The anguish of vegans in a non-vegan world

Vegan psychologist Dr Clare Mann at the Spring Vegan Festival in St Kilda. Picture: Bethany Mckay



Vegans have coined a new word –  vystopia – to express the struggles of being vegan in a non-vegan world.

Vegan psychologist and author Dr Clare Mann, who created the term, said it described the traumatic experience of vegans when they became aware of the cruelty humans inflicted on animals.

“For many vegans and animal activists, knowing how animals are treated is a burden that can lead to a number of psychological issues including anxiety, depression, alienation and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Dr Mann told the Spring Vegan Festival at St Kilda Town Hall recently.

While vystopia is not classified as a mental illness, Dr Mann said it was a psychological response much like an existential crisis.

“It comes from an awareness of the trance-like collusion with a dystopian world. Everything changes and the world as you knew it is completely different,” said the author of the 2018 book Vystopia: The Anguish of Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World.

A study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found there was an elevated risk of depression among vegans and vegetarians.

Courtney Harrington (right) with friend Stephanie Maelean at the Spring Vegan Festival in St Kilda. Source: Bethany Mckay

It found that 3.6 per cent of participants had higher depression scores than those who consumed animal products.

Animal activist and vegan Courtney Harrington said the burden of knowing the extent of  cruelty towards animals consumed her.

“It’s very intrusive mentally. You are constantly thinking about the trauma that happens at a mass scale to both animals and the environment around the world,” Ms Harrington said.

“I felt very isolated and depressed and I didn’t think I could relate to my friends or people around me who weren’t vegan,” she said.

“It completely consumed me every minute of the day. I have often cried myself to sleep thinking about all the animals still suffering.”

The Voiceless animal protection institute said about 70 billion farm animals were  slaughtered each year for human consumption globally.

“The majority of these animals are factory-farmed, where they can be confined for the entirety of their lives in sheds or cages, subjected to unnatural diets and environments, and exposed to painful practices and procedures, often without pain relief,” the report said.

Dr Mann said vegans and animal activists often felt isolated and judged by people around them, and this could lead to loss of interest in all things not related to solving the issue.

She said those who suffered from vystopia should develop self-care rituals that would help prevent them from being overwhelmed by environmental triggers.

“Triggers are everywhere and can even be as simple as walking past a local butcher, or strip of restaurants that serve meat,” Dr Mann said.

“Creating a calming ritual, such as controlled breathing exercises or other forms of meditation, will help deal with the trauma that comes with being vegan in the world we live in.”