Veganism and Mental Health: The Cost of Caring

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Hi! I’m Amanda, a counsellor, primary/secondary teacher and an excited new member of the 12 Points team!

Whilst my work at 12 Points will predominantly focus on working with young people experiencing challenges with social, emotional, behavioural and learning issues, I have actually been asked to talk about something else that I am equally passionate about, the link between mental health and veganism.  I am a dedicated vegan; having made the transition from vegetarianism about 5 years ago. I really wish there had been a counsellor available to me at the time who could have supported and guided me, especially given how emotive, and often misunderstood, the term ‘vegan’ has become in recent years.

According to Google Trends, Australia was the most popular country for veganism in both 2017 and 2018 and was also the 3rd fastest growing market for vegan products in 2018. The largest growing demographic of vegans is those between 16 and 34 years old, with the most common age group transitioning being those between 19 and 21 years old.

With this steady growth within the vegan community, prominent Australian vegan psychologist Clare Mann conceived a terrific new concept in 2017 – ‘Vystopia’.  This term perfectly describes how many vegans feel and explains why so many may benefit from therapeutic support. Vystopia refers to ‘an existential crisis experienced by vegans, arising out of an awareness of the trance-like collusion with a dystopian world’. In other words, when someone ‘goes vegan’ they are suddenly confronted by the fact that, whilst they are living in line with their values, the rest of the world is not and now appears cruel and unkind in comparison. It can be a frustrating existence in which one may experience abuse, critcism and ostracization because they no longer support particular mainstream views. Vegans can find it extremely difficult to find someone who understands these feelings in a therapeutic setting.

Like Neo taking the red pill in the Matrix, we’ve seen how far the rabbit hole goes and it can be a daunting, isolating place, especially when you consider that as a community, those who choose the vegan lifestyle tend to be highly empathic and sensitive people.

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It must be noted that some new vegans may, in fact, take the red pill and embrace this newfound opportunity to create change without detriment to their mental health. However, most will experience a significant shift in their psychological wellbeing and struggle with the adjustment to this new world and the burden it brings. For the latter, vystopia can generate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, PTSD as well as sleep and behavioural disturbances. Some people may also withdraw and disconnect from previously supportive systems who don’t share their personal views and/or develop strong emotions such as grief, anger, intense guilt, a sense of isolation, or a feeling of helplessness.

The good news is, there are strategies and resources available to help work through the grief and distress that exists with vystopia. Much can be done to help a vegan client make sense of their experiences via modalities such as Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), Solution Focused Therapy (SFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Mindfulness, communication skills and resilience strategies can also be invaluable to support particular vystopian presentations.

At 12 Points Psychology I am not here to promote and convert people to veganism. However, I am here to offer a safe space for those who are thinking about, or have taken, the red pill and are finding it hard living as a vegan in a non-vegan world.

Please feel free to email me any questions at amanda12points@gmail.com and I look forward to working with you all!

Amanda Atchison
Adolescent Counsellor