The Invisible Illness

If asked, what would you say male mental health looked like in New Zealand? Would you say that it looks well, or that it is struggling? That it needs more funding from the government? Better support? A louder voice?

It seems we’ve got one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with males accounting for 75 percent. Most New Zealand men want to be seen as powerful and successful in their lives, usually pushing any mental health issue away and hiding from their troubles. Mental illness (three examples being depression, anxiety and addiction) is one of the major disabilities in the developed world.

Thorne Snow, a 20-year-old university student, advocate for mental health and blogger, frequently posts in-depth videos and articles on mental health on his YouTube channel and Facebook page.
M2 sat down with him to get the perspective of a young male on mental health, his own experiences in the system and his views on the state of its support in New Zealand today.

What do you think leads to suicide and/or mental illness?

TS: Mental illness is largely genetic, but it can be triggered by a bad childhood or a terrible situation. What leads to suicide? Well, that’s a bigger question. I think the biggest cause is not being able to see an alternative, and not being shown an alternative.

What is, in your opinion, the solution?

TS: A mental health system that isn’t drastically under-funded and under-staffed, and the normalisation of ‘not being okay’. Especially for men, ‘not being okay’ is a sign of weakness and thus they suppress it and eventually implode.

What’s been the effect on you of your father taking his own life? Was there any support at that time that helped? In what way does it still affect you?

TS: My father’s suicide is perpetual. I will be in pain until the day I die, and that is the reality of it. You don’t just have a parent kill themselves, and then one day get over it. It doesn’t work like that. The only thing you can do is find a way to manage the pain, listen to it, and accept it.

Some days I wake up and I’m fine. Other days I wake up and suddenly realise that I am fatherless, and not because nature decided it, but because he did. I lay there in bed, paralysed by the thought of his non-existence, and begin to contemplate my own. I know that’s rather grim, but that’s what suicide is, and maybe if people began to understand that, our mental health system wouldn’t be in its current state.

How do you think New Zealand’s young male sufferers can move beyond the stigma of mental illness?

TS: It’s definitely not something young men can do alone. It needs to be a collective movement; men, women, children and the government. Everyone needs to come together and gain a sense of understanding. That’s how stigmas are destroyed.

What is, in your personal opinion, the status of mental health in New Zealand at the moment?

TS: Dire. I have been through the system on multiple occasions, and each time it has failed me. The first time was when I had an eating disorder. I was told that I had ‘no control’ and that I was powerless. It was only when I realised they were wrong that I was able to get better. My second time in the system was when I suffered with depression. I talked to a doctor and was handed a prescription for antidepressants within five minutes. I started taking them, with no knowledge of anything, and eventually ended up in hospital with brain seizures. After I recovered, I was offered sessions with a psychiatrist, but only six. I wish I could fix my life in six sessions.

What changes would you like to see in the help around mental health (helplines, research, public attention etc.) in New Zealand, if you have any?

TS: I guess I’ve already talked about it, but there needs to be more funding, more resources and more staff. Furthermore, the people who work in the system shouldn’t be inhibited by the rules, they should be better off because of them. Also, there needs to be more mental health advocates about, both young and old, both men and women. The public needs to realise this is a nationwide epidemic, and not one that can be solved with ignorance.


Depression

By 2020, depression specifically is expected to become the second main cause of disability worldwide. This shocking statistic shows we need to offer more help to improve and accommodate sufferers by focusing on ways to see the symptoms. It’s important to understand how we as New Zealanders can prevent possible deaths due to mental health issues.

The symptoms of depression include:

1. A depressed daily mood (e.g., feeling unhappy or empty).
2. Changed appearance to friends/family (e.g., appears tearful).
3. Declining or vacant joy at completing tasks.
4. Notable alteration in weight (5 percent or more) or a difference in appetite.
5. A switch in sleep patterns, often referred to as insomnia or hypersomnia.
6. Alteration in activities.
7. An alteration in psychomotor agitation (bad judgement or agitation).
6. Fatigue or loss of energy.
7. Guilt and/or a feeling of intense worthlessness.
8. Lack of focus.
9. Thoughts of death and/or suicide, and maybe having a suicide plan.

If you have noticed any of the symptoms of depression in friends or family members, often making them aware that you care can lift their spirits and comfort them in such a lonely time. Send them a weekly text to check up on them, message them on social media, or meet up with them for a chat. Ask them open-ended questions like: ‘how are you doing?’ or ‘what’s been going on in your life?’ rather than asking specific questions that might make them feel intimidated or put on the spot.

Depression is a scary time for anyone suffering from it, and a small, impactful thing that you do could really affect a person positively.

Anxiety

Anxiety also affects many men and women in New Zealand and globally. GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) is characterised by excessive worry that the sufferer is unable to keep under control. This on-edgeness often leads to sufferers feeling easily fatigued, with a difficulty in concentrating. The anxiety, worry or physical symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. Sufferers can experience a panic attack, a fear they are losing control, going crazy or having a heart attack with the thought that they are going to die. People begin to fear having a panic attack and then avoid situations that bring on the symptoms, thus restricting their lives.

Usually, a person with anxiety expects the worst, so a way to help them is to reassure them about the situation and how ‘everything will be okay’. Also let them know that they can talk to you openly about what they’re thinking or feeling. Make sure to not make them feel like they are put on the spot, or they are obliged to tell you what they’re feeling. Show happiness and be proud when they improve. This may be shaking off an old habit, an example of that being: breaking a bad sleeping pattern or exercising regularly. Make sure to listen intently to the person suffering from the anxiety. With any mental issue, it is most important to be attentive and mindful, no matter what.

mental health by the numbers

  • Males account for 75% of New Zealand‘s suicide rate – one of the highest in the world.
  • Approximately 44% of New Zealanders will try illicit substances some time in their lives, according to the NZ Drug Foundation.
  • NZDF says 45,000 New Zealanders have received support for their addictions this year alone.
  • Approximately 150,000 New Zealanders use mental health resources (52.6% being males and 47.4% being females).
  • The data on ethnicities, such as Asian, Pasifika and Maori people, show that Maori males who used the District Health Boards featured 4546 per 100,000 people, a rise of 62% from 2001 to 2002.
  • Pasifika, Asian and other nationalities around New Zealand show a lower, but steadily growing, percentile of sufferers.

Addiction

Addiction is a general concept. Defined as a chronic disease of compulsion (often substance abuse), addiction has grown to become one of New Zealand’s most deadly mental issues. Whether it be drinking alcohol on a regular basis, taking drugs, gambling or even shopping, an addiction can stem from the smallest habit and manifest into much bigger problems. Approximately 44 percent of New Zealanders will try illicit substances some time in their lives, according to the NZ Drug Foundation, and 45,000 New Zealanders have received support for their addictions this year alone. Addictions are a definite branch of mental illness that New Zealanders need to know more about.

If you or anyone around you suffers from addiction, make sure to reach out to them. Do not tell them you can make them quit. Do not actively try to take away the thing they are addicted to. Addiction is a very personal issue. They will not feel able to accomplish success if they are forced into it or are not 100 percent committed. Lend a helping hand in ways that will benefit them. Talk about it, intently listen to what they say and spend time with the person suffering.

There are many more types of mental health issues affecting New Zealand men. These illnesses can lead to a loss of day-to-day functioning, an inability to work, disrupted relationships, lack of satisfaction and can also affect a person’s physical health. Mental illness is taking lives in our country, and we need to take notice and listen to these suffering voices.

Statistics

With approximately 150,000 New Zealanders using mental health resources (52.6 percent being males and 47.4 percent being females), the statistics are startling. The data on specific ethnicities, such as Asian, Pasifika and Maori people, show that Maori males that used the District Health Boards featured 4546 per 100,000 people, a rise of 62 percent from 2001 to 2002. Asian and Pasifika and other ethnicities around New Zealand show a lower, but steadily growing percentile of sufferers. Maori males, statistically, are 1.5 percent more at risk of developing a mental health issue than non-Maori people, and a staggeringly large percentage of New Zealand adults in 2017 have a common mental illness.

Recently, the Ministry of Education has started talking about the possibility of studying mental health in our schooling system. Hopefully, this will improve the wellbeing and welfare of young boys and teenagers and teach them how to cope with these difficult emotions. There’s a possibility for change here, with the Ministry of Health building strategies around mental illness in 2017, such as: greater funding for harder-hit areas; more support on this issue’s surrounding youth; and an ‘openness’ of the discussion regarding this illness that affects so many men nationwide. Hopefully these strategies will inform, assist and possibly lower the rates of potential suicide and mental health risks.

Here’s a list of services if you, or anyone you know, needs to talk safely and securely about any mental issue they may be suffering from:

Lifeline Call 0800 543 354 (or 09 5222 999 within Auckland)

Suicide Crisis Helpline Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline Call 0800 611 116

Samaritans Call 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline Call 0800 111 757 or free-text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor)

www.depression.org.nz An online help service

SPARX.org.nz Online tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling sad or depressed

Youthline Call 0800 376 633, free-text 234 or talk online

thelowdown.co.nz Free-text: 5626

What’s Up? Call 0800 942 8787 (for 5-18 year olds)

Kidsline Call 0800 54 37 54 (for young people up to 18 years of age)