Wendyl Nissen: Depressed kids need more than just pills

Anti-depressants make a big difference but they're not enough on their own, writes Wendyl Nissen.
Anti-depressants make a big difference but they're not enough on their own, writes Wendyl Nissen. Photo credit: Getty file

OPINION: Recently released Ministry of Health figures show 15,000 New Zealand teenagers are on anti-depressants - an increase of 98 percent in the past 10 years.

Thank goodness those kids have access to those little pills and the relief they will give them.

As a society we are so much more aware of mental illness, and the stigma which used to be associated with depression has now largely disappeared. These figures prove that finally it's okay to get help and teens are getting the assistance they need.

I am one of the 299,958 people in this country who were prescribed and collected anti-depressants last year. I've used them a few times in my life – first in my early thirties following the loss of my daughter to cot death.

In those days GPs couldn't prescribe them; you had to be interviewed by a psychiatrist for a very long time to make sure you were sad enough.

As a high-achieving magazine editor I was deeply ashamed and would never have dreamt of telling anyone I was on them. But just days after taking those pills my world changed from the misty grey sludge I had been dragging myself through for two years to a new landscape. I looked up one morning and noticed the sun was shining. Then I noticed the smiles on my children's faces and that the sunlight poured in through my office window in the afternoon, which brought with it for the first time in a long time a sense of joy.

Life became bearable again and I am so glad that for 15,000 teens the same thing has happened. How much easier it is for them to face down bullying, to have self-esteem and confidence again, to feel like you belong and navigate those difficult teenage relationships.

But I also know that once the sun starts shining, so too should you get some counselling, and that, it appears is not readily available to many of these teens because funding for these services have not kept pace with demand.

Private counselling is very expensive, so many of these kids will no doubt spend a long time on the drugs without ever having the chance to work out what got them down in the first place.

Come off the drugs and the problems will often return if you haven't learned some strategies to deal with them.

When I advise friends to get counselling I point out that if they had a broken leg they'd get that fixed. Having a broken head is just as debilitating and needs the same attention. But they point out that you can get a broken leg fixed for free and pretty much the same day.

Wendyl Nissen is an experienced magazine and television journalist, and will host RadioLIVE's Afternoon Talk, weekdays from midday until 3pm, from Monday June 26.