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Mental Illness

What is Mental Illness?


Mental illness is a general term that refers to a group of conditions. It is a health problem that significantly affects how you feel, think, behave, perceive the world and interact with others. Experiencing mental illness causes distress and affects your ability to function at work, in relationships and in everyday life.

There are many different types of mental illness, ranging from mild, lasting only a few weeks, through to severe which can be a life-long challenge. The most common types of mental illness are depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. Mental health problems are less severe but may develop into a mental illness if they are not dealt with effectively.

About one in five Australians will experience mental health issues at some stage of their lives but the good news is that people can and do recover.

Causes of mental illness


Researchers are still trying to understand what causes mental illness. There may be certain factors that can increase the risk of mental illness, including:


  • Genetic factors
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Other biological factors, such as medical conditions or hormonal changes
  • Negative childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect
  • Trauma and stress, such as social isolation, domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial or work problems.
  • Personality factors, such as perfectionism or low self-esteem


Diagnosis of mental illness


Mental illness can be diagnosed after a mental health assessment, which involves discussing your thoughts, moods and behaviours. The first step is to make an appointment with your general practitioner or a mental health professional. It may also be necessary to get a referral to a specialised service for further assessment and intervention.


Symptoms of mental illness


Symptoms of mental illness can come and go throughout a person’s life. While each type of mental illness has a different set of symptoms, here are some common examples:


  • Feeling excessively anxious, worried or afraid
  • A sad or low mood that is persistent
  • Thoughts that are illogical or unusual
  • Feeling unreasonably angry or irritable
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Hearing unexplainable voices
  • Sleep problems
  • Lacking motivation
  • Withdrawing from social situations
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or feeling that life is empty
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Weight or appetite changes
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Changes in behaviour or feelings


These signs are not meant to help you diagnose a mental health issue but should be seen as a reason to find out more about your worries. Often it is not a single change but a combination of several changes.


Treatment for mental illness


Rest assured, mental illness is treatable. Most people with mental illness recover and go on to live happy and productive lives. Treatment is different for each type of mental illness and can vary according to the individual, the severity of the illness and past history of illness. The main types of treatment include:


  • Psychological therapy
  • Medications
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Complementary therapies


It can take time to find what approach works best for you. Once you have obtained professional advice, it is recommended that you find a treatment that you are comfortable with and that has been found to be effective for most people. If the intervention you experience does not meet your expectations or is problematic in some way then discuss this with your health professional. It is okay and appropriate for you to look for something else or see a different practitioner. There are many options available to support and assist you. It may take patience and persistence to find the best treatment for you.


Types of mental illness


There are many types of mental illness and degrees of severity. Some of the main types are:


  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma-related disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders

Stigma and mental illness


Recognising the early signs of mental illness and accessing effective treatment early is important. People struggling with mental illness or life challenges often experience shame and this stops them getting the help they need. It is very rare for someone with a mental illness to simply make the symptoms go away just through willpower and in fact to make such a suggestion is very unhelpful. People dealing with a mental illness need the same support and understanding as people with a physical illness.


There are many opinions (and misconceptions) about mental health but it is important to remember that


  • Mental illness is real
  • Anyone can develop a mental illness
  • The causes of mental illness are complex


Positive attitudes of family, friends and other members of the community toward people dealing with mental illness are critical to supporting recovery. Negative stereotypes and attitudes result in stigma, discrimination and isolation, which is understandably a big obstacle to recovery.


Don’t suffer your mental illness alone. Our psychologists and counsellors can help support you manage your mental health at our Canning Vale location. Call us today on 1300 208 680 and find out how we can help.



Do you need help coping with mental illness?

If you are concerned about your own mental health or worried about a loved one, email Wellbeing Therapy Space at