Mental health in Australia and abroad

| March 21, 2014

In our western society, happiness and contentment are not a given. Cameron Jennings would like to see a more holistic approach to the root causes of depression and a united effort by health professionals and those involved with mental health in Australia.

I remember back to my childhood and growing up on the leafy upper north shore of Sydney through the nineteen sixties and seventies. I grew up in an average middle class family, where life was summer holidays at the beach, dinner was meat and three vegetables and where happiness and contentment was imbued into everything, or so I thought.

I was shocked one day as we were driving in the car through my suburb and I overheard the conversation between my parents about that house with the for sale sign outside, the cape cod conversion, where a mother of three children had committed suicide. That was the late sixties and the closest I had ever come to depression and suicide. I clearly remember wondering why someone would do that.

As an adult on the other side of fifty, the side closer to one hundred than to zero, I have a better understanding of the complexities of our modern world and the fragility that some encounter as part of the human condition. Having lived and worked in Paris, New York and Sydney I’ve been exposed to a broad spectrum of western society on three continents and have witnessed some of the causes for a happy pill regime.

There is a Parisian joke that a majority of shareholders in French pharmaceutical companies are the women of Paris who fall in and out of love. In New York, the pressure to perform and out-perform at work, or the reassurance of a pill to keep one elevated or on ones toes and to be perky, has people pop their meds. Sydney has a unique signature on why we are so heavily reliant on anti-depressant medication from young children to elderly.

The stigma associated with meds and therapists may still exist, but less so than in the last century. Mainstream media portray a fictional character as taking their meds to cope and see their therapist or shrink once per week, and where art imitates life that imitates art. We are a lucky country, and if the going gets too much, then pop a pill as there is insufficient funding for holistic medicine, and we just do not have the time to treat the root causes.

Another matter of concern is the availability, the diversity and the strength of the illegal drugs that exist in our civil society. The THC content of marijuana and the chemicals used in the hydroponic production of this drug today can have severe consequences to some users. Ice, meth-amphetamine, cocaine and a long list of other drugs can produce some damaging side effects, and depression and anxiety are just part of these.

Since 2010 my NGO work takes me to remote regions in Africa where people live in poverty and have a hand to mouth existence. Though they live with adversity and hardship, they appear more adaptable to change, have more resilience, show less signs of depression and anxiety in comparison to people from a western culture. Is it lifestyle, culture and diet or all of these that contribute to the level of happiness and contentment?

A holistic approach to the root causes and a united effort by health professionals and those involved with mental health here in Australia would be a start in reducing the dependency on anti-depressant drugs. I look forward to seeing effective solutions implemented by health professionals and our civil society becoming naturally happy and content with less use of medication.