Spotlight on Mental Health Disorders

It’s Mental Health month and with all the stresses and strains of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought it might be a good time to talk Mental Health.

‘Mental health disorder’ describes a wide range of disorders and degrees of severity such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, and eating disorders. Mental health disorders can significantly affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.

About one in five Australians will experience a mental illness, and most of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives. Most mental illnesses can be effectively treated. Recognising early signs and symptoms and accessing effective treatment early is important. The earlier treatment starts, the better the outcome. Episodes of mental illness can come and go during different periods in people’s lives. Some people experience only one episode of illness and fully recover. For others, it recurs throughout their lives.

Nine signs of mental health issues

1. Feeling anxious or worried

We all get worried or stressed from time to time, but anxiety can also be a sign of a mental health issue if it’s persistent and interferes with your everyday life. Other symptoms of anxiety may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, restlessness, diarrhoea or a racing mind.

2. Feeling depressed or unhappy

Have you noticed that your friend has lost interest in a hobby you used to share? If they’ve also seemed sad or irritable for the last few weeks or more, lacking in motivation and energy or are frequently teary, they might be dealing with depression.

3. Emotional outbursts

Everyone has different moods, but sudden and dramatic changes in mood, such as extreme distress or anger, can be a symptom of mental illness.

4. Sleep problems

Generally, we need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Persisting changes in a person’s sleep patterns can be a symptom of a mental illness. For example, insomnia could be a sign of anxiety or substance abuse. Sleeping too much or too little could indicate depression or a primary sleep disorder.

5. Weight or appetite changes

Many of us want to lose a few kilos, but for some people fluctuating weight or rapid weight loss could be one of the warning signs of a mental illness, such as depression or an eating disorder. Other mental health issues can impact appetite and weight too.

6. Quiet or withdrawn

We all need quiet time occasionally, but withdrawing from life, especially if this is a major change, could indicate a mental health issue. If a friend or loved one is regularly isolating themselves, they may have depression, bipolar, a psychotic disorder, or another mental health issue. Refusing to join in social activities may be a sign they need help.

7. Substance abuse

Are you worried a loved one is drinking too much? Using substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to cope can be a sign of, and a contributor to, mental health issues.

8. Feeling guilty or worthless

Thoughts like ‘I’m a failure’, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘I’m worthless’ are all possible signs of a mental health issue, such as depression. Your friend or loved one may need help if they’re frequently criticising or blaming themselves. When severe, a person may express feelings of wanting to hurt or kill themselves. This feeling could mean the person is suicidal and urgent help is needed.

9. Changes in behaviour or feelings

A mental illness may start out as subtle changes to a person’s feelings, thinking and behaviour. Ongoing and significant changes could be a sign that they have or are developing a mental health issue. If something doesn’t seem ‘quite right’, it’s important to start a conversation about getting help.

Effective treatments can include medication, cognitive and behavioural psychological therapies, psycho-social support, psychiatric disability rehabilitation, avoidance of risk factors such as harmful alcohol and other drug use, and learning self-management skills.

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