Anxiety, depression, and its various manifestations such as anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism and drug addiction, are all at their heart, issues that revolve around an individual’s psyche. For those who have experienced, or know someone who has experienced these or other mental health issues, you’ll know firsthand that absolutely nothing about the scenario is redeeming.
Having an issue mentioned above in no way makes you a person less deserving of respect, love or attention. But, they are dirty places to be. Depression is like trying to walk shoulder-deep upstream through a raging current, and it’s hard to fight because it lives within you and makes you fight yourself. Alcoholism or any other drug addiction will only ever be a temporary crutch, as biological constitutions can only be modified for so long. Moreover, they’re expensive, unhealthy and even illegal – all crosses to bear if only to feel a little better about oneself.
First things first: If you’re having any of these issues, talk to someone. Talk to a friend, your parents, a Unimelb counsellor, or a psychologist you might track down elsewhere. Nothing matters so much as when you’re thinking about it; and our minds are like cauldrons when it comes to stuff like this. We boil and boil and boil the mix trying to solve the issue, but there is no easy resolution. The thing gnawing inside you can’t be extracted through stubbornness or pride. Rather, it’s much better to share the burden with someone willing to help you talk the issue through – even if you don’t come to any conclusion, at least you’re not alone anymore, and that’s a great start.
Secondly: the greatest secret never told by the pharmaceutical industry is that exercise is singularly better for treating depression, anxiety, addictions and other mental health issues than any prescribed anti-depressant medication ever created. Studies over the past thirty-five years have demonstrated higher overall recovery rates and significantly lower rates of relapse, with only marginally slower recovery times.
It’s true that Escitalopram, Sertraline, Effexor, Prozac, Paxil are as effective in the short-term as exercise, but they’re also some of the most perplexing medications ever invented. Case in point is that, in my experience, not a single doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist seems to know how the hell they actually work beyond vague notions of ‘restoring chemical imbalances’. It could logically be the case, but shouldn’t there be more information out there?
You ask a doctor why paracetamol or ibuprofen or an anti-histamine works and they can tell you straight up. For anti-D’s, it’s justified as a leap of faith. ‘It works on some people, on others it did nothing’, is about as much clarity as any of them can provide. Which in itself doesn’t sound so bad if it wasn’t qualified by the standard ‘side effects may include’ list which includes bruxism, hyperhidrosis and impotency.
You consider that in light of the prescription rates in the US - 33 million people on Zoloft, 28 million on Celexa, 24 million on Prozac, 23 million on Lexapro and roughly another 100 million on various other drugs such as Wellbutrin, Pristiq, Paxil, Remeron, Cymbalta and Desyrel – and you get the feeling that something sinister is going on.
But I digress.
Exercise works so well because it is its own form of drug addiction, but it’s all-natural, and the only side-effects are potential injuries. After twenty minutes of moderate to heavy cardiovascular exercise, your brain starts to release endorphins – know what endorphins actually are? It’s a portmanteau of endogenous morphine. Yep. You were born with the ability to make your own opiates.
In order to produce an amount necessary to combat mental health problems, or sustain a healthy state of mind, start with 20-30 minutes of 50-80% intensity cardiovascular exercise three times a week, and work towards getting to 30-45 minutes, four or five times a week at the same intensity. This exercise could be jogging, cycling, or swimming for those who stick to traditional methods of exercise.
For the more adventurous, Yoga in its various manifestations is fantastic, not least for its added social element but also because it’s free at the Law School. Martial arts are also excellent ways to exercise and the path has already been trodden by some great legal minds (Justice Gaegler on the High Court has a black belt in Taekwondo).
Any of these avenues, and the many that have been left out, ultimately achieves the same goal. Their benefit over drugs is that you’re also learning and another skill (stimulating the mind) and in many case meeting new people (stimulating the soul).
Whatever the case, mental health is a serious issue for which there exist serious and viable solutions. Stay in touch with your friends and family, talk to people, see a counsellor if you need to, eat and sleep as best you can, and exercise regularly! Before you know it, you’ll be craving the next endorphin hit from a good 10 kilometre jog. Now, get out there and get bloody going!
Mitchell Holman is a first-year JD student.