Shona Willis is only 18 but has already spent years dedicating herself to her work as a mental health advocate. But Shona’s journey to promoting happy, healthy minds hasn’t always been an easy one, a fact she speaks candidly about.
“When I was 14 I was diagnosed with chronic dysthymia and generalised anxiety disorder,” Shona says. “I can never quite articulate what it felt like to live with these conditions on a daily basis. There was a lot of darkness and confusion and a multitude of unhealthy coping mechanisms.”
All Shona knew was that she was struggling, that she couldn’t envision a future for herself and woke up every day not wanting to be alive. The catch? She led a seemingly charmed existence as a straight A student and a social butterfly.
“Living with these conditions has taught me so many things. Most importantly, however, (is that) mental health issues don’t discriminate. You’re made to feel as though unless you have a sob story or troubled circumstance to go with your diagnosis, you’re not worth anyone’s time of day - as if battling with your mind every day isn’t already a confusing enough concept.”
But it’s this experience that drives her work. Since 2014, Shona has been involved with youth health initiative Headspace. Having heard about the organisation through a school counsellor, she approached Headspace Frankston with her ideas for change and has been active in projects ever since. Most recently, Shona organised her own TEDx talk, an independent organised TED event where inspirational speakers covered such ideas as gender identity and Australia’s stance on diversity.
“To this day I am unable to articulate the amount of pride, love, magic and happiness that circulated the room on the night of the event. Everyone left feeling inspired and ready to start a conversation on ideas that matter. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
So how does a university student find time to study, work part-time, organise TEDx events, volunteer with a major health organisation, write, sing, and meditate?
“To be frank, I don’t really believe in balance. All I do is make sure I spend my day doing what I want to do, as opposed to what the world wants me to do. Some weeks all of this looks balanced; most weeks it doesn’t.”