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MENTAL ILLNESS FAQS

What is mental illness?

Mental illness refers to a group of disorders that affect the way a person thinks, feels and acts. Mental illnesses include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and personality disorders. Some mental illnesses involve the experience of psychosis (where a person loses touch with reality) and some do not.

Who is susceptible to mental illness?

Mental illness is more common than you may think. Mental illness directly affects one in five Australians at some stage in their lives, varying from mild or temporary to severe or prolonged. It is even more common among young adults, affecting 25 percent of this age group. It is felt across all sections of society. It can affect relationships, the ability to work, and participation in, and enjoyment of, life.

What causes mental illness?

There is some evidence that mental illness is caused by a combination of biological factors that create a vulnerability. Genetics play a part, but people can develop a mental illness with no family history at all. We know that chemical changes occur that affect functioning of the brain (both dopamine and serotonin are involved). People who are vulnerable to mental illness may experience symptoms in response to stress, social change or drugs.

Is recovery possible?

Yes. Advancements in medication are continually improving the outlook for people with a mental illness. Along with psychological and social supports, a majority can live active and fulfilled lives.

How will I know if someone is developing a mental illness?

Early warning signs differ from person to person, but some common signs are when a person’s behavior changes (either suddenly or gradually) and he or she becomes unusually suspicious, anxious, depressed, irritable or angry. The person may experience mood swings, sleeplessness, loss of motivation and energy, changes in eating patterns, and memory loss. Family and friends will notice changes in a person’s behavior, often with a disruption to a person’s work or study and to a person’s energy levels and sociability. These symptoms can sometimes be a reaction to life events or changes, especially for people in adolescence, but if in doubt, seek advice from a health service. Early intervention is better for all concerned.

If I develop psychotic symptoms, do I have a mental illness?

Psychosis is when a person loses touch with reality and has confused thoughts, perception, emotions and behavior. Symptoms may include disturbing delusions and hallucinations. Psychotic symptoms can occur in an isolated episode or as part of an ongoing diagnosed illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, psychosis or schizoaffective disorder. Three in every 100 people will experience a psychotic episode. Many recover fully. Like any other illness, psychosis can happen to anyone. Some experiences of psychosis are isolated episodes, especially substance-induced psychosis and brief reactive psychosis.

Substance-induced psychosis. Sometimes a first episode can be triggered by the use of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines (speed) and benzodiazepines. Drug-induced psychosis will subside once the drugs or alcohol are out of the person’s system.

What are the more common mental illnesses?

Schizophrenia:   A cognitive disorder where symptoms may include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thought, speech or behavior, and a flattening in emotions.

Bipolar mood disorder:  People with bipolar mood disorder experience recurrent episodes of depressed and elated moods. Both can be mild to severe. The term ‘mania’ is used to describe the most severe state of extreme elation and over activity.

Schizoaffective disorder: This is an illness that displays some of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia along with the mood extremes associated with bipolar disorder.

Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders represent a condition in which worry, anxiety or fear are prominent symptoms. Disorders include obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks and phobias. Typically, a person’s anxiety levels are so high that day to day functioning becomes difficult.

Depression: Clinical depression involves a persistent lowering of mood. This plays out in a variety of symptoms that include feeling extremely sad or tearful, sleeplessness, feeling guilty and worthless, loss of energy and motivation, loss of pleasure, and impaired thinking and concentration. Everyday functioning can become extremely difficult.

 


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World Health Organization. Strengthening Mental Health Promotion. Geneva, World Health Organization (Fact sheet no. 220), 2001.

 

 

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