Is veganism a mental disorder?

**This blog is written by contributor Shiri Raz, PhD student in psychoanalysis and philosophy (Bar-Ilan University)

In 1909, neuroscientist Charles Loomis Dana coined the term “zoophilpsychosis” to describe a unique mental illness, a distinct psychosis, characterized by an increased concern for animals. The discourse on the new disease quickly crossed the borders of the academy, and a few months later that year, the New York Times headlined: “Passion for animals – really a disease”. The body of the article explained that people suffering from “zoophilpsychosis” are sick people and that their care for animals involves hardening their hearts to humans.

This was a period marked by considerable controversy over the common practice of vivisection. The new term helped Dana and her colleagues who performed vivisection in their labs to label their opponents as mentally ill.

Over the years, horrific vivisection experiments have become culturally obsolete in most societies and new regulations have been created regarding animal experiments. As a result, the diagnosis that Dana offered to opponents of vivisection experiments was rejected. However, even today, similar attempts and research can be found to link a position that opposes the use of animals, such as vegetarianism or veganism, with various mental illnesses.

For example, in their 2001 study, Perry and colleagues argued that vegetarianism in adolescents might be a signal for preventive intervention suicidal behavior, Baines and colleagues concluded that vegetarian and vegan women are better off. physical health but more vulnerable to depression and mood disorders and Michalak, Zhang and Jacobi in their 2012 paper, argued that the percentage of people with depression and anxiety disorders was higher among vegetarians (and vegans) than in meat eaters. To name a few.

Although the methods of investigation of these researchers and their validity can be disputed, it is difficult to ignore the link that they seek to highlight. Moreover, it is crucial to address them to avoid attempts to pathologize vegetarianism and veganism.

Pathologization is the attempt to define a particular condition – for example, vegetarianism and veganism – as a pathological condition, and the people who choose these lifestyles as diseased. Such efforts can be seen in the article by Michalak, Zhang and Jacobi who offer different “pathological” explanations. For example, the thesis that a vegetarian/vegan diet causes omega-3 and vitamin B-12 deficiencies which affect brain processes and therefore “increase the risk of developing mental disorders”.

Besides the creativity that can be found in these theses and explanations, most of them do not stand the test of reality. A balanced vegetarian and vegan diet does not lead to deficiencies and is defined by the “Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics” as a diet suitable for everyone, of all ages – and more, as having benefits in reducing risk factors. for the greatest number. common ailments that plague Western society. This begs the question – what could explain the link between vegetarianism and veganism and greater vulnerability to depression and anxiety? And is there an explanation that doesn’t pathologize people who choose a lifestyle that avoids harming animals?

I believe there are.

From my experience as a therapist who specializes in working with vegans, I find that the same admirable traits that led them to choose this lifestyle are traits that can create vulnerability to depression and anxiety. in the complex world we live in. Qualities like a strong sense of justice, a critical view of the world and of themselves, social awareness, empathy, courage – are just a few.

This hypothesis is also supported by the findings of Dr. Elaine Aron, author of “Highly Sensitive Person”. According to Dr. Aron’s theory, as any attribute such as height, weight or musical talent is generally distributed in the population according to a normal distribution, therefore there is a normal distribution of sensitivity to sensory and emotional stimuli. Aron classifies about 15% to 20% of people as highly sensitive people and characterizes this group with high depth of thought, emotional intelligence and creativity, and greater vulnerability to depression and mood disorders. because of the same sensitivity to the reality of a complex world of injustice and suffering.

The physiological explanation given by Aron is that the nervous system of a very sensitive person is more sensitive to stimuli compared to the average. From this, it can be hypothesized that relatively minimal exposure to animal suffering in human industries, such as a lecture or video, will lead to a more powerful emotional response than others. With the combination of traits such as the courage to change and make a change, to be different, to speak up for someone else’s rights – one is likely to choose veganism.

Moreover, in a world where animal use and abuse is ubiquitous, this emotional exposure is gradually becoming a chronic, mental experience that almost no one understands. It is a very lonely experience of pain, sometimes accompanied by accusations from others of being “heavy”, critical, overly sensitive or extremist, making this experience even more awkward. I call this overall pain experience a “vegan trauma”.

That is, contrary to the picture Dana sought to paint in the early 20th century, vegetarianism and veganism are not pathological or any form of mental disorder, they are not a cause of mental disorder nor characteristic of people with depression or mood disorders. These are moral choices. Moral and responsible choices of people with healthy and sensitive hearts, clear thinking and the courage to change. They are leaders, brave to be the first; healthy people in an often troubled and sick world.

**This blog is written by contributor Shiri Raz, PhD student in psychoanalysis and philosophy (Bar-Ilan University)

Shiri Raz–

Expert in working with vegans and mixed couples (vegans and non-vegans)

Art therapist for children and adults MA

PhD student in Psychoanalysis and Philosophy (Bar-Ilan University)

Individual and couples EFT therapist

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