Year 11 student, Zahlia Gray, has discovered an unexpected silver-lining to the mental health issues she’s faced over the last few years; a career pathway.

Her disillusionment with available mental health services for adolescents has inspired a plan to become a psychologist—one with a specific focus on the health of young people.

One service-provider told her that her mental health problems were ‘just about hormones’. It was an encounter she found incredibly unhelpful.

“Adolescents are not just a bunch of hormones out of control,” she says. “Every generation of humans has to deal with hormones.

“I think something is going on with Gen Z,” she muses. “Why are so many of us struggling with mental health and feeling disillusioned about the future?”

Zahlia has many ideas about what the triggers could be. She wonders about the impact of family problems, bullying and the negative side of social media. She also believes climate change and other worries about the future, including the pandemic, are having a profound effect.

“People are remarkably open online about mental health—and very supportive—but it doesn’t always translate to in-person support,” she explains.

“Reading from a screen just isn’t the same as a real person listening and caring about you.”

Zahlia stresses the importance of young people talking to someone in-tune with their experiences; someone who understands their perspective on the world.

“I now have that in my life because I’m seeing the most fantastic psychologist,” she says. “It was quite a journey to find them.”

Zahlia’s mum has also been an incredible supporter.

“She’s the light of my life—something I didn’t realise in my early teens. I was such a shit.”

Zahlia’s mum is a cancer survivor, and as Zahlia has matured, her appreciation for their good fortune has sharpened her gratitude for this most treasured relationship.

Even with this great support, Zahlia had to do the hard work of transforming herself from someone who had trouble getting out of bed, to the young woman she is now; growing in self-respect and inner strength.

It will come as no surprise to hear that her favourite VCE subject—hands down—is Psychology.

She loves many things about BSSC, but it’s the equity of the culture she most admires.

“It didn’t take me long to realise how inclusive this school is,” she says, “and how supportive it is of student mental health.

“The focus on wellbeing and programs that build connection is just great—like Wellbeing Week, the Ally Program and Inclusion Ambassador training. All my teachers treat me with the utmost respect.”

Alongside Psychology, Maths and English, Zahlia is also studying Art Fashion which is giving her some great skills and encouraging her creativity.

“It’s the perfect subject for me because I like to dress very individually,” she says. “It’s made me think about my style and why I wear what I do. It’s also a great way to connect with other students who have the same passion.”

Right now, as the weather warms, Zahlia is thinking about a summer wardrobe—one that takes sustainability and other environmental factors into account.

When she’s not sewing (and sometimes when she is) Zahlia’s life is filled with music.

She plays keyboard, guitar and ukulele, loves to sing and express herself through song-writing, and has discovered singing can be a huge de-stressor.

With too many favourite artists to list, she narrows it down to David Bowie, The Beatles and Nirvana.

“If I could go back in time, I would love to have met Kurt Cobain whose music has so inspired me,” Zahlia says. “I’d like to give him a big hug and hear his story and ask him what inspired him to make music?”

Zahlia admits that music has often been a major distraction during remote learning.

“I’d much rather keep home and school separate, but COVID made that impossible,” she says. “At home, music is just too easy to access.”

Reflecting back over the last five years, Zahlia believes she is now much more her own person. But if she was able to beam back through time and have conversation with her 12-year-old self, she would offer this advice:

“People are going to judge you whatever you do, so be yourself. Don’t try to change to suit other people’s opinions.”