Understanding mental ill-health

Mental ill-health is an issue that affects all of us. Over four million Australians will experience mental illness this year alone. Many more of us will be affected as family members, friends or colleagues.

Defining mental ill-health

The broad term ‘mental ill-health’ is often used by us and others as an umbrella term that includes both mental illness and mental health problems.

Mental illness

A mental illness is a disorder diagnosed by a medical professional that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. There are different types of mental illness and they occur with varying degrees of severity. Examples include mood disorders (such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder), psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), eating disorders and personality disorders.

Mental health problems

A mental health problem also interferes with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities, but may not meet the criteria for a diagnosed mental illness. Mental health problems often occur as a result of life stressors, and are usually less severe and of shorter duration than mental illnesses. These often resolve with time or when the individual’s situation changes. However, if mental health problems persist or increase in severity, they may develop into a mental illness.

In any one year, over two million Australians will experience anxiety and a further one million will be affected by depression. Effective interventions can prevent the development of anxiety and depression, delay the onset of these conditions, and reduce the severity, duration, and impact of symptoms through early detection and timely treatment.

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