Will going vegan make you mentally ill? Probably not.
Last year, Women’s Health Magazine published a bonkers and bullshit article called “The Scary Mental Health Risks of Going Meatless.” Having struggled and publicly fought my own mental illness for a number of years now, I just about threw my laptop across the room when I read the headline… but I thought that maybe that would compromise my status as a mental health warrior and worry the neighbors. “Women are vegging out… of their minds,” warned Women’s Health. There’s plenty of hand wringing over nutrition (but what about the B12?!) but more dangerously, the article completely ignores the difference between correlation and causation. A few doctors throw out anecdotes about sad vegetarians and proudly proclaim how they insisted their patients eat steak instead of, you know, respecting their choices and doing their damndest to work in a partnership. Maybe I just expect too much from doctors these days.
While the “evidence” provided in the article are merely excerpts from chats with physicians, some statistics were shared that are worth noting. According to Women’s Health, “…it was startling last year when Australian researchers revealed that vegetarians reported being less optimistic about the future than meat eaters. What’s more, they were 18 percent more likely to report depression and 28 percent more likely to suffer panic attacks and anxiety. A separate German study backs this up, finding that vegetarians were 15 percent more prone to depressive conditions and twice as likely to suffer anxiety disorders.” While I can’t argue those numbers, what I can and will argue is that there is more than meets the eye with these statistics.
So, what are a few more realistic reasons that people who are vegan might also happen to deal with mental illness?
Vegans tend to lean left, and leftists simply aren’t as happy as conservatives.
Ignorance is bliss, and no offense meant to the random right wing reader following this leftist vegan magazine, but being a clueless conservative is a one way ticket to happy-town. While no Very Official Study has been run on vegan political leanings, animal rights discussions rarely, if ever, are discussed within a conservative praxis. A shocker, I know, but veganism is a leftist-dominated movement.
Conservatives are a cheery bunch, and not always for the most complementary reasons. According to a Pew survey and reported by Salon, “47 percent of conservative Republicans said they were “very happy,” compared with just 28 percent of liberal Democrats. Furthermore, the Pew Survey found that this result could not simply be attributed to the seemingly obvious cause: differences in income levels between the left and the right. Rather, for every income group in the study, conservative Republicans were happier than Democrats.” As conservatives aren’t exactly known for their, er, level of empathy, Salon took it a step further by elaborating upon how “the conservative tendency to rationalize politically or economically unequal social systems – to overlook how the other half is forced to live, either through simple dismissiveness, or affirmation of the fairness of free markets and meritocracies – also confers happiness.” Allow me to translate: What Salon is saying is that conservatives are some very simple folk.
Because the truth is pretty fucking sad!
After watching Cowspiracy and Earthlings, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a depressive slump after being sucker punched by the truth and having disturbing imagery forever burned into your brain. Let’s face it: going vegan makes many people emotionally vulnerable, since the information uncovered during the process of making the change is often disturbing and upsetting. Pile vitriol and bullying on top of this, and it makes the act of eating and living vegan look like easy pancakes as compared to doing all that and being out and proud about it.
Ever heard the term “activist burnout?” It’s a real thing, and it’s caused by the grueling heart-work required by social change activists. All activists for justice based causes can suffer from it at some point, as having to constantly think about big questions is mentally exhausting. Self care and taking time to (god forbid!) do work, watch a movie, or take part in an activity that has little to do with vegan activism goes a very, very long way. We’re carrying some heavy stuff on our shoulders, people! Take a bath and try not to spill any (vegan friendly) champagne in the tub.
Because they may have struggled long before going vegan.
My mental health issues were present long before I went vegan. They existed long before I was even a vegetarian. Hell, my mental health issues were even prominent when I went through a Fox News phase in middle school and pledged to hold a strong moral stance against hippies and vegans as long as I may live. Veganism didn’t set off any of my my mental health issues, so I hate to disappoint Women’s Health, but I’m quite sure other sick vegans would say the same exact same thing.
Mental illness, as difficult as it is to deal with, gives many sufferers an extra dose of empathy, self awareness, and understanding, so I’m rarely surprised to learn that another vegan friend of mine might have health struggles of their own.
In short, veganism isn’t going to make you mentally ill. Might there be a few anecdotal pieces of evidence to the contrary? Perhaps, but outliers aren’t the standard. If you’re a vegan and you’re struggling, know that there is a community out there who want to listen, want to help, and want to support you.