Thoughts

New Zealand’s Mental Health System

mental health

I wish with my entirety that I could endorse New Zealand’s mental health system. However, in doing so I would be lying and deception is not welcome here. This blog is without censorship and everything I write is based on personal experience and opinion. Therefore, I will hold nothing back when describing New Zealand’s most inadequate system.

‘Perpetuation’ is the word of focus. It is defined as making something longer or continuing it. As someone who has delved into New Zealand’s mental health system on more than one occasion, I believe that perpetuation is its rightful definition. People are diagnosed with illness and the system takes illness and makes it immortal. 

In 2014, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa; that is a mental disorder characterised by the refusal to eat. In the midst of it all, my BMI dropped to 16.2 which is classified as severely underweight. My days consisted of hospital visits, therapy, dietician appointments, battles with food, loss of friendships, sleeping and crying. Two years later, I am now recovered and although the mental health system did play its part, it was mostly detrimental.

My first experience with the system went a little like this. I finally succumbed to my own suffering and made an appointment at a public mental health unit specialising in eating disorders. During my first consultation, an overweight health worker told me that my heart rate was extremely low and if I did not go to hospital immediately, I would “not wake up in the morning.” Naturally so, I broke down and rushed to hospital. This is where the story gets interesting. The doctors monitored me all night but when I woke up, decided that I was not worthy of a bed and thus discharged me. Strike one.

When I finally committed to the idea of recovery, I had weekly appointments with regional eating disorder services. In that time, a dietician and therapist came together to cement my illness.

“This is not your fault.”

“You have no control.”

“There is nothing you can do alone.”

In addition to such ‘helpful’ advice, they also insisted that I paid much attention to food. I was asked to follow calorie-by-calorie meal plans, write down everything I ate, write down how I felt about what I ate, eat at certain times and most importantly, never eat cereal with a teaspoon. Apparently that was the only way to achieve a healthy relationship with food. I beg to differ. Such behaviours only made me more obsessive and preoccupied with the consumption of food. After every appointment, I felt like the roots of my illness were growing deeper. Strike two.

I eventually discharged myself from the system and sought out my own version of recovery. Two years later, I am at a healthy weight and I do not spend my time obsessing over the fine details of food. I love food but I do not count calories, follow meal plans, write down how I feel about it and worry about the size spoon I am using. I simply eat to live.

My most recent experience with the mental health system is what disturbed me the most. Depression took my Dad when I was 12 years old and now I have become plagued with the same illness. When I first realised this, I made an appointment with a doctor. After a mere five minute consultation, I was prescribed with anti-depressants and offered no alternatives. Wanting an easy fix, I took them. I soon experienced seizures and the sensation of having a mind that was not my own. All I needed was someone to talk to but that was not the system’s first solution. It appalls me that medication can be handed out so freely and used as a replacement for human-to-human treatment. Strike three.

“Strike three, you’re out!” as they say. I have lost all faith in the system and cannot comprehend its current form. I know what it’s like to be exhausted and unable to carry the weight of your own mind. However, if you do approach the mental health system, please remember that you do have control. No matter what they say or do, you are a human with integrity and you are capable of keeping your power.

This article in no way serves to demonise the use of medication or to state that you don’t need professional help to recover. That’s not true. If used in conjunction with other treatment, medication can work wonders and there is nothing wrong with seeking help. All I am saying is that New Zealand’s mental health system needs a revamp. It can’t keep perpetuating illness and using budget-friendly solutions. We are living beings and deserve to be treated as such.

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