By: Kyle MacDonald

When we put forth the idea that “we’re over medicated and need a walk, not a drug prescription”, we’re in dangerous territory. Image / Getty Images

There is no one “depression”.

Everything has an upside and a downside. We’ve come so far with our efforts to de-stigmatise mental illness by encouraging people to talk about their struggles with anxiety and depression that it seems almost normal to hear about such things from friends, co-workers and celebrities.

But with this increased awareness, there has been a cost. Sometimes we struggle to know what depression is anymore.

Take this recent piece.

There is little doubt that the rates of prescribing of anti-depressants have risen, in New Zealand and around the world. It’s also true many of us need to be more active. There’s even some pretty solid evidence that simply walking every day can help alleviate some mild forms of depression.

However when we put forth the idea that “we’re over medicated and need a walk, not a drug prescription”, we’re in dangerous territory.

A land mark New Zealand study has recently suggested that what we lump together as one thing under the title “depression” is actually at least twelve different subtypes including things such as responses to physical illness, grief, romantic rejection, reactions to trauma and loneliness.

Even as it stands now “depression” isn’t actually a diagnosis, it’s a catch all phrase for a number of different mood disorders. And increasingly it’s also a way for us all to describe a low mood, or a period of not feeling emotionally “OK”.

That in itself is fine – albeit confusing. In general I’m one hundred and fifty per cent behind the idea we all could be talking more about our emotions, our pain, our struggles, the “less than perfect” bits.

But perhaps we need new words, a new way of describing our distress that allows us to distinguish between what is technically mild/ moderate and severe depression.

Because suggesting to someone who is struggling with a severe depression that they don’t need medication, they just need to go for a walk, is not only unhelpful but potentially dangerous.

Paradoxically it can actually stigmatise those suffering from severe mental illness, and lead people to believe they should be able to just make some lifestyle changes and move on.

In our enthusiasm to talk more openly about mental illness, we risk misunderstanding, and alienating those we actually mean to help. We need to keep being open to understanding that individual experiences vary: some may find medication is the only thing that works, for others it’s therapy, and yes, for some, exercise and getting more active is the best prescription.

But the only thing we can guarantee is that anyone suffering from emotional pain doesn’t need is more judgement. Reducing stigma is about remaining open and listening, without judgement.

It seems we still have a long way to go after all.

Where to get help:

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or if you need to talk to someone else:

• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Source: NZ Herald


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