Opinion: Creating a discussion around mental health

This article comes from the Global desk, a collaboration between The Gazelle, WSN and On Century Avenue. Read more by searching ‘global.’

MELBOURNE, Australia — Studying at NYU Abu Dhabi is intense. Every day, I felt pressure from my professors, peers and myself to have the best internship, lead a Student Interest Group, get straight As and start writing a game-changing capstone. In addition, I was in a completely new and foreign environment. I was constantly overwhelmed, I felt obliged to stay busy and I thought I couldn’t talk to my friends about feeling stressed.

I should have been able to put up with all this pressure, right? I was at the World’s Honors College, after all. But, after two years of being an NYU Abu Dhabi student, I started to crack. I could never free myself from the looming expectations. Even during the summer, I thought I had to intern, take a class or do research. I was surrounded by some of the world’s most successful students, a fact NYU Abu Dhabi would often remind me of. Under these conditions, I definitely had no time for a break. I needed to keep performing and stay competitive. I was afraid to talk to my friends about all the pressure because I thought feeling stressed was expected of us. By prioritizing my GPA over my mental health, I was setting myself up for future failure.


By staying busy, it became impossible for me to realize my stress had reached a sinister state. I should have spoken more openly about my stress to my friends. As a community, we need to speak more openly about stress. Rather than comparing workloads, we need to shift our focus towards checking in with one another. Simply asking someone how they are feeling does not cut it. Sometimes, this simple question put me on edge, because I did not think I could answer honestly. If you care about your friends, take the time to sit down with them and try to understand how their day is really going. Real conversations about how we’re feeling can make the difference between becoming overwhelmed or not. In order for our community to effectively tackle issues of mental health, we need to start talking.

We also need to talk more openly with the school about mental health to develop the best support for students. When I spoke with dean of students David Tinagero, he told me the university’s role is to “make sure that we provide you with the support you need in whatever context you find yourself.”

So it is all up to us, we just need to visit Tinagero and ask for the support we need. Don’t wait for you or your friend to buckle under the pressure. If we begin openly discussing mental health at NYUAD today, then we can make ourselves a lot happier.

I thought I could wait out the four years of my degree before needing time off, and because of stress I ended up suddenly leaving Abu Dhabi for a break this semester. No matter how much I tried to ignore the pressures of being an NYUAD student, they were constantly taking a toll on my mental health. These pressures didn’t have to be ignored, however, and they didn’t have to take a toll on my mental health. We can change that today. Go and sit down with a friend this week and find out how they feel about the pressures in their life. Discuss ways our school could offer support to address these pressures. Most importantly, please keep talking about mental health.

Email James Smoley at [email protected]



  1. Dear James,

    I admired your article from last year on the mental health risks due to manic-like, stress-out lifestyles. I read it today, browsing for stories on climate change. I am a mental health professional and work with addicts and alcoholics. I also work with families of young people like yourself. How great to find someone SPEAKING OUT about what can get lost among the myriad of concerns in our world.

    I hope you continue to manage your stress and always put your health…


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