Tips for beating the blues
Fri, 12 Oct 2012 6:30a.m.
By James Fyfe and Chris Whitworth
By 2020 the World Heath Organisation estimates depression will be the second biggest cause of health problems and premature death worldwide.
In New Zealand alone 47 percent of the population is expected to suffer from a form of mental disorder during their lifetime, with Maori particularly susceptible.
So is the world getting sadder, or are we just becoming more open about mental health issues?
As New Zealand marks Mental Health Awareness Week, 3 News takes a look at four schools of thought around mental wellbeing.
Are NZ men too staunch to ask for help?
If men want to maintain good mental health, they need to learn to talk - that’s the message from Kapiti charity Whirlwind Stories.
Founder Martin Sloman says too many New Zealand men bottle up their emotions until it’s too late.
“Very rarely do we as men get the courage or opportunity to speak about ourselves as emotional human beings,” he says.
“Men are less proactive in dealing with their emotional issues than woman are.”
Mr Sloman treats patients daily in his job as a primary care counsellor, and says the majority are woman. Of the men who do attend, most are in “last-resort territory” and it’s harder to treat them.
He says the focus needs to change from dealing with the effects of mental health issues to treating the causes, something that requires men to open up.
Whirlwind Stories, established by Mr Sloman and local Kapiti singer/songwriter Ryan Edwards, has worked since 2010 to spread the message that “being not okay is okay.”
“We all go through emotional ups and downs,” says Mr Sloman. “If as men we can just accommodate that as being a normal part of living, we can handle it better and then we’re going to be less likely to try and bottle it all up, internalise it and use negative coping strategies.”
Is self-education the key?
Former Split Enz bassist Mike Chunn says he lived with agoraphobia (a form of social anxiety) for almost a decade before realising it was a mental disorder.
Like many people experiencing a mental health issue, he thought he was alone in his suffering.
“I just thought I was mad,” he says.
Mr Chunn experienced severe panic attacks whenever he left Auckland, starting from around the age of 22.
It wasn’t until he chanced upon a magazine article on the disorder that he realised he suffered from agoraphobia - a condition that affects up to 2 percent of New Zealanders.
Mr Chunn says he had lived in a “tranquilised dream state” for most of his touring music career, forced to live on a regime of strong drugs to manage his fear.
“In the end I gave up and came back to live in Auckland,” he says.
“Being in a band is one of the most beautiful things in life, but it’s also one of the most insecure.”
He says self education and improved medical knowledge helped him to eventually beat the disorder more than 18 years on, saying one day in Sydney he just “felt it go”.
Mr Chunn says he eventually learned the disorder was hereditary, something he wished he’d known all those years ago.
“The susceptibility to it runs in the gene,” he says. “There’s a weak link in the chain and you’ve just got to talk about it”.
How is technology killing our work/life balance?
Sociology professor Dr Stephen Matthewman says technology is both a blessing and a curse in modern life.
He says it’s become increasingly more difficult to “switch off” from work and as a result, our mental health suffers.
“Technology intrudes in our lives in very different ways and plays havoc with work/life balance,” he says.
“Loads of people do work after hours, loads of people check work emails when they’re on their break, so you can see how that can potentially up stress levels and lead to burnout and alienation and lots of things that are associated with depression.”
Occupational therapist Kirsty Connell says these workplace stresses can have a negative flow-on effect in other areas of our life.
“If we are tense, irritable, tired, not thinking clearly, having trouble concentrating, sleeping poorly, or feeling angry or wound up with work stress, then it makes sense that it will affect family, relationships, and our ability to live the lives we want,” she says.
“It’s about taking the time to slow down and evaluate your lot.”
What can physical fitness teach us about mental wellbeing?
Judi Clements, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, says people would benefit from treating their mental health like their physical health.
“Most people can probably tell you that eating veggies is better than eating junk food,” says Ms Clements. “People know the basics [of physical health], but we haven’t put as much focus on how we have to look after our mental health.”
She says New Zealanders need to be more proactive and maintain their mental fitness rather than just “getting things fixed”.
Ms Clements says attitudes and awareness surrounding mental health have improved greatly in the last 30 years, but there is still a lot to be done.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage people to think that mental health is an important, precious part of each one of us and we need to know how to look after it, what things support it and sustain it, and what things can interfere with it,” she says.
“You cannot have a life that is on a total even keel, it’s not the way that human life manifests for any of us.”
Ms Clements says there are ups and downs, but its all about dealing with the negatives before they become unbearable.
For more information about mental health issues:
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand www.mentalhealth.org.nz
Whirlwind Stories - www.whirlwindstories.com
Donations to help the Whirlwind Stories Charity spread their message can be made to the bank account: 01-0731-0216534-00
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