Raising Awareness on Mental Illness

It’s a topic that people find uncomfortable to discuss, yet everyone seems to have an opinion about; Mental illness and its validity as a real medical condition.

Even in this day and age, where the dialogue around mental illness is more open than ever before, so many of these aforementioned opinions are based on myths. These misinformed opinions add to the stigma surrounding mental illness and makes life harder for those affected.

Here are a few facts to help dispel those myths;

  • Mental Illness is real, it is not an excuse for laziness, nor is it an attention-seeking act or character flaw.
  • Absolutely anyone may find themselves affected by or developing a mental illness - there is no immunity.
  • The most common forms of mental illness are anxiety and depression disorders, with a significant number of Australians also affected by eating disorders or psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Some people are diagnosed with more than one illness and there are many Australians who are not yet diagnosed and are living life without help or treatment.

Lets delve into the nitty gritty on how some of these mental illnesses are defined in the dictionary;

  • anxiety

noun a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

  • bi-polar

adjective (of psychiatric illness) characterised by both manic and depressive episodes, or manic ones only.

  • schizophrenia

noun a long term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behaviour, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

What are some of the signs and/or symptoms you need to look for you may well ask?

Sometimes, drastic changes in someone’s thoughts, moods or behaviours can be a sign of mental illness. These changes can come on suddenly or more gradually over a long period of time. Someone who once coped really well with life may start having trouble functioning at work and with life in general.

Keep in mind however, each type of mental illness will have a different set of symptoms, but here are a few signs to look out for (either within yourself, or perhaps those around you).

Some examples of mental illness are:

  • excessive worry or fear
  • persistent sad or low moods
  • illogical or irrational thoughts
  • unexplainable anger or irritability
  • poor concentration
  • hearing voices
  • increased/decreased sleep
  • changes in appetite
  • little to no motivation
  • withdrawal from day to day contact
  • drug use
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • suicidal thoughts

These symptoms are just examples, but they give you a good idea on what to look out for. However, please keep in mind that sometimes those who are suffering from mental illness can be very good at covering up their ACTUAL feelings.

So now that some of the symptoms have been identified, what do you do next if you notice these within yourself or a loved one?

Acknowledging there is something wrong is the first and probably most vital step – you're admitting to yourself that you are experiencing difficulties in coping (trust me, once you acknowledge you're having trouble, it’s like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders).

I cannot stress to you enough – mental illness is NOT a weakness in your character; it is an illness, just as serious and just as real as any other medical condition.

The next step then, is to seek help! Make an appointment with your GP and go from there. You may have to go through a series of processes so they can diagnose you correctly, but it's well worth your time. Your doctor will assist you in advising which services, therapies and treatments are available to you. Remember, your GP is there to help with both your mental and physical health after all.

These days, there are so many organisations available to offer support and counseling (Black Dog Institute, Beyond Blue, Sane Australia, CAN Mental Health, Lifeline and so on). Click here for more options

In most cases, mental illness can be treated with medication (anxiety, depression etc) and counseling, but everyone's road to recovery is different. What works for some, may not work for others. Some may need more support, and there are plenty of caring professionals out there who will help you every step of the way! Just know that over time, when everything “evens” out in that mind of yours, you will get to lead a “normal” life (but honestly...what is normal these days anyway????).

The stigma attached to mental illness is ever so slowly changing. People who embrace their illness and “normalise” it, inspire others to be open out their own demons. Don’t be embarrassed by your struggles – you did not choose this path! There is a legitimate reason why you are feeling this way (chemical imbalance within the brain or inherited genetic predisposition).

For those of you who think you're alone – you're not! Approximately one in five Australians have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Even celebrities are not immune to mental illness – Catherine Zeta Jones, Ben Stiller and Russell Brand all have bi-polar disorder, Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie and Emma Thompson were diagnosed with depression.

Remember, it's ok to admit you're not ok! Mental illness is treatable and with the right support and guidance, you can pursue all your hopes and dreams, and live a happy and functional life.

For those who are in need of help and unsure of where to start, here are a few numbers for you to refer to;

  • Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
  • Accessline – 1800 800 944 (New South Wales)
  • 24 Mental Health Crisis Line - 1300 881 104 (Victoria)
  • Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital - (02) 5943 1000
  • Corowa Hopital – (02) 6033 7555
  • Albury Base Hospital – (02) 6058 4444