Hi Dr. Nick | Issue 11
On a recent evening shift I put one of the whopping 16-gauge needles into a young girl’s measly little vein so we could top her up with a bag or two of fluid. Not the sort of medical miracle that earns a stuff.co.nz fluff piece, but still the biggest needle I’d ever successfully slotted into somebody (all innuendo aside).
When I saw a friend of mine the next morning, I mentioned how stoked I was to have managed it and his response involved a simulated wank and the classic Kiwi, “rate yourself why don’t ya?”
We have a real problem with success and talent in New Zealand. The tall poppy syndrome endemic to our nation may not be medical, but it directly feeds into health. We cut people down to size, we discourage people from saying, “I’m good at something,” we use malicious phrases like “rate yourself,” “wank on” and “hashtag brag” in a way that slowly chips away at each other’s self-esteem.
The same standard doesn’t apply to complimenting someone else. Telling somebody they’re good at sport, or they’re intelligent, or they’re remarkably good looking isn’t met with a mimed wank and a cutting remark, it’s met with a “thanks” and a warm fuzzy feeling for the remarkably good-looking, intelligent athlete.
So we’ve engineered a society where we’re programmed to keep quiet about our own successes and loudly proclaim other people’s. You don’t need to be a psychologist to recognise that might screw your head up a bit.
The World Health Organisation loves writing definitions, almost to the point of fetishism. They have paragraphs of text defining any obscure medical term you can think of. Their definition of health would cripple the printing budget of Critic if I were to Ctrl+V it here, but it basically boils down to the fact that good health is more than not being sick. You don’t have to be riddled with disease to be living unhealthily.
“Mental Health,” however, is generally thought of as mood disorders, thought disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. We’ve defined mental health around the mental diseases we can be riddled with rather than looking at wellbeing and how we can keep mentally healthy.
One of the big issues we need to tackle is prioritising looking after ourselves. We have a culture that sets us up to “fail” mentally: we stigmatise things, belittle them, teach people to hide them away, and shun those who don’t fall in line and do the same. The levels of stress and poor coping throughout University are phenomenal, yet how many people use the huge number of services on offer to help with this?
A 600-word column isn’t going to change society, no matter how many dick jokes are thrown in to maintain audience appeal. There is one simple change I’d ask you to make personally, however: put yourself first. In airline safety you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, and the same principle applies here.
You’ll never be mentally “healthy” if you don’t actually prioritise mental health and wellbeing. Take time from a busy schedule for yourself, say “no” to commitments that will drain you, recognise that you have good qualities, do activities that you find enjoyable, put your own oxygen mask on because it’s fucking hard to breathe without it.
Look after yourselves. It’s not narcissistic to value yourself, or prioritise your need for wellbeing. Society already tries to chip away at your resilience, there’s no need to hand it a pickaxe.