I was talking with a medical expert yesterday – a specialist who’s spent the best part of 50 years immersed in our health system.

You can imagine in that time that he’s seen a lot of change in the nation’s health, in the way we administer healthcare in this country and the societal changes that have triggered some of our health epidemics – including obesity and the decline in mental health.

I was speaking to him about the lead story in the Herald yesterday about the new Government’s plans for suicide prevention, which also reported 606 people took their own lives in this country in the past year. That’s right, 606 people.

And the doctor I was speaking to was shaking his head.

He said we’re getting it all wrong.

He said we’re opting for a quick fix solution and that’s led to a society that is over-medicated. Instead of addressing the issues that are leading to depression, we’re using drugs to block them. It’s easier. Quicker, he says. And yet he says it doesn’t solve the problem.

He said there was a big difference between medicating for clinical depression, and medicating people because they’re going through a bad patch. He said the ease with which we prescribe anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills today has led to a society that is relying on prescription drugs to get through every day life.

These are his words – not mine. He’s the medical expert. I was simply the observer but I thought the points he made were interesting.

I asked him what the solution was and he said

“get outside. People need to move more”.

He said that if doctors, in the first instance, prescribed a 15 to 30 minute walk a day, he said that would improve a lot of people’s outlook on life. Not everyone’s, but a lot of people’s.

He said we’re not designed to spend most of our days inactive in a house or in an office. Move your body and it will move and improve your mind, he said.

In some cases it was as simple as that.

And he felt the culture of being active and getting outdoors had to begin very early on in childhood. Get kids active, and keep them moving. Get them away from screens and digital devices and get them moving and they’ll adopt an attitude of exercise for the rest of their lives.

He also felt that parts of our education had become what he called too “feminised”. Boys need to be boys, he said – and remember it’s young men who are most likely to take their own lives in this country. He said we need to attract more men into the teaching profession to help engage young boys and to encourage some of the more physically robust activities that boys, in particular, need.

And while the focus still needed to be on the academic side of education, he felt there should be a greater emphasis on physical education. Kids should be moving or playing sport every day, he said.

As I said earlier, he wasn’t suggesting the answer to all of our mental health issues was being more active, but he felt that part of the western world’s reliance on prescription drugs had come about because we’re stuck indoors and we’ve institutionalised ourselves.

He said in many cases the first thing a doctor should prescribe is a pair of walking shoes. And not a trip to the chemist.

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)

Source: NZ Herald


  1. I couldn’t agree more with the key points in this article. I’ve been a personal trainer for 10 years, before that an out door instructor and before that a soldier. In my professional life I’ve seen consistent improvement in mental well being when a person commits to a fitness program, what ever form that takes. Challenging yourself in nature is also incredibly rewarding on so many levels, especially in small groups. When my mother sadly went through cancer a few years ago I was sole carer for a prolonged and very emotionally demanding time. If i had a spare hour I put myself through a fitness session, even if I didn’t feel like it, those hours helped me stay positive, supportive and reliable. After she passed I kept training through a very dark time, again those sessions were a chance to invest in myself, to give myself a very beneficial gift and to give a sense of step by step, session by session I’m lifting myself out of the grief. I’m currently re-packaging my skills and background to reach out to people and groups about the importance and profound value of being physically fit and strong. The Greeks knew this along time ago, a mind that isn’t balanced by the body is subject to many ill’s, most of them imaginary. The more we think about a given thing, the stronger that thing becomes in our minds, good or bad. The most physically disconnected generation in history are leading some very troubling mental health statistics. If we can change the narrative around exercise and get away from the merely outer expression so hyped in the fitness industry and emphasise its deeper benefits ie: self belief, dedication, stress relief, commitment, anger release, clearer thinking, playing the long game, wholesome discipline, improved cognition, self reliance, actual hard physical work, healthier body more positive feelings etc then fitness becomes a metaphor we can translate into any area of life and be successful. As the wise ones have always said, ” the answers are within”.


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