Last year, New Zealand's suicide rates reached an all-time high. Among young people, suicide was the second most common cause of death. So what's going wrong?
There's likely no single reason, just as there's probably not one solution. So VICE asked four New Zealanders in their early 20s who've struggled with their mental health for their thoughts, as well as what helped them to feel better.
In therapy for two years
VICE: Hi Jacob, tell me what was going on with you when you started going to therapy.
Jacob: I didn't know what was happening to me. It was kind of at the end of high school. I moved cities and I had all this time to think about stuff. I remember lying on my bed feeling so empty, like my soul was gone, and researching on my phone how I was feeling. If I'm honest I'm still in this black hole, and kind of feel like a bit of a coward, but I'm managing it.
Are you on antidepressants?
No, no. I was when I was really bad, but I came off them. They're all different, they all have physical side effects. Like on one of them I had no sex drive, which as a guy, I mean, it made me feel worse. The last one I tried, within 10 minutes I felt suicidal. It was crazy.
Do you think something is breeding discontent in our generation? Or are people just talking about mental health more openly?
I think a big part is the social media comparison thing. One of the biggest things for me was feeling like a failure. You see the highlights of people's lives and compare it to your whole life. It's an immense amount of pressure, keeping up.
Do you think the importance of mental health is underestimated in the community?
Definitely. I feel like we will look back in 100 years and look at the way we deal with it now as almost medieval. "You've broken your arm? Chop it off!" It's the same thing. The suicide rates, it's insane. I mean in that way depression is the same as a murderer and we aren't taking it seriously.
Why isn't it being taken seriously?
Because you can't see it.
Tashjian—"I was feeling guilty about talking to my friends, I felt like I was burdening them." Photo supplied.
In therapy for three weeks
What was behind your decision to start seeing a therapist?
I started therapy because I realised I wasn't okay. I was feeling guilty about talking to my friends, I felt like I was burdening them.
Did you have reservations about seeking professional help?
I always thought about it, then I would get better. I didn't realise I was as troubled as I was until someone said, "You need to get help."
I also didn't want to look like I was seeking attention. I think a lot of people ask, "Is this real?" Especially if it comes at a time where something is going wrong, which for me it was. I didn't want people to think I was playing the victim.
Why do you think that is? I mean, no one would act like that if you were in physical pain.
Oh, people treat it totally differently to physical illness. I think if we're both going to see a doctor for something, I don't see why it isn't the same. Now, I mean anyone could know I'm in therapy. I just don't tell people because I don't want to make them feel awkward. They don't like to talk about it.
So many people our age are self-diagnosing mental illness now. What do you think is prompting that?
I think why a lot of people our age think, "I'm sad and confused and have no idea why." One minute you're being told to be yourself and the next you're expected to conform. We don't know how to feel. We're also always comparing, always thinking grass is greener on the other side. I think previous generations lived happily in their own little patch of grass but with the internet we have access to many other patches of grass.
In therapy for three years
Hi Emma, what motivated you to get help?
It was lack of confidence to the point of crippling anxiety. Not being able to leave the house. I got put on antidepressants, which I was on for a year, and then moved to a psychologist who got me off them.
Why did she encourage you to come off them?
Well they kind of smoothed me around the edges. I didn't get sad, but I wasn't happy either, just numb. When I came off them I had just started dating someone at the time, which helped with my confidence.
Was part of your anxiety feeling unloved? Was that something that was exacerbated by the drugs?
Yeah I think so. Not unloved... More alone. I felt cripplingly alone in myself.
People are relatively comfortable talking about physical health problems. Why is mental health still sort of taboo?
Because it's a new age sickness! It's in your mind so you can obviously snap out of it. My mum was like, "Why can't you just think about something else?" But it was like an addiction. It's so easy to be sad.
Do you feel guilty sometimes that your parents are footing the bill?
Totally. I was just reaping the guilt but it was my mum pushing for me to go. I was self-harming all the time, and my whole family knew because we went on a family holiday and I was in a bikini. They all found out that way. It's been so good for me. Therapy was exactly what I needed.
Lili—"It's just interesting and important to know why you think the way you do." Photo supplied.
In therapy for one year
Hi there Lili, what's your relationship with therapy?
It was a weekly thing I did when I lived in Wellington. I tried to get help through university but they exacerbated the problem. So I moved to a private therapy, which was really lucky because my parents could afford it. But I feel so goddamn awful for those who can't.
Why did you decide to seek help?
I was showing signs of manic depressive tendencies. I had been struggling with the whole eating thing for a few years, kinda the problem everyone has coming out of high school. Turning 18 and being like, "Holy fuck what am I even doing here? What is life? More of this?" Just like an existential crisis at every point.
You mentioned it's a "problem everyone has" in that stage of transition. Do you think that's unique to our generation?
I mean the social media and stuff, that perpetuates anxiety even if you don't have depression. That's unique to our generation. We're creating homages to ourselves.
At the risk of sounding insensitive, do you think the Woody Allen-era of neurosis—when seeing an analyst or shrink was popular and totally accepted—could be coming back around?
I fucking hope so because of the benefits therapy has. It's being able to talk to someone and work through my problems without having to damage my friends with that knowledge. I don't like to think it's ever romantic to be depressed but it's just interesting and important to know why you think the way you do.
If you feel like you could use some support please call Lifeline in NZ on 0800 543 354 or 13 11 14 in Australia.
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