There is no depression in New Zealand

We all know the refrain right? There is no such thing as mental illness. People just need to “harden up” and get through it, right? Pychs are just there to scam the weak-willed for money, like some sort of pokies for the headcases.

Bullshit. As someone who is finally starting to recover from long-term social anxiety, trying to “harden up” and tough your way through a recovery just causes you to panic and think you can’t do it at all, which quickly leads you into making your problem worse by trying to deal with it through avoiding it. Not just that, but there are real physical symptoms1 from mental illness that can be pretty mystifying if you try to treat them without addressing the mental problems behind them. (My sleeping has got much better, for instance, since I started re-learning how to relax my muscles) One way to battle a mental illness is that you challenge its premises by slowly putting yourrself into the situations that challenge you- not going all-out at once, but just building up slowly so you can function.

This opinion often cloaks itself behind other objections: “We try to cure everything with antidepressants” being a notable one. Firstly, I should point out that any half-decent GP will realise that antidepressants are there to help break you out of feedback loops, not to make you feel better about the hole you’re in. 😉 You can’t make yourself feel better by getting a job or doing well at study if you’re too depressed to even show up, for instance. This is what real medical professionals use anti-depressants for, and why a GP will generally try to get someone they prescribe this sort of treatment to into therapy of some sort. The reason that the use of antidepressants for medicating mental disorders is so common is that practically every mental disorder is based upon a feedback loop. Violent people cause others to threaten them by being prepared for that threat in the first place. Shy or nervous people isolate themselves because they’re too afraid to socialise. Depressive people lose engagement and motivation and can’t face the things they need to do to get them back, because those very actions require a degree of motivation and engagement. Starting off on an anti-depressant during some sort of therapy gives people the boost they need to break the cycle- no good doctor just hands someone pills and hopes they go away.

What’s even worse is that this reinforces social problems in our society. Because violent people think they’re naturally violent rather than that they’ve lost control of their own subconscious, a lot of preventable domestic violence happens precisely because of the attitude that mental illness doesn’t exist. Rape victims have what they need for recovery questioned and are treated like attention-seekers because they can’t just “harden up” their way out of post-traumatic stress. All sorts of people from the GLBTQI rainbow can suffer social exclusion syndrome that makes them think they’re a lot more different than they actually are due to the pressure put on them to conform to straight norms. I won’t claim to familiar with the sorts of mental disorders that can arise from racism, but as poverty tends to make it harder to access effective treatment and discourage wanting to further, racial poverty among New Zealand minorities is surely a factor here.

Hopefully recent public education has dented this one a bit, but it still surprises me just how many of these harmful beliefs my subconscious had swallowed despite totally contradicting what I believed. Fortunately, when you live in a world where mental illness is real, you can understand that sometimes the conscious and subconscious work at odds with each other.

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