Mental Health

Head first

October is Mental Health Month, with 10th October being World Mental Health Day.

In Australia a 2007 survey found that one in five people between 16 and 85 years of age living in a private dwelling had a common mental illness. This equates to 3.2 million people.

There are different ways of defining the term mental health. For example, the World Health Organization has defined mental health as: “…a state of well being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”

Mental health can be seen as ranging from having good mental health to having mental illness. A person will vary in their position between the two extremes at different points in their life. A person with good mental health will feel in control of their emotions, have good cognitive function and positive interactions with the people around them. In this state a person will perform well at work, in their studies and in family and social relationships.

So what are mental health problems? A variety of terms are used to describe mental health problems; mental illness, emotional disorder, nervous exhaustion and a number of slang terms such as crazy, nuts and mad, that promote stigmatising attitudes and should not be used.

There are a number of different types of mental illness, some of which are common, such as depression and anxiety disorders and others, which are not common like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

We all have days when we feel miserable or down. Usually, we cope with these feelings and they pass. However, if they persist for weeks (or months) and they interfere with day-to-day life then we may have clinical depression often simply called depression.

Common Symptoms

  • Feeling sad and down
  • A loss of interest and pleasure in normal activities
  • A significant change in appetite or weight
  • Inability to get to sleep or waking up early
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling restless, agitated, worthless or guilty
  • Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Headache, palpitations, chest pain, general aches
  • Feeling that life is not worth living

There is no simple explanation as to what causes depression. In general, it arises when recent or ongoing stress is combined with a personal vulnerability to the disease.

Contributing Factors

  • Family history – the risk is increased if a close relative has been affected
  • High-risk personality – including traits such as anxiety, pessimism, perfectionism and low self esteem
  • Gender – women are twice as likely as men to develop depression
  • Sudden or ongoing stress – such as bereavement, or long standing family conflict
  • Life stages – including after pregnancy and at menopause
  • Age, previous trauma and adverse childhood experiences
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Medical conditions and medicines

Some illnesses have a major impact by causing premature death while others are major causes of disability. Mental illnesses have their major impact on disability. It helps to understand that the degree of disability which can occur during an episode of mental illness can be comparable to that caused by physical illness.

For example:

The disability caused by moderate depression is similar to the impact from relapsing multiple sclerosis, severe asthma, or chronic hepatitis B.

The disability from severe post-traumatic stress disorder is comparable to the disability from paraplegia.

Moving Forward

When we are depressed, it can be difficult to imagine ever feeling well again. However, it is important to know that no matter how we may be feeling now, we will feel better. Recovery from depression is the rule not the exception.

Proven strategies for managing depression includes lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms, talking (psychological) treatments and antidepressant medications.

For many people who are developing a mental illness their GP will be the health professional they first turn to for help.

If you think a friend or loved one may be depressed you can help in a number of ways.

  • Approach the person in a caring manner, asses and assist with any crisis
  • Be a good listener, provide empathy and support
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give support and assist in seeking professional help and follow up with them after appointments
  • Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  • Be positive and encourage them to continue treatment, particularly in the early stages
  • Encourage healthy lifestyle habits, regular exercise and social activity
  • Be wary about adverse changes in behavior and any signs of suicidal intent

It is important to remember that the behavior of someone suffering depression, such as lack of motivation, irritability and the absence of positive response is part of the illness and does not reflect their attitude to you or your relationship with them. As a carer, try to balance being supportive without expecting too much from them.

24/7 Telephone help lines

Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline (5 o 25 years) 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

Internet information sites

Beyondblue Black Dog Institute
BluePages Carer’s Australia
Multicultural Mental Health Australia Reach Out
SANE Australia

References

Mental Health First Aid manual B Kitchener, A Jorm, C Kelly
Pfizer Understanding Depression Information Leaflet
Mental Health AJP Associate Professor Timothy Chen
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