Banishing taboos to munch their pills and be happy

Denmark might have a high antidepressant consumption rate, but the Danes are pretty content about it

Two recent incidents spring to mind.

The first was a comment by a British friend via Facebook. “Second highest consumers in the world of antidepressants,” he wrote, echoing thousands made by internationals in Denmark.

The second was the time my Danish friend let me rummage through her purse for gum. Sorting through the salted liquorice stuck to silver kroner coins, I found a packet that looked like what I was searching for. Only it wasn’t, it was Prozac!

Not as big a taboo
The first incident drew attention to how internationals are tired of reading about how happy Denmark is. Regularly number one in the world, the evaluation is based on scores given by Danish survey respondents, they contend. “And besides: chewing all those meds, no wonder they’re happy.”

The second was a reminder that while taking antidepressants is pretty common in Denmark – 8 percent of the over-12 population do so; placing it in seventh place among the 28 OECD countries – it is not as taboo a subject as in other countries.

A dismissable offence
A recent survey of US employers revealed that half would be reluctant to hire someone with a psychiatric disability and almost a quarter would dismiss someone who had not disclosed a mental illness before being hired.

According to surveys cited by the Guardian, around 40 percent of British employers would likewise not employ someone with a mental health problem, and a third of Brits believe someone with a mental health problem can not be trusted to be responsible in the workplace.

Worldwide, it is clearly a big concern among employees. A Lancet report in 2013 that covered 15 countries revealed that 79 percent of people with depression had experienced discrimination in the previous year, and that 71 percent tried to conceal their depression.

Different in Denmark
However, Denmark’s socialised healthcare system has revolutionised the way people talk about and treat mental illnesses. All treatments are recorded through the Danish Psychiatric Research Register.

Therefore, the conversation surrounding depression, anxiety, OCD and other mental illnesses, has shifted from the rhetorics of taboo to the legitimacy of physical illness.

Celebrities a good example
Social stigma still plays a role, but a positive one – contends Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, to the CPH POST – when famous people lead by example.

“We had a big leap forward in Denmark when celebrities started talking about their depression, anxieties and other mental disorders they were suffering from,” he said.

“And if your friend is open to him or her having a depression and getting treatment in terms of psychotherapy and antidepressants, would you not be more open to seeing someone if you were suffering from depression? I think many countries need to have a better public discourse about mental illness.”

Increased understanding
Philip Tees, the former business editor of CPH POST, talks about his own mental illness in his column on page 11.

Tees cites two role models for inspiring him to lead a normal working like: humorist Stephen Fry and psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison.

“They increase the understanding of their conditions among everyone else,” he writes.

“I think that more understanding can go a long way towards removing a stigma that keeps some otherwise able people out of the workforce.”

Seeing beyond the label
“One of the problems about any stigma is that you end up seeing the label instead of the person,” he writes.

“This may be especially true when the label applies to the person’s mind. It’s not inconceivable that being labelled as mentally ill could cost you a job.”

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