Plenty to get depressed about

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 07:20 29/10/2012
depression stand
Feeling down about some things happening around the world is pretty normal.

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OPINION: Idon't trust anyone who says they have never experienced even mild depression. There's one of two things happening. They're either hand-on-heart telling the truth or just not admitting to it.

If they're being truthful then I invariably find them weirder than any depressed person I've ever met. I mean, seriously? Have they had a look around lately?

What's not to be depressed about?

I'm far more comprehending of those just not admitting to it. For society to see us as successful, productive and in charge of our own lives is hugely important to humans. Facebook's happy-clappy success attests to that.

The idea that another person sometimes feels sad, withdrawn, lethargic, anxious, and worthless - or combinations thereof - can cause people who fancy themselves as "normal" to experience severe discomfort. This usually manifests itself through the "snap out of it" brigade who believe it's a choice people make.

But who, in their right mind, would ever choose depression?

Last year the World Health Organisation reported on the higher rates of depression in wealthier countries. Trained surveyors conducted face-to-face interviews with 89,037 people in 18 countries.

The 10 high-income countries surveyed were Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United States.

The eight middle-to-low-income countries were Brazil, Colombia, India, China, Lebanon, Mexico, South Africa and Ukraine.

New Zealand came fourth behind the Netherlands, the United States and France. This was just below the unhappiest low- income country Brazil, and considerably higher on the depression scale than all of the other seven poorer nations.

Somewhat counterintuitively, it appears that worrying about where your next meal comes from can provide a discernible lift in mood. It's not surprising New Zealanders are so down in the dumps when for many their daily hunting and gathering often demands no greater exertion than pulling up at a KFC drive-through - not to mention actually eating the stuff.

The reality is that depression in the First World is on a never- ending upward trajectory despite huge advances in pharmacological and psychological treatments - and, arguably, because of them.

So given our statistics in relation to less affluent countries, we know we should be happier. Yet, for the one in six Kiwis who report having experienced at least one depressive episode, this just adds to the guilt of being so blue.

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Everyone has depression triggers.

For me it can be as simple as watching TV3 news lead with 12 minutes of rugby. Sir Wilson Whineray's death consumed a huge chunk of that, followed by a rugby player who collapsed on the field. Later, in sport they go over it all again. So, remind me. What's the sports section actually for then?

In the meantime, a New Plymouth woman out jogging has been run down and killed, the Pakistani teenager is fighting for her life after being shot by the Taleban for speaking out about girls' rights to education and, oh, the arctic ice is melting at unprecedented rates.

To say that New Zealand's overtly male-worshipping culture is overwhelming and all- persuasive would be the understatement of the year. Men often don't notice it. Trust me when I say that women do.

If John Kirwan had died that would be a justified lead story. Here is a man who has the courage to stand up and talk about depression, his personal experience of it, and to help others overcome it.

That's important stuff. That's using your rugby status for pure and utter good.

It's a shame that admitting to depression in our culture takes such guts. It also goes some way towards explaining our exceptionally high suicide rates.

The other day I made the mistake of listening to Jim Mora's panel discussion on National Radio. I sometimes forget how out of touch and deeply boring Jim's show is until I listen for a few minutes - I am seduced momentarily by his lovely dulcet tones - then I quickly remember why I tune out.

He was hosting the usual suspects prattling on about their various little hobby horses. This day they were opining on mental illness in a way that nobody would ever dare comment on, say, oesophageal cancer.

What these laypeople felt they didn't know about the subject wasn't worth knowing.

Nothing was off-limits in the discussion and it quickly spiralled into another good reason why, for the sake of our collective general mental health, no-one should ever listen to the show.

Columnist Rosemary McLeod bemoaned "these [mental health] counsellors being churned out from polytechs" as "curious middle-class women who enjoy interfering in other people's lives. What use are they really?" There was general guffawing at that and it was entirely distasteful.

Unfortunately these "curious middle-class women counsellors" will continue to be greatly needed in the new version of New Zealand we find ourselves currently living in.

Indeed, if you're not prone to a general malaise of some sort then something is definitely wrong with you and you're probably very boring.

You don't notice it because you're happily watching lead news stories about rugby and not batting an eyelid about how disconnected from reality that is.

Ask Jim Mora if you can appear on his Afternoons show and say offensive and dumb things. He'll be glad to have you.

- Taranaki Daily News

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