Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that almost half of all Australians aged 16 to 85 years will experience a mental health disorder at some time in their life. Mental health disorders can vary in both severity and duration.
Estimates suggest that 1 in 5 people had experienced a common mental health disorder in the previous 12 months.
Of these, anxiety disorders such as social anxiety were the most prevalent, afflicting 1 in 7 people, followed by affective disorders such as depression and substance use disorders such as alcohol dependence.
Psychotic disorders receive a lot of media attention due to the disturbing nature of the illness but in fact only effect 0.5% of the population in their lifetime (Morgan et al. 2011).
What are the factors that affect mental health?
Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, like genetics and chemical imbalance and psychological factors, like trauma or family dysfunction.
Exposure to such factors increases a person’s risk of developing mental illness.
What are the signs of a mental health disorder?
Anxiety and depression, in particular, can affect anyone at any time. But at different points in our lives we can be at greater risk, such as when we're going through big changes like moving house, changing job, separating from a partner, retiring, starting a family, or losing someone we love.
What are common symptoms of depression?
- Feeling unhappy a lot of the time
- Easily overwhelmed
- Frequently irritable
- Frequent thoughts of worthlessness
- Reduced interest or participation in activities
- Decreased concentration
- Poor sleep
- Decreased appetite
What are common symptoms of anxiety?
Physical symptoms, such as panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy.
Psychological symptoms, such as excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking.
Behavioural symptoms, such as avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life.
Where can I go to get help?
Symptoms of mental illness can develop slowly over time as is often the case with anxiety and depression or can occur quickly as is sometimes the case with post traumatic stress disorder. The severity of the mental illness is usually assessed in relation to the impact of the illness on the person’s mental state and general function.
The good thing is that there are effective treatments for mental illness, including talking therapies, medication, and diversional activities.
The important thing is to seek help quickly and make a plan that will work for you. Your GP is a good place to start and there are also a number of agencies with lots of useful information on mental illness and associated treatments, such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, and Headspace for youth.
Beyond Blue also publish useful guides to what works for depression and anxiety.
About Mark Ayling
Mark Ayling is a mental health nurse with more than 30 years’ experience. He is also the Chief Executive Officer of St John of God Burwood Hospital.