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What is mental Mental illnesses cause a great deal of suffering to those experiencing them,illness? as well as their families and friends. Furthermore, these problems appear toAbout one in five Australians will be increasing. According to the Worldexperience a mental illness, and most Health Organization, depression willof us will experience a mental health be one of the biggest health problemsproblem at some time in our lives. worldwide by the year 2020.Mental illness is a general term thatrefers to a group of illnesses, in the Types of mental illnesssame way that heart disease refers Mental illnesses are of different typesto a group of illnesses and disorders and degrees of severity. Some of theaffecting the heart. major types are depression, anxiety,A mental illness is a health problem schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder,that significantly affects how a person personality disorders, and eatingfeels, thinks, behaves, and interacts disorders.with other people. It is diagnosed The most common mental illnessesaccording to standardised criteria. The are anxiety and depressive disorders.term mental disorder is also used to While everyone experiences strongrefer to these health problems. feelings of tension, fear, or sadness atA mental health problem also times, a mental illness is present wheninterferes with how a person thinks, these feelings become so disturbingfeels, and behaves, but to a lesser and overwhelming that people haveextent than a mental illness. great difficulty coping with day-to-day activities, such as work, enjoying leisureMental health problems are more time, and maintaining relationships.common and include the mentalill health that can be experienced At their most extreme, people withtemporarily as a reaction to the a depressive disorder may not bestresses of life. able to get out of bed or care for themselves physically. People withMental health problems are less certain types of anxiety disorder maysevere than mental illnesses, but may not be able to leave the house, or maydevelop into a mental illness if they have compulsive rituals to help themare not effectively dealt with. alleviate their fears.
Less common are mental illnesses medication, cognitive and behaviouralthat may involve psychosis. These psychological therapies, psycho-socialinclude schizophrenia and bipolar support, psychiatric disability rehabilitation,mood disorder. People experiencing an avoidance of risk factors such as harmfulacute episode of psychosis lose touch alcohol and other drug use, and learningwith reality and perceive their world self-management skills.differently from normal. Their ability It is rarely possible for someone with ato make sense of thoughts, feelings, mental illness to make the symptoms goand the world around them is seriously away just by strength of will. To suggest thisaffected. is not helpful in any way.A psychotic episode may involve People with a mental illness need the samedelusions, such as false beliefs of understanding and support given to peoplepersecution, guilt, or grandeur. It may with a physical illness. A mental illness is noinvolve hallucinations, where the person different-it is not an illness for which anyonesees, hears, smells, or tastes things that should be blamed.are not there. People with mental illness may be at risk ofPsychotic episodes can be threatening harmful alcohol and other drug use. Thisand confusing to other people. Such makes treatment more complex, so thatbehaviour is difficult to understand for effectively managing alcohol and other drugpeople who are not familiar with it. use is important.Treatment of mental illness Risk of suicide is heightened for people with some mental illnesses, particularly soonMost mental illnesses can be effectively after diagnosis or release from hospital.treated. Recognising the early signsand symptoms of mental illness andaccessing effective treatment early is Myths, misunderstandingsimportant. The earlier treatment starts,the better the outcome. and facts about mentalEpisodes of mental illness can come and illnessgo during different periods in people’s Myths, misunderstandings, and negativelives. Some people experience only one stereotypes and attitudes surround mentalepisode of illness and fully recover. For illness. These result in stigma, discrimination,others, it recurs throughout their lives. and isolation of people with mental illness,Effective treatments can include as well as their families and carers.
Common questions about mental illness history.are: Many factors contribute to the onsetAre mental illnesses a form of of a mental illness. These include stress,intellectual disability or brain damage? bereavement, relationship breakdown, physical and sexual abuse, unemployment,No. They are illnesses just like any other, social isolation, and major physical illnesssuch as heart disease, diabetes, and or disability. Our understanding of theasthma. Yet the traditions of sympathy, causes of mental illness is growing.support, and flowers given to peoplewith physical illnesses are often denied Can anyone develop a mental illness?to those with a mental illness. Yes. In fact, as many as one in fiveAre mental illnesses incurable and Australians may develop a mental illnesslifelong? at some stage in their lives. Everyone is vulnerable to mental health problems.No. When treated appropriately andearly, many people recover fully and Many people feel more comfortablehave no further episodes of illness. with the notion of having ‘a nervous breakdown’ rather than a mental illness.For others, mental illness may recur However, it is important to talk openlythroughout their lives and require about mental illness, as this reduces theongoing treatment. This is the same as stigma and helps people to seek earlymany physical illnesses, such as diabetes treatment.and heart disease. Like these otherlong-term health conditions, mental Are people with mental illness usuallyillness can be managed so that dangerous?individuals live life to the fullest. No. This false perception underlies someAlthough some people become of the most damaging stereotypes.disabled as a result of ongoing mental People with a mental illness are seldomillness, many who experience even very dangerous. Even people with the mostmajor episodes of illness live full and severe mental illness are rarely dangerousproductive lives. when receiving appropriate treatment and support.Are people born with a mental illness? Should people with a mental illness beNo. A vulnerability to some mental isolated from the community?illnesses, such as bipolar mood disorder,can run in families. But other people No. Most people with a mental illnessdevelop mental illness with no family recover quickly and do not even need
hospital care. Others have short • Think about mental illnesses like anyadmissions to hospital for treatment. other illness or health condition andImprovements in treatment over recent bring them into the open.decades mean that most people live in • Talk about mental illness openly withtheir communities, and there is no need everyone you meet - it is surprising howfor the confinement and isolation that many people are affected by mentalwas commonly used in the past. illness, particularly the highly prevalentA very small number of people with disorders of depression and anxiety.mental illness need hospital care, • Educate the community to overcomesometimes against their will. negative stereotypes based onImprovements in treatment are making misconceptions.this less and less common, and fewerthan one in a 1000 people are treated • Promote mental health and healthythis way. attitudes through childhood and adult life.Is stigma one of the biggest problems • Support the development of resilience:for people with mental illness? learn ways to deal with stress in relationships, situations, and events.Yes. One of the biggest obstacles forpeople recovering from mental illness • Assist friends and family with a mentalis confronting the negative attitudes of illness to obtain care and treatment asother people. These often mean that early as possible.people with mental illness face isolation • Ensure high quality support and treatmentand discrimination just for having an services are provided to people withillness. mental illness to promote recovery.Positive and hopeful attitudes of family, • Actively support the families and carers offriends, service providers, employers, and people who have mental illness, who alsoother members of the community toward experience the confusion, distress, andpeople with mental illness are critical to stigma that can accompany mental illness.ensuring quality of life for people withmental illness and supporting recovery. • Address discrimination in every area of life, including employment, education, and theWhat can be done provision of goods, services, and facilities. • Encourage research into mental illness toabout the stigma of assist understanding of how these illnessesmental illness? affect people and can be prevented and/ or effectively treated.
Where to go for help About this brochure• Your general practitioner. This is the first in a series of brochures• Your community health centre. on mental illness funded by the Australian Government under the• Your community mental health centre. National Mental Health Strategy.For information on services, check the Information about specific mentalCommunity Help and Welfare Services illnesses can be found in the otherand 24-hour emergency numbers in your brochures, which include:local telephone directory. • What is an anxiety disorder?For immediate counselling assistance, • What is bipolar mood disorder?contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Lifeline canalso supply you with contacts, further • What is a depressive disorder?information and help. • What is an eating disorder?Other useful sources of information • What is a personality disorder?about mental illness are: • What is schizophrenia?SANE Australia www.sane.org Free copies of all brochures are availableMental Illness Fellowship of Australiawww.mifa.org.au from Mental Health and Workforce Division of the Australian GovernmentThe public area of the Royal Australian Department of Health and Ageing:and New Zealand College of Psychiatristswww.ranzcp.org GPO Box 9848 CANBERRA ACT 2601Auseinet www.auseinet.com Tel 1800 066 247Australian Government’s HealthInsitewww.healthinsite.gov.au Fax 1800 634 400 www.health.gov.au/mentalhealth Insert local contact details here