3: What is mental illness?

Let’s talk mental illness! This is by far one of my favourite topics and it never ceases to amaze me how powerful our minds are. Periods of sadness, anger, grief and guilt are normal. We all have differing emotional ranges and therefore it really depends on what is abnormal for the individual. This is where our temperament and personality structure comes into play… I have what I would consider to be a higher physiological baseline than some which can make me appear more anxious or highly strung . However, I know that this is MY normal. What wouldn’t be normal for me is if I spent all night unable to sleep and worrying about if my doors were locked and if I’d washed my hands 37 times. KNOW YOUR NORMAL AND ABNORMAL.

Mental illness impacts our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is thought to arise from both the interaction of genetic vulnerability and life stresses. What would happen if your uncle died unexpectedly?  You would be understandably sad and experiencing grief. This is a normal response due to a triggering event. Eventually you go through the process of grief and you find ways to manage the death of a loved one. A mental illness is ONGOING in frequency for long periods of time. If you were crying every day over this uncle two years later, I’d be questioning the stability of your mental health. Mental illness impacts an individual’s daily life functioning. Unfortunately, there comes a lot of stigma with being diagnosed with a mental health condition. I’ve ALWAYS been a big advocate of decreasing mental health stigma. We can’t blame or judge others for their internal experiences out of their control.

I don’t want to bore you with the literal hundreds of mental health disorders so from here I’ll discuss some of the common ones in Australia but also list some of the other prevalent ones. These disorders are listed within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (V5) of Mental Disorders and this manual is used widely across the world to assist in the diagnostic process of mental illness.

Mental illness is more common than you’d think… Mental health statistics show that 1 in 9 Australian’s are currently experiencing high or very high psychological distress. Often the onset of mental disorders is around mid-late adolescence when our personalities have been grown into and explored. This is especially accurate when it comes to personality disorders as they look into individual traits and personality structure. The most common mental disorders in 2019 are anxiety and depression.

Depression has the highest lifetime prevalence- 1 in 7 experience depression in their life time. At present 1 in 16 Australian’s are experiencing depression. Depression is a mood disorder that is characterised by persistent sadness and hopelessness with a lost in activities one once enjoyed. Mood disorders are more common in females. This needs to last for a two-week period and at least one of the symptoms need to be either (1) a depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. Below are the diagnostic criteria as per the DSM 5:

1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

¼ of Australian’s will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime.  Currently in Australia 1 in 7 people are experiencing an anxiety disorder. When people speak of anxiety they are most likely referring to Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Below are the criteria for GAD:

  • A. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).
  • B. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.
  • C. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months): Note: Only one item required in children.
    – Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge.
    – Being easily fatigued.
    – Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
    – Irritability.
    – Muscle tension.
    – Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).
  • D. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Other types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • specific phobias
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder

– Schizophrenia

-Type 1
– Type 2

– Body Dysmorphic Disorder
– Hoarding

-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
-Acute stress disorder
-Adjustment disorder

– Dissociative Identity Disorder- Also known as MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER
– Dissociative Amnesia

Having a mental illness doesn’t decrease your worth. We all experience the world differently and are unique. The culture around mental illness in 2019 is SLOWLY becoming more accepting. Please don’t be ashamed of the way you think, feel or behave. Know that there is help and recovery DOES happen.

If you relate to any of the disorders I’ve discussed please seek a medical professional (GP, psychologist, counsellor, social worker). I’ve attached a link below which has an online mental health assessment which may help you decide if you should seek help. Additionally, I’ve included a website where you can take shorter quizzes for the specific types of mental health disorders.

Much love,