More seek help for depression

Depression and suicide are huge in rural NZ

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 11:00 11/03/2014
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Sir John Kirwan and Doug Avery at Bonaveree Farm in Grassmere

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The number of people taking antidepressant medication in Marlborough and Nelson has grown more than anywhere else in the country.

Data released by Government pharmaceutical purchaser Pharmac shows 16,400 patients were prescribed antidepressants last year, compared with 12,800 in 2008.

The 28.1 per cent hike is the highest increase in New Zealand, followed by Waikato on 27.9 per cent, and Counties Manakau on 27.5 per cent.

Nationally, patient numbers went up 22.9 per cent over the five-year period.

Wairau Hospital consultant psychiatrist Brenda Brand said she was not surprised more people in Marlborough and Nelson were taking antidepressants.

Proactive mental-health awareness campaigns coupled with early GP detection had contributed to the increase, Dr Brand said.

Historically, depression was under-diagnosed and people did not always seek treatment. "People are more aware of the symptoms and have the ability to be more assertive in finding help. GPs are recognising signs of depression earlier on," she said.

"There has been a recession and a major natural disaster not far away in Christchurch which have contributed to an increase in the use of antidepressants."

Antidepressants were not effective in mild cases of depression and were used only in moderate to severe cases, Dr Brand said.

Medical presentations of depression were being seen in equal numbers in men and women. "Men still wait longer to visit their GP. They are more stoic with their symptoms."

In Blenheim, teenagers and people aged over-65 were were increasingly being referred to Wairau Hospital by GPs.

"We are seeing a lot more teenagers than we used to. Previously a teenager would have been described as being moody.

"Now GPs are more aware of the symptoms."

Dr Brand said Marlborough bucked one prescription trend.

"When I worked in Nelson, we saw more substance abuse around transient fruit-pickers in Golden Bay. I haven't seen that in Marlborough. It could be a cultural issue and cultural understanding of depression.

"In Pasifika populations, mental illness is viewed very differently. They don't see it as a medical issue and deal with it within their family. They seek a social intervention rather than medical help."

Breaking down mental-health barriers remained an issue.

"There is still a stigma attached to mental health. People coming to use our service feel embarrassed, they won't park nearby," she said.

To help breakdown such barriers, Seddon farmer Doug Avery was recently interviewed by Sir John Kirwan for depression.org.nz

Kirwan, a former All Black and now coach of the Blues Super Rugby franchise, has openly spoken of his battle with depression and is involved in mental-health and depression awareness campaigns in New Zealand.

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Mr Avery hoped the interview would remove the stigma behind mental health.

"My own sad journey through the late 90s taught me a lot, and I am keen to share that journey. If one person is helped it's all worthwhile," he said.

"Depression and suicide are huge in rural New Zealand, but there is help, there is hope and there are always ways to ‘get through'.

"This is not a problem with rich people, poor people, weak people or strong people. Thirty per cent of our population will go there at some stage of their life, often for reasons they could not see coming."

THELOWDOWN.co.nz helping young Kiwis understand and deal with depression

- The Marlborough Express

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