According to Black Dog institute, in any one year 20% of Australians will experience some form (or multiple forms) of mental illness and 45% of us will experience a mental illness at some point in our lifetime. The prevalence of mental illness is most common between the ages of 18- 24. Rates of mental illness are said to decreases with age (Mindframe, 2014).
Most common types of mental illness
The most common forms of mental illness in Australia are Anxiety (14.4% of the population), illnesses such as depression (6.2% of the population) and substance use disorders (5.1% of the population) (Mindframe, 2014).
It is important to remember that not all mental illness is the same. Different forms of mental illness have different impacts on people’s lives, much like various different physical ailments. Each mental illness has a specific range of symptoms. People don’t need to experience/exhibit all of them however to still meet the criteria of a particular mental illness. It is important to consult a professional if you notice your behaviours, thoughts or emotions significantly change from their normal patterns.
Poor mental health warning signs
Although every mental illness is different there are some general early warning signs which may indicate the presence of a mental illness or that your mental health is at risk.
Early warning signs (notice in yourself or others):
- Constant headache, restlessness or racing mind
- Lose of interest in something you once enjoyed. Feeling sad or irritable. Lacking motivation and energy
- Sudden and dramatic mood swings
- Changes to usual healthy sleep patterns. Either struggling to sleep (insomnia) or struggling to get out of bed (sleeping to much)
- Rapid and fluctuating weight change, without concerted effort to change weight
- Regular withdrawal from social events, refusing to attend social outings. Withdrawing from family and friends
- Substance abuse
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt (e.g. “its all my fault”, “I’m a failure”).
- Significant changes in behaviour or feelings without the occurrence of a significant life event or life change
Mental illness is not a life sentence
Getting on top of a mental illness early can drastically reduce the time in which it may impact your mental health and well-being. Even lifelong illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Bi-polar can be effectively managed so as to have little to no impact on your life or well-being.
Some people may experience mental illness in a unique solitary occasion or stint of time, for others they may experience re occurrences or returns of a mental illness throughout their lives. Again proper management and life adjustments (e.g. good stress management and monitoring alcohol intake) can prevent reoccurring mental illness from impacting your overall mental health and well-being (Mindframe, 2014).
Mental health in the workplace
1 in 5 Australian workers report having taken time off work due to mental illness each year (Headsup, 2014). Depression and Anxiety are now the leading causes of long-term sickness absences from work (Blackdog, 2014). Absenteeism and presenteeism related to mental illness costs Australian workplaces approx. $10.9 billion dollars a year (Headsup, 2014).
81% of workplace leaders indicate that their workplace has one or more supports/procedures for employees experiencing a mental illness or designed to help employee mental health, however 35% of employees reported not knowing these resources existed or how to access them (Headsup, 2014). It is manager’s responsibility to make their workplace one which supports the mental health of its employees. Workplaces where there is the opinion by staff that senior management care about and value the mental health of the employees experience half the amount of absenteeism/presenteeism in relation to mental illness (Headsup, 2014).
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Mental health and quality of life (including violent behaviour)
Mental illness and poor mental health can impact an individual’s quality of life. Just like physical health, adopting healthy lifestyle habits can dramatically increase your mental health even if you are living with a lifelong mental illness (Sane, 2015).
These healthy habits include
- Physical exercise/activity
- Balanced sleeping and eating habits
- Avoiding excessive drug use
- Managing stress/workload
- Engaging with family, friends and other support networks
- Staying engaged with professional mental health experts to help you manage your mental health/mental illness
There is a common misconception that individuals experiencing mental illness are violent and unpredictable individuals. Although some mental illnesses can lead to acting erratically, the statistics of violent acts are very minor indeed. The reality is that individuals experiencing a mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves or be the victims of violence compared to perpetrating violence against others.
The lifetime risk of someone with schizophrenia seriously hurting or killing someone is 0.005%, however there is a 10% chance they may hurt themselves (Mindframe, 2014).
Proper treatment and management significantly reduces the chances of mental illness leading someone to act violently against others. The truth is that there is a far greater connection between alcohol and violence and males aged 15-25 and violence then there is between mental illness and violence (Mindframe, 2014).
Supporting someone with mental illness
Ultimately, trained professionals are going to be the best support for individuals experiencing an acute mental illness episode. There is however important ways in which you can support someone you know who is (or you expect is) suffering from a mental illness.
1) Don’t try and diagnose, assess or treat the individual, leave this to trained professionals. By all means support the individual, but diagnosis and treatment needs to be done by people with specific knowledge and expertise.
To be supportive:
- Give the person opportunities to talk, make sure you choose a suitable time and space to talk (e.g. comfortable space, and both sober).
- Let the person know you are concerned about them
- Treat the person with respect
- Be as consistent in your emotions and understanding as possible. If you feel vulnerable yourself, best to give the individual some space. Any erratic or unstable behaviour from yourself will likely be more hindrance then benefit
- Be a good listener
- Don’t tell the person to snap out of it, or get over it.
- Sarcasm is likely to not be received as intended so best to not try it.
- Don’t try and come up with answers to their problems.
2) Encourage the person to see a professional
- Discuss the options they have for seeking help and encourage them to use those options
- Gain knowledge of services available in their local area and online
- If they are unwilling to see a mental health professional at this stage, a good place to start is their GP.
- If the person is very reluctant to seek assistance, discuss this openly with them. Their beliefs may be based on misconceptions or lack of knowledge on mental health assistance (e.g. seeking help for mental illness generally does not involve straightjackets, being locked in a padded room, or electrotherapy).
(Mental Health First Aid Australia, 2016)
No matter the time of day there is always services available to help you through.
Call: 1300 878 379, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
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Remember that the support service is there for you. We offer face-to-face, telephone, and video counselling to help individuals overcome mental illness and regain their mental health. We endeavour to help you strengthen your mental health and acquire the skills and resilience so that no matter what life throws your way you are able to overcome the challenges and live life to the fullest.