What is mental health?

Just like our bodies, our minds need looking after to stay healthy. Mental health is your general state of mind and ability to cope with everyday situations. When you’re mentally healthy, you can generally handle the normal ups and downs of life.

What is mental illness?

For someone with a mental illness, managing daily life is much more challenging. While everyone has their good and bad days, if these struggles stick around for longer than usual or seem impossible to shake, it might be a sign of a mental illness. Mental illnesses impact our daily lives and ability to function.

Mental health issues among youth

Mental health issues are on the rise among young people. A recent survey found that:

  • Nearly 40% of people aged 16-24 in Australia experienced a mental health disorder in 2022.
  • Young women and LGBTQIA+ individuals are more vulnerable. Nearly 1 in 2 young women and more than half of those identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported a mental health disorder.
  • 1 in 3 transgender individuals reported a mental health disorder compared to 1 in 5 cisgender individuals.
  • Anxiety is the most common mental health issue young people experience, especially social anxiety — which has become more common since the COVID-19 pandemic.

These statistics might be alarming, but remember that this means if you’re struggling with your mental health, you’re definitely not alone, and it’s likely you’ll know someone trying to cope with mental health issues too.

There are a lot of places you can get help if you think you’re having mental health issues. Try talking to someone you trust about it, like a friend, parent, or school counsellor. You can also visit your GP, local community health centre, or find your nearest headspace centre. You can also call beyond blue or get online counselling at eheadspace.

What causes mental illness?

Mental health issues are often caused by a combination of things, and it’s different for every person. Some common causes include:

  • Biological factors: Someone with a history of mental illness in their family has a higher chance of developing mental health issues, so genetics can play a big part. Hormonal balance can also affect our mental health.
  • Early life events: Experiencing traumatic events at a young age such as neglect or abuse can have a strong impact on our mental health later in life.
  • Recent life events/triggers: Current events can also affect our mental health, like being really stressed from study or work, or losing a loved one.
  • Psychological factors: Mental illnesses are also influenced by our thoughts and feelings, as well as our surroundings and circumstances. For example, if we already have negative feelings about our body image or have low self-esteem, this can lead to poor mental health.
  • Misuse of drugs and alcohol: Heavy drug and alcohol use can have a negative impact on our mental health.
Common signs of mental illness

It’s important to know the common signs of mental illness so you can identify it and seek help. Some common symptoms of mental illness are:

  • Feeling more worried than usual
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Constantly being in a bad mood
  • Having trouble sleeping, or sleeping way more than usual
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Feeling ‘down’, sad or unmotivated
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Changes in eating habits (eating more or less)
  • Having difficulty performing at school, work or in other areas of your life
  • Turning to alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Having trouble coping with or participating in everyday activities
  • Isolating yourself from family or friends
  • Thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or others
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, you can call Lifeline for help and support.

A lot of these symptoms can come up in everyday life when we don’t have a mental illness, so it’s really important to seek advice from a mental health professional or GP before making any conclusions about what’s going on.

If you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks (or earlier for psychosis), it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something serious going on, but it’s worth having a chat about it with someone you trust. If you’ve been experiencing a few of these symptoms over a long period of time, it’s a good idea to set up an appointment with your GP to talk it over.

Keep in mind that some people might have different symptoms, and only a doctor can properly diagnose mental illness. To find out more, read more about how to visit a doctor on your own here.

What are the benefits of good mental health?

When our minds are healthy, we can be fully present with our family, friends, and community. Research shows that good mental health is linked to improved learning, creativity, high levels of productivity, better social relationships, good physical health, and increased life expectancy. So there are many benefits to gain from looking after our mental health!

Tips for maintaining your mental health
  • Exercise: yep! keeping your body healthy will help your mind healthy too!
  • Get into a routine: having regular sleeping patterns and meals can really help you cope with the other stuff going on in your life.
  • Relax: other things (like school) may seem more urgent but allowing yourself some time to chill out can really make a difference to how you feel.
  • Try meditating: smiling mind is a great meditation app
  • Be in nature: research has found that the Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ reduces stress and improves our mental health
  • Talk about it: find someone you trust who you can tell what’s going on. If you don’t feel like talking to someone you know, try online counselling at eheadspace.
  • Practice self-care: do something that brings you joy and makes you feel good.
  • Keep in touch with your friends and family.
Where to get help
  • If you think you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues you should talk about it to an adult you trust.
  • Try going to your GP, local community health centre or finding your nearest headspace centre. You can also call beyond blue or get online counselling at eheadspace and ReachOut. (These services are all confidential).
  • If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, you can call Lifeline for help and support.

Parts of this article have been sourced from ReachOut.

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