Mental illness is never an easy topic to contemplate. Unlike physical ailments and illnesses, mental health issues can still be confusing for people to understand, as they may not have visible or tangible symptoms that can be immediately recognised. However, the truth is that mental illness is an increasingly common problem, both in Australia and around the world, and can affect people of any age and any life situation. With this fact in mind, it’s important that we learn as much as we can about the potential causes and treatments for different mental illnesses. People who are struggling with stress, anxiety and/or depression deserve our respect and support, so understanding as much as we can about these conditions is the first step to helping those who are suffering.
The Lowdown On Mental Illness
There are many different types of mental illness, and three of the most common types are stress, anxiety and depression. Confusion over mental illness often results in people mistaking one type for another, which is understandable considering there does tend to be overlap in certain cases. However, each of these three conditions have their own distinct markers:
- Stress is the body’s natural response to feeling under pressure, from external or internal factors, and is not necessarily negative in and of itself. It’s only when stress builds up and becomes overly intense or constantly felt, that it can become a problem. In this way, stress overload can begin to affect a person’s ability to complete tasks on an everyday basis, by influencing their mental and physical wellbeing. Those who are suffering from stress may find themselves having memory problems, poor judgement, and feelings of irritability or agitation. They may even experience dizziness, nausea, insomnia, and chest pain.
- Anxiety is often mistaken for stress, and it’s true that the two conditions do have similarities. However, anxiety is linked more to feelings of fear, and is diagnosed when a person’s fear of situations that may crop up in everyday life becomes so great that it interferes with their ability to function. Anxiety may be general, leading a person to worry constantly, or may be triggered due to specific phobias, depending on the individual. Feelings of overwhelming anxiety may lead to a panic attack, in which the person may experience shortness of breath, an increased heart rate, have hot or cold flushes, and feel lightheaded or faint.
- Depression is not simply feeling down or sad – it’s a sustained mood state that is severe and, like stress and anxiety, impacts a person’s ability to live their everyday life. Depression is often characterised by a kind of emotional blankness, in which the person may find themselves taking no pleasure from previously enjoyable activities, or emotional turbulence, in which they may experience a gamut of mood swings and have less ability to control these emotions. Depression may result from having stress or anxiety, and its symptoms include lowered energy levels, drastic changes in appetite and/or weight, reduced motivation, and poor concentration and memory.
Part of the reason why mental illness is still such a complex health issue can be attributed to the lack of information about its causes. Mental illness is experienced differently by everyone who suffers from a form of it, in the same way that what prompts one person to feel anxious or upset may not affect another person at all. In this way, mental illness can often require a case-by-case approach, in which the individual’s lifestyle factors, external influences, and personal disposition may reveal pertinent details in regards to their mental health.
While no one definitive cause of mental illness has so far been identified, one fact has become clear – it is not an inherent condition or a character weakness, but is developed like any other illness. Factors that are believed to contribute to mental illness include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in brain structure and/or chemistry, which affect the individual’s emotions, thoughts and behaviour
- External factors, such as their sociocultural environment, their relationships with others, and past life experiences (especially those that were traumatic in any way)
- Biological factors, as mental illness may be inherited through genes and comprise part of a person’s genetic make-up
- Substance or drug abuse, which can affect or alter their brain structure and/or chemistry
- Negative thought patterns, which can make a person more vulnerable to developing a mental illness
Methods Of Coping
The road to recovery can be a rocky one if you suffer from mental illness, but the good news is that it can be treated, even if it’s a step-by-step process. Taking care of yourself and having the support and understanding of your loved ones goes a long way towards helping you to feel happier and healthier. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, try the following steps to build up your sense of self-worth and promote feelings of calm and contentment.
- Look after your physical health: Don’t worry, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit up the gym on an everyday basis! But engaging in gentle physical activity, whether it’s a leisurely bike ride or a stroll around the park with a friend, will help to relieve stress and lift your mood. Getting enough rest is also very important, so establish a regular sleep pattern to get the most out of your slumber.
- 5+ a day: Learn all you can about good nutrition and apply it to your own eating habits. Getting your fill of leafy vegetables and colourful fruits will supply your body with all the right vitamins, minerals and proteins that will help you to feel more energised, both physically and mentally.
- Cultivate your hobbies: It could be as simple as reading a short story book, or doodling on a pad of paper. Wherever your interests or skills lie, try to spend a little time each day broadening your horizons and occupying yourself with a fun activity. Doing something creative and/or productive is a great way to further feelings of success and fulfilment.
- Make leisure time a priority: It doesn’t matter whether you’re spending time with your loved ones or you’re enjoying some well-deserved “me” time. Either way, do the things that you love to do, simply for your own pleasure. Have a relaxed meal with friends, sit on the beach and watch the sunset, listen to your favourite songs, or watch a feel-good movie. Remember that all work and no play is no fun!
- Think of the positives: While it can be hard to detach yourself from your own life, it’s always a good exercise to try to think objectively. Periodically remind yourself of the positive things in your life that you’re thankful for. Having an optimistic outlook can profoundly influence the way you see your situation and the way you feel about yourself, so do take some time out to sit back and appreciate the wonderful things around you.
The Final Word: Believe in Yourself!
Mental illnesses can be difficult to cope with, whether they are affecting you or someone you love. Remember that different methods work for different people, and the key is for individuals to keep trying until they find the right approach for them. With the love and support of friends and family and the expertise of a health professional, any person can work to overcome their mental illness and improve their quality of life.