Every now and again, an article decrying the prevalence of depression among vegans and vegetarians stirs up controversy, most often prompted by the publication of one study or another assessing the impact of diet on mental health.
While sensational headlines like “The Scary Mental Health Risks of Going Meatless” are sure to grab attention and pique the Schadenfreude-driven morbid fascination with taking veganism down a notch, are the studies behind such articles actually the damning evidence of vegan-induced mental unbalance their purported to be?
There is, unsurprisingly, a great deal of back and forth within the scientific, medical, and lay communities, about the impact of veganism on mental health, with ample studies indicating the mood enhancing benefits of a whole foods vegan diet, while others suggest a correlation between veg inclinations and incidents of mental illness.
While I will go into greater depth on the nutritional side of veganism and mental health in a separate video, I have included throughout this post citations to some of these studies as well as additional resources if you want help making sure your diet is balanced.
But I’m addressing something in this video that was, for the most part, entirely absent in the hundreds of studies and articles I consulted, save for a few mentions here and there—the reason why, if in fact vegans are by and large more depressed, which I have yet to see any broad enough statistical analysis of, I would not be surprised in the slightest.
In focusing on things like the quality of plant-derived long-chain omega fatty acids, all of these studies and articles failed to address the issue of awareness. There are many reasons people refuse to go vegan, but in my personal opinion, one of if not the main source of that resistance is the pain of accountability and the trauma of facing the true impact of our choices.
Interestingly enough, the two studies behind the sensationalized headline I mentioned,  stated that participants’ mental illnesses had pre-dated their dietary switch. This of course lead to speculation that “the experience of a mental disorder increases the probability of choosing a vegetarian diet,” and that “being a vegetarian [is] a fairly significant commitment and it picks up people at the fringe of the obsessive-compulsive spectrum.” Essentially meaning you have to be crazy to even go vegetarian, god forbid vegan.
Framing veganism as a manifestation of dietary neurosis neglects the true breadth and depth of veganism, and the non-dietary motivations for changing ones diet. For example, maybe depressed individuals are by nature more sensitive and empathetic to the suffering of others, influencing both their depressed state and their decision to go vegan.
There is one preliminary study that ventured into this area, using functional MRIs to observe and compare the brain activity of omnivores, and ethical vegetarians, and vegans as they viewed scenes of alternatively human and animal suffering. While admitting their study’s own limitations, their results suggested higher empathy for non-human suffering amongst ethical vegans and vegetarians than within omnivores.
Another study, which I cover in-depth my video “The N-Words Meat-Eaters Use,” attempted to standardize the rationalizations made for eating meat. A more controversial aspect of their findings, supported by previous work as well, was that the people who ate the most meat tended to support, endorse, or justify, inequality within their own species as well.
Denial and justification do function as protective measures. The true awareness of the horrors we inflict upon animals, of the destruction we’ve wreaked upon the environment, and the damage we’ve brought upon our own bodies and those of our children, can prompt both a shift to veganism and an understandable state of depression. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a vegan conversion story devoid of emotional strife.
Of course, once we’ve gone through the pain of confronting our own part, we have the pleasure of watching the vast majority of the world, including our own friends, family, and loved ones, continue to participate in what we now clearly see as the enslavement, torture, and murder of innocent beings and decimation of our planet. Perhaps we see their health declining as they eat themselves to death.
If you’re non-vegan and find this a bit hyperbolic, you’re not alone. I have two videos that delve into this matter in greater depth, explaining the apparent emotional volatility, over-sensitivity, and at times outright aggression of vegans.
In many ways, going vegan is like becoming an exposed nerve. Suddenly everything you’ve worked so hard to shield yourself from even thinking about comes into painfully clear focus—for some all at once, for others, progressively over time. Many vegans—whether consciously or not—start to rebuild their protective insulation, understandably finding it all too much to bear.
If any of us were ever to be fully and completely aware of what was happening every moment in this world, we’d literally be driven insane. Activists working on the front lines every day are exposed to a level of trauma rivaling any war zone. Whether undercover at slaughterhouses, hearing the horrific cries of pigs in gas chambers, seeing the terror in the eyes of cows in knock boxes, watching sentient beings bleed out, gasping through torn tracheas, standing by as billions of male chicks are ground up alive in the egg industry, infiltrating the dog meat industry where unspeakable torture of many species is standard practice, or bearing witness outside of slaughterhouses, watching truck after truck after truck carry terrified beings to their brutal deaths—striving to educate and inform a widely uninterested—even apathetic—and at times aggressively resistant, public to the lies they’ve been told and the realities they’ve denied.
For many, being vegan means seeing what we don’t want to see—what our entire society strives so profoundly hard to block out and ignore. And even when it is thrust out into the open whether through undercover footage and documentaries, solid scientific evidence on the medical and environmental fronts, or the overturning of a livestock truck, literally spilling out into the open the very individuals we want so much to remain hidden so we can eat their bodies without thinking of their faces, even then—when the truth is so blatantly exposed, we have well-practiced denials at the ready. That it’s an isolated event, it’s not like that here, it’s faulty science, we buy humane products, we need the protein, it’s what has to be done, we need better standards, vegans are just overly-emotional, and on and on. Or may be run out of justifications. And all we’re left with is brazen denial. As flimsy and ineffective at hiding the truth as the cardboard used to shield the public execution of the injured survivors of one overturned truck in Canada.
We see, day after day, astoundingly malicious acts of cruelty, and disgustingly selfish disregard for the lives of others and the environmental crisis affecting us all. And perhaps even more heartbreakingly, our own family—self-proclaimed animal lovers—continuing to support everything we’re fighting against.
We watch as our loved ones eat the bodies and secretions of our loved ones. We watch as those holding the gun or the blade are protected, while those holding the camera or bottle of water are arrested and vilified, because within the realm of the animal products industries, the killing of children is standard business practice, and anyone wanting to stop or even document this reality, is the criminal.
So if a study does come out one day finding definitively that vegans are more prone to depression and mental illness than non-vegans, don’t expect to count me among the shocked. Honestly, with the state of our world and what we as a species continue to inflict upon others, ourselves and our planet, not being heartbroken, devastated and enraged is a far more troubling reaction.
While this video may seem like the worst commercial for veganism ever, going vegan has and does enhance the physical and mental health of so many people. But it can simultaneously be incredibly challenging to stay connected to all the suffering and destruction. But I for one would not for a second trade the pain of awareness for the comfort of denial. Yes, there is bliss in ignorance, for the ignorant.
For more information and resources, please see the links below, where I have provided resources for self-care, decompression ideas for activists, international crisis hotlines, as well as information on nutrition’s influence on mental health, which I will cover more in depth in another video.
I do want to note that while this video largely focused on trauma-induced and situational depression, mental illness does not depend on one’s experiences or beliefs. In addition, for any vegans with concerns about the ethics of medication, please see my video “Is Medication Vegan.”
I personally want to thank my $50 and above patrons and my whole Nugget Army Patreon family for making it possible for me to dedicate myself fulltime to providing free, vegan education. If you’d like to help support the efforts of Bite Size Vegan please check out the support links in the video description below or the link in the sidebar.
If you found this helpful, please share it around to reach others struggling, and subscribe for more vegan content every week. Now go live vegan, with awareness, and I’ll see you soon.
SHARE this everywhere.
➣ Why Vegans Flip Out
➣ Vegan Nutrition Concerns (Omegas, Protein, Etc)
➣ The N-WORDS Meat Eaters Use
➣ The Nicest Way To Die (more on CO2 & Pigs)
➣ LIVE Footage At UK Slaughterhouse & Gas Chamber
➣ More About EGGS
➣ More On The Environmentalism
➣ More About The Ocean Crisis
➣ The Cost To Our Children’s Health
➣ What’s Really Killing Us
➣ The Greatest Lie Ever Told [Slam Poem]
➣ Exposing the Greatest Lie [Speech]
➣ Bearing Witness At Slaughter
➣ 10 Years In Prison For Compassion
➣ Criminalizing Activism
➣ Truck Overturning In Canada
➣ Is Medication Vegan?
[Please Note—I have not fully evaluated all external site content—use with discretion]:
▶︎➤ Selected Sources For & Self-Care :
➣ How Do Animal Activists Not Get Depressed?
➣ Ways to Avoid Being Depressed During Your Activism Journey
➣ How an Activist Headed toward Burnout Can Change Course: Four Ways to Cope with Compassion Fatigue
➣ Does Caring About Animals Sometimes Get You Down?
▶︎➤ MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES:
In general, you can search online for providers in your area. If you have insurance, call them to see who is in your network. Don't give up if the first person you try isn't a good fit. Here are some other resources:
➣ Great List of Varied MH Resources
➣ Ideas If Money or Health Insurance Is An Issue (Apps/Hotlines/Groups/Etc) [This is not a MH professional site, but this list has some creative ideas/resources/apps for a WIDE array of issues.]
➣Global MH Sites [includes NGOs/Networks & Advocacy Groups/Additional Resources]
If you are not feeling safe PLEASE reach out to a crisis line and/or professional. I have no formal training and the TOP priority is your health and safety!
➤➤International Suicide & Crisis Hotlines:
➣Suicide.org Gathering of Various Crisis Lines
➣ Tumblr Gathering of Various Crisis Lines [Not certain how often this is updated]
➣ Wiki List of Suicide and Crisis Lines
➣ International Association for Suicide Prevention
➣ Self-Harm/Suicide/Crisis Resources [A bit teen-oriented]
➣ List of Various Resources and Hotlines (Domestic Abuse, Addiction, Self-Injury & More)
▶︎➤ Selected Sources For Nutrition:
➣ A Vegan Plan for Reducing Depression by The Vegan RD [A simple, balanced guide]
➣ How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger [specifically the chapter “How Not To Die From Suicidal Depression”]
➤➤Also these videos & article on Dr. Greger's website:
➣ Plant-Based Diet & Mood
➣ Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood and Productivity
➣ Anti-inflammatory Diet for Depression
➣ Exercise vs. Drugs for Depression
➣ Fighting the Blues with Greens?
➣ Improving Mood Through Diet
➣ Exercise vs. Drugs for Depression
➣ Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work?
➣ Antioxidants and Depression
➣ Can Dehydration Affect Our Mood?
➤➤Series On Serotonin & Tryptophan:
➣ The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin | A Better Way to Boost Serotonin | The Best Way to Boost Serotonin
CITATIONS: [bibliography available below citations]
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A Prospective Follow-up Study,” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 73, no. 6 (December 2004): 334–39, doi:10.1159/000080385; Michael Greger, M.D., “Can We Fight the Blues With Greens?,” NutritionFacts.org, March 27, 2014, http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/03/27/can-we-fight-the-blues-with-greens/; Heather I. Katcher et al., “A Worksite Vegan Nutrition Program Is Well-Accepted and Improves Health-Related Quality of Life and Work Productivity,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 56, no. 4 (2010): 245–52, doi:10.1159/000288281; Kaijun Niu et al., “A Tomato-Rich Diet Is Related to Depressive Symptoms among an Elderly Population Aged 70 Years and over: A Population-Based, Cross-Sectional Analysis,” Journal of Affective Disorders 144, no. 1–2 (January 10, 2013): 165–70, doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.04.040; Jun S. Lai et al., “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Dietary Patterns and Depression in Community-Dwelling Adults,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99, no. 1 (January 2014): 181–97, doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.069880; May A. Beydoun et al., “Antioxidant Status and Its Association with Elevated Depressive Symptoms among US Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2005-6,” The British Journal of Nutrition 109, no. 9 (May 2013): 1714–29, doi:10.1017/S0007114512003467; Chirayu D. Pandya, Kristy R. Howell, and Anilkumar Pillai, “Antioxidants as Potential Therapeutics for Neuropsychiatric Disorders,” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 46 (October 1, 2013): 214–23, doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2012.10.017; Olaf Adam et al., “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Low Arachidonic Acid Diet and Fish Oil in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis,” Rheumatology International 23, no. 1 (January 2003): 27–36, doi:10.1007/s00296-002-0234-7; S. Mishra et al., “A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of a Plant-Based Nutrition Program to Reduce Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk in the Corporate Setting: The GEICO Study,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67, no. 7 (July 2013): 718–24, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.92; Ulka Agarwal et al., “A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of a Nutrition Intervention Program in a Multiethnic Adult Population in the Corporate Setting Reduces Depression and Anxiety and Improves Quality of Life: The GEICO Study,” American Journal of Health Promotion: AJHP 29, no. 4 (April 2015): 245–54, doi:10.4278/ajhp.130218-QUAN-72; Michael Greger, M.D., A Better Way to Boost Serotonin | NutritionFacts.org, vol. 10, 2012, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/a-better-way-to-boost-serotonin/; Michael Greger, M.D., Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Depression, vol. 27, 2015, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/anti-inflammatory-diet-for-depression/; Michael Greger, M.D., Antioxidants and Depression, vol. 24, 2015, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/antioxidants-and-depression/; Michael Greger, M.D., Exercise vs. Drugs for Depression, vol. 23, 2015, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/exercise-vs-drugs-for-depression/; Michael Greger, M.D., Fighting the Blues With Greens?, vol. 14, 2013, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/fighting-the-blues-with-greens-mao-inhibitors-in-plants/; Michael Greger, M.D., Inflammatory Remarks About Arachidonic Acid, vol. 5, 2011, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/inflammatory-remarks-about-arachidonic-acid/; Michael Greger, M.D., Plant-Based Diet & Mood, vol. 4, 2010, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-based-diet-mood/; Plant-Based Workplace Intervention, vol. 23, 2015, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-based-workplace-intervention/; Michael Greger, M.D., The Best Way to Boost Serotonin, vol. 10, 2012, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-best-way-to-boost-serotonin/; Michael Greger, M.D., The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin, vol. 10, 2012, http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-wrong-way-to-boost-serotonin/.
 Johannes Michalak, Xiao Chi Zhang, and Frank Jacobi, “Vegetarian Diet and Mental Disorders: Results from a Representative Community Survey,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 9 (2012): 67, doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-67; Nathalie T. Burkert et al., “Nutrition and Health – The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study,” PLoS ONE 9, no. 2 (February 7, 2014), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088278; Roy Morgan Research, “Meat-Free, Health-Conscious and a Little Bit Anxious: Australia’s Vegetarians,” Roy Morgan, no. Findings No. 5264 (October 8, 2013), http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/5264-meat-free-health-conscious-anxious-australias-vegetarians-201310272327.
 Ginny Messina, “Soyfoods, Olive Oil, Beans, and Omega-3s: A Vegan Plan for Reducing Depression,” accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.theveganrd.com/2015/09/soyfoods-olive-oil-beans-and-omega-3s-a-vegan-plan-for-reducing-depression.html.
 Michael Greger and Gene Stone, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease (Flatiron Books, 2015), http://amzn.to/1To9foJ; Greger, M.D., A Better Way to Boost Serotonin | NutritionFacts.org; Greger, M.D., The Best Way to Boost Serotonin; Greger, M.D., Fighting the Blues With Greens?; Greger, M.D., Antioxidants and Depression; Greger, M.D., Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Depression.
 It was only after writing this that I came across Ginny Kisch Messina’s (The Vegan RD) article “Soyfoods, Olive Oil, Beans, and Omega-3s: A Vegan Plan for Reducing Depression” in which she does propose the non-dietary factor of increased empathy in vegans, citing the fMRI study I mention as well.
 Michalak, Zhang, and Jacobi, “Vegetarian Diet and Mental Disorders.”
 Roy Morgan Research, “Meat-Free, Health-Conscious and a Little Bit Anxious.”
 Waldbieser, “The Scary Mental Health Risks of Going Meatless.”
 Michalak, Zhang, and Jacobi, “Vegetarian Diet and Mental Disorders.”
 “Vegetarians Healthy but Unhappy.”
 Massimo Filippi et al., “The Brain Functional Networks Associated to Human and Animal Suffering Differ among Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans,” PLOS ONE 5, no. 5 (May 26, 2010): e10847, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010847.
 Marc Bekoff, Ph.D, “Brain Scans Show Vegetarians More Empathic than Omnivores,” Psychology Today, July 12, 2012, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201207/brain-scans-show-vegetarians-more-empathic-omnivores; ibid.; Heather M, “Study Shows Vegans Are More Empathetic, Neurologically Speaking | Care2 Causes,” Care2, June 5, 2010, http://www.care2.com/causes/study-shows-vegans-are-more-empathetic-neurologically-speaking.html.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “The N-WORDS Meat Eaters Use,” BiteSizeVegan.com, May 18, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/the-n-words-meat-eaters-use/.
 Jared Piazza et al., “Rationalizing Meat Consumption. The 4Ns,” Appetite 91 (August 1, 2015): 114–28, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.04.011.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “The Crime Of Raising Vegan Kids | When Diet Is Deadly,” BiteSizeVegan.com, August 17, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/vegan-health/the-crime-of-raising-vegan-kids-when-diet-is-deadly/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “What Vegans See | A Post for Non-Vegans,” BiteSizeVegan.com, August 17, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/what-vegans-see-a-post-for-non-vegans/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “Why Vegans FLIP OUT!,” BiteSizeVegan.com, February 24, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/vegan-lifestyle-2/why-vegans-flip-out/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “The Nicest Way To Die [THIS VIDEO WILL CHANGE YOU!!],” BiteSizeVegan.com, February 17, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/the-nicest-way-to-die-this-video-will-change-you/; Emily Moran Barwick, “LIVE At A UK Slaughterhouse & Gas Chamber,” BiteSizeVegan.com, September 15, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/live-at-a-uk-slaughterhouse-gas-chamber/; Emily Moran Barwick, “The Best We Have To Offer? | Inside Ireland’s ‘Humane’ Farming” (Dublin, Ireland, September 28, 2016), https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/the-best-we-have-to-offer-inside-irelands-humane-farming/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “EGGS: The Extreme Reality | Bite Size Vegan,” BiteSizeVegan.com, July 25, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/eggs-the-extreme-reality/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “The Extremism Of Veganism | Exposing The Greatest Lie [Speech] | Bite Size Vegan,” May 4, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/the-extremism-of-veganism-exposing-the-greatest-lie-speech/.
 “Marc Ching of Animal Hope And Wellness,” Animal Hope and Wellness, accessed October 12, 2016, http://www.animalhopeandwellness.org/marc-ching/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “Video Posts On Bearing Witness,” BiteSizeVegan.com, accessed October 12, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/tag/slaughterhouse-witness/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “I’ve Lost All Hope For Humanity…,” BiteSizeVegan.com, October 7, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/ive-lost-all-hope-for-humanity/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “10 Years In Prison For Compassion? | Anita Krajnc Trial,” January 13, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/10-years-in-prison-for-compassion-anita-krajnc-trial/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “Heroism or Terrorism? Criminalizing Activism,” BiteSizeVegan.com, August 6, 2014, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/ethics-and-morality/heroism-or-terrorism/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “Everything Wrong With Environmentalism In 11 Minutes Or Less,” BiteSizeVegan.com, July 15, 2015, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/environmental-societal-impact/everything-wrong-with-environmentalism-in-11-minutes-or-less/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “EMPTY OCEANS: Is The World Running Out Of Fish?,” BiteSizeVegan.com, March 7, 2016, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/environmental-societal-impact/empty-oceans-is-the-world-running-out-of-fish/.
 Emily Moran Barwick, “Is Medication Vegan?,” BiteSizeVegan.com, February 23, 2015, https://www.bitesizevegan.org/vegan-health/is-medication-vegan/.