Let’s Finally Talk About Mental Health

Mental health is a subject that is continuously glossed over by Americans, as we discount the pressures of work, school, and life in the United States and instead identify the problem as revolving solely around the individual. As I have learned more about mental health—through interactions at home, portrayals of mentally ill characters in the media, and classes at Georgetown—I have witnessed the great shame and the stigma that exists in regard to mental health issues. I have learned that this interpretation of mental health comes from the constant culture of striving for success that exists in the United States.

I’ve been in Australia for almost two months, and I have been enrolled in classes for four weeks, and it is the opposite of the life that I know in New York City and in the District of Columbia. In New York, in particular, I find myself falling into the trap of only focusing on getting to the next destination, and not appreciating my surroundings or the beautiful buildings that make up the city. People in Melbourne are not like that. Specifically, in Melbourne everyone goes at their own pace, and seems more aware of the beauty that surrounds them. People realize that life can be stressful, so they take things at their own speed; they understand that everything will get done at some point. Individuals are more willing to have a conversation and explore their surroundings. They do not walk with their headphones in, simply following their Google maps in order to get to their next destination (as I have done time and time again on my way to class).

The Australian community seems to heavily value the mentality of taking everything day-by-day, so much so that this mentality is greatly reflected in the education system. The Australian education system values the idea that college is not for everyone, and therefore supports very different paths for different students. This system disproves the notion that the only way to make a life for yourself is by attending university. This way of thinking in and of itself reflects a different way of approaching challenges. From a young age, I and many of my peers knew that in order to move up in life, we needed academia and never even considered other paths, as we hoped we could aid our families in achieving upward mobility through higher education. Meanwhile in Melbourne, I have met 20-year-olds who are not enrolled in university, yet are still thriving. This provides a completely divergent example from the United States, which frequently reinforces the idea that university is necessary for success.

Many Australians still choose to attend university. However in Australia, there isn’t the same stress culture, or pressure, that exists in America. In America, there is a strong emphasis on graduating from college at the top of your class, maintaining a high GPA, and getting that once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity. The constant reminder and pressure to perform well made my first weeks at Georgetown more stressful than I could have ever imagined. Last semester specifically, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. regularly, doing excessive amounts of homework. While I realize that this did not benefit my mental and physical health, I continued to perform in this way and completed one of my strongest academic semesters at Georgetown.

This is something that does not seem to be the norm in Australia. If I were to uphold the same work habits that I formed back home, I would be told to seek out a therapist and speak about my mental health, because I should not be exerting that much stress on myself. I was initially a bit hesitant when someone told me the people here do not stress out about education; no student truly says that they are stressed out and in need of some sort of psychiatric help due to their educational path. I was instantly proven incorrect when I moved into my university housing and received a pamphlet describing the Counseling and Psychological Services that exist for students. I was even more shocked to see this same sentiment expressed in our orientation, where the man leading the meeting heavily emphasized that teachers here know university is hard and are very understanding towards students’ varying circumstances. To my surprise, on my university's Blackboard website, each of my classes lists tabs titled “Student Wellbeing.” These tabs list the different resources available to ensure the mental health of students at the university.

The strong focus on mental health here seems to normalize the act of seeking out help when it is necessary. The culture moves away from the idea, which America continues to reinforce, that addressing mental health issues is shameful. Instead, it reinforces the idea that community and institutional support can alleviate mental health issues and help students find more comfort. Students here have access to resources that help them to work through issues in a healthy manner and speak about their problems, as opposed to bottling them up and allowing the seriousness of these issues to intensify. This understanding culture not only justifies the pace at which people from Melbourne take their work and their day-to-day life, but also leads to more accessible mental health resources for students and more support for them in their day-to-day activities.

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