Understanding Mental Health
Almost half of the Australian population (48.5%) have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, proving the prevalence of this issue and how widely misunderstood it is.
Mental health problems can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and is a silent killer in modern society. According to research studies, the average life expectancy of those who have a mental illness is 10-20 years less than the rest of the population. However, many people still struggle to differentiate the difference between each mental health problem, and don’t understand how much it affects people. Therefore, it is imperative to educate the public on this topic and spread mental health awareness.
What is the difference between being ‘mentally healthy’ and ‘mentally ill’?
Good mental health is the ability to manage life and deal with challenges in a reasonable way. It is the capacity to enjoy and take satisfaction in everyday life, including a range of thoughts and feelings we have in response to what happens to us. Feeling sad, lonely, disappointed and confused are normal to experience, as they are part of being human. However, when these emotions interfere with everyday life, it is important to talk to a health professional.
Mental illness includes a range of conditions that affect how we feel and think. Similar to physical illnesses, mental illnesses arise from the interaction of genetic vulnerability and life stressors. Mental illnesses vary in how long they affect people and differ in severity. Thankfully, there are effective treatments and support services available to help manage or even eliminate symptoms.
Understanding each mental illness
One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime and is the third highest ‘burden’ of all diseases in Australia. ‘Burden of disease’ refers to the total impact of a disease, which is measured by financial cost, mortality, morbidity, and other factors. This mood disorder is normally associated with feeling, miserable, overwhelmed, frustrated, lacking in confidence, and suicidal. Besides emotional symptoms, there are many physical signs such as tiredness, exhaustion, headaches and muscle pains, sleep issues, loss or change of appetite, and weight loss or gain. Several things can characterise these feelings and emotions; however, some include personality factors, relationship problems, job loss, loneliness, drug or alcohol problems, family history, and traumatic life events.
Another misconception about mental illness and depression is that there is only one type, which is incorrect. Another form of depression is perinatal depression, which is a depression that parents can experience during and after the birth of a baby. Perinatal depression affects one in six new mothers and one in ten new fathers and can have a severe impact on the parents and those around them. Although having a baby is exciting, adding depression and anxiety can make it difficult to function and feel like a good parent.
Different types of depression respond to different kinds of treatment. Therefore, it’s important to seek help with a professional so they can cater the treatment to the individual circumstance.
It is natural to feel anxious when faced with a stressful situation or circumstance, as it’s a part of everyday life. However, when anxiety is interfering with a person’s ability to take pleasure in or carry out day-to-day life, they may have an anxiety disorder. Around one in seven Australians have anxiety disorders, and women are affected more than men. A person with an anxiety disorder will feel distressed regularly and can experience episodes that can be severe and immobilising. There are many anxiety disorders, which include:
- Persistent, excessive or unrealistic worries (generalised anxiety disorder)
- Compulsions and obsessions they can’t control (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- Intense, excessive worry about social situations (social anxiety disorder)
- Panic attacks (panic disorder)
- Intense, irrational fear of everyday objects and situations (phobia)
- Periods of extreme anxiety after a traumatic event (post-traumatic stress disorder)
Similar to depression, the treatment for anxiety depends on the individual and the circumstance. Seeking professional help will aid in offering different avenues for support and medication if needed.
Bipolar disorder or bipolar mood disorder is a psychiatric illness characterised by extreme mood swings. People with bipolar disorder can experience extreme mood swings from euphoria (high and active) to depression (low and miserable). These drastic and sudden shifts in mood can impact behaviour and the ability to function in everyday life. It is estimated that around one in 50 Australians develop this illness, which affects men and women equally. Bipolar disorder affects people in different ways, and the pattern of mood swings affects each individual differently. A common sign of bipolar disorder is extreme highs and lows. During the ‘highs’, one might feel invincible and behave recklessly, and during the ‘lows’, there are feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. Several factors are believed to cause bipolar disorder, including genetics, environmental factors, physical illnesses, substances, and a traumatic life event.
Bipolar disorder normally requires a long-term treatment plan involving medication, psychological treatment, and lifestyle approaches. There is a range of effective treatments and professionals who can help with bipolar disorder. With the correct treatment, most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder can live productive lives.
If you or someone you know might suffer from any of these mental health issues, there are many services and treatments available for help and support.
Lifeline Australia (24/7 counselling): 13 11 14
Beyond Blue (24/7 support service) 1300 22 4636
Men’s Line Australia: 1300 78 77 78
Kid’s Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) Helpline: 1300 726 306
You can also:
- Talk to someone you trust
- Visit a hospital emergency department
- Contact your GP, a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist