What is Mental Health Illness?
Mental health illness is characterised by illness that significantly impacts the way an individual thinks and feels, as well as their behaviour and how they interact with others. Mental health illness has the ability to cause a large amount of suffering not only for an individual, but also for close family and friends. Mental health illness can largely impact a person’s day-to-day life, and can cause disruptions to study, work and interpersonal relationships, as well as an individual’s ability to enjoy activities that normally bring pleasure.
Causes of Mental Health Illness
A number of different factors can lead to the development of mental health illness or a mental health disorder. What causes mental health illness to develop in one individual can differ largely to the next, and these factors may be biological, psychological or in regards to one’s environment and lifestyle. Some common causes of mental health illness include (but are not limited to) the following:
- family history (of mental health illness)
- upbringing (i.e. learning certain ways in which to think and/or behave)
- personality types (e.g. perfectionist personality) or traits (such as low self-esteem)
- serious and/or chronic physical illness
- persistent or ongoing stress (e.g. financial issues, relationship breakdown)
- trauma (e.g. victim of abuse/violence)
- loss of a loved one
- current lifestyle or situation (e.g. struggling to locate or maintain work)
- substance abuse (drugs and/or alcohol), and
- social isolation.
Key Groups of Mental Health Disorders
A number of different types of mental health disorders exist, of which depressive disorders and anxiety disorders are the most common. Some of the key groups of mental health disorders include the following:
- depressive disorders (e.g. depression, Post-Natal Depression (PND), Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD))
- anxiety disorders (e.g. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Specific Phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD))
- psychotic disorders (e.g. Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia)
- personality disorders
- behavioural disorders (e.g. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD))
- dissociation disorders
- eating disorders (e.g. anorexia, bulimia)
- substance abuse disorders (e.g. drugs and/or alcohol), and
- addiction disorders, as well as the following (in some cases) mental health-related problems:
- anger, and
What is Suicide?
Suicide refers to intentionally ending your own life. Where someone is experiencing suicidal feelings, they may have one or more of the following sorts of thoughts and/or feelings (please note, this list is not exhaustive):
- feelings of intense sadness and worthlessness
- feeling hopeless, helpless and powerless and like there is no point continuing to live
- feeling like you cannot continue to bear the pain you are experiencing
- feeling isolated, lonely and disconnected from others
- feeling like a burden and that other people would be better off without you
- considering how to take one’s life
- making plans to take one’s life
Suicidal feelings can vary in intensity and duration and may build up over time, occur suddenly and/or come and go. A person troubled by suicidal thoughts may:
- struggle with low self-confidence and poor self-esteem
- lose motivation to care for themselves (physically, mentally and/or emotionally)
- experience fluctuations with regards to appetite and weight
- have trouble sleeping, and/or
- withdraw from others.
Feeling suicidal can be both frightening and confusing, however, it is vital to remember you are not alone. (For more information on common warning signs regarding an individual who is contemplating suicide, please refer to Beyond Blue’s ‘Common warning signs’ via this link).
Suffering from a mental health illness is often a long and arduous journey for a large variety of reasons, and can leave an individual feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, worthless, isolated and disconnected from other people. Suicidal feelings and thoughts trouble a number of individuals suffering from serious mental health illness, hence why it is vitally important to look out for and support others around us who are or may be experiencing mental health illness.
Who are ‘R U OK?’?
Created after realising the requirement for a national campaign encouraging individuals to ask family and friends who are or may be struggling “Are you OK?”, R U OK? was established by the late Gavin Larkin (following the loss of his beloved father Barry Larkin to suicide in 1995) and Janina Nearn (producer and current R U OK? Board Director). R U OK’s ultimate intention is to prevent the lack of connection and/or belonging felt by people who are having a difficult time, well before considering ending their life and to encourage people to meaningfully connect with one another.
What is ‘R U OK? Day’?
R U OK? Day, scheduled for Thursday 13th September, 2018, is a national day dedicated to reminding all people the importance of asking other individuals struggling with life “Are you OK?” on any day of the year. This national day intends to inspire people to get started with these conversations (for more resources on how to get these conversations going, visit R U OK’s ‘Get Involved’ page).
Signs Someone Is Struggling with Their Mental Health
If you are concerned someone you know is struggling with life, there are a number of signs and symptoms of mental illness that you can keep an eye out for, including:
- changes to appetite and/or weight
- sleeping difficulties (such as insomnia or over-sleeping)
- reduced energy and motivation for life
- reduced ability to focus or concentrate
- irritability and/or angry outbursts
- teary and/or emotional outbursts
- withdrawal from social activity
- substance abuse
- delusions or hallucinations (e.g. schizophrenia)
- excessive worry or concern (anxiety)
- physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, excessive perspiration or trembling (e.g. in the case of anxiety)
- persistent sadness and/or low mood (depression)
- reduction in energy and motivation for life (depression)
- reduced interest in previously enjoyable hobbies or activities (depression)
- extreme mood swings (e.g. bipolar disorder)
- talking about suicide or expressing suicidal thoughts
How to Ask If Someone is OK (as per R U OK?)
Preparing Yourself to Ask
When preparing yourself to ask another person who may be struggling with life if they are OK, R U OK? recommend you begin by asking yourself:
Am I ready?
Am I prepared?
[Have I] picked my moment?
R U OK’s Guidelines re: ‘How To Ask’
- Ask “R U OK?”
- Listen Without Judgement
- Encourage Action
- Check In
Please click here for more information from R U OK? on how to prepare yourself for and engage in a meaningful conversation with a person who appears to be struggling with life.
Strategies to Help You Manage Your Mental Health Illness
The following general tips may be beneficial for you if you are struggling with a mental illness.
Educate yourself about your mental health illness to put yourself in the best position possible of understanding it and recovering from it. Be patient with and have realistic expectations of yourself and don’t compare your journey to that of others.
Break daunting tasks down into smaller components that are more manageable for you and focus on each day at a time. Set yourself a daily routine if you find yourself struggling for motivation, in order to reduce having to think about what you need to get done each day. Engage regularly in self-care activities and activities that bring you joy. Do your best to exercise regularly and get some fresh air when you can.
Most importantly, reach out to others for help and surround yourself with people who love and support you, and do not hesitate to seek professional treatment if you have been struggling for two weeks or more.
Things You Can Do to Support Someone with Mental Illness
One of the very first and most important things you can do to support someone you care about with mental illness is to educate yourself as much as possible about their illness, including signs and symptoms, treatment options and how to manage the illness. Talk openly with your friend or family member and if/when they do not feel like talking, reassure them you are always there to support them. Be sure to celebrate small (and large) victories throughout their recovery journey.
Assist your loved one with regards to their treatment plan. For example, you may be able to assist by driving them to and/or sitting in on appointments with them with applicable mental healthcare providers. Look for ways you can offer them practical assistance, such as cooking them a meal or running some errands for them. Encourage them to take up some form of regular exercise and to regularly engage in activities that are joyful and uplifting (such as their favourite hobby, where appropriate).
Encourage someone you know suffering from mental health illness to seek professional help if they have been struggling for more than two weeks. Have patience throughout their journey with mental illness and be sure to take good care of your own physical, mental and emotional health in order to put your best foot forward when it comes to supporting your friend or family member.
It is vitally important that no matter the day of the year, we look out for and ask others who may be struggling with life, “Are you OK?”. By doing so, we can all work together to close the gap when it comes to people feeling a lack of connection to others when struggling with mental health illness.
Where to Receive Professional Help For Mental Health Illness
- In the case of an emergency, call Triple Zero
- If you require urgent support, call the 24/7 Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Visit your local doctor, who can refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist or other qualified professional who can best give you the help you need
- Visit your local mental health clinic
- See or speak to a professional therapist at Brain Wellness Spa
- Check out R U OK? for other mental health resources
- When you are feeling hopeless, listen to our free audio program entitled ‘Hope’, which can be accessed here