV: Do you have any advice for folks who want to go down a similar path to your own?
Grace Sholl: Most important is this: a psychology degree is not a substitute for therapy. I’d been seeing a psychologist for three years before I started my degree, so I had developed healthy coping strategies and had a good understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. A psychology degree may give you some insight for yourself, but therapy gives you the tools to use that insight effectively.
Be mindful of your own experiences and needs. Sometimes it can be really uncomfortable studying a mental illness that you’ve experienced or advising on an issue that you are still struggling with personally – and that’s okay!
Set appropriate boundaries and avoid work that is too personal or triggering. Focus on areas of mental health that you have experience in and are comfortable with.
If Grace’s path has inspired you to carve a career helping others, then make your career matter with Griffith University. If you need a little more inspo, try taking this custom quiz to see what study paths would suit you.