We hear a lot about depression in the media – we have had many high profile athletes,politicians and musicians publicly disclose their experiences with depression. But we tend to use the language quite loosely and sometimes when we talk about depression, we’re actually just talking about sadness, not diagnosable clinical depression.
In recent years we have had good community awareness programs around depression and as a result many people assume that this is the most common mental illness. However,anxiety disorders are in fact more common with around 14% of us experiencing anxiety disorders every year, which is more than twice the rate of depressive disorders.
We often disregard anxiety disorders as ‘being stressed’ and either simply accept it or blame it on those around us – our boss, our partner, our families or maybe even the cat. But if that stress is ongoing, long lasting and is impacting on your functioning then it is possible that it’s more than stress and possibly an anxiety disorder and it is worth seeking professional treatment. Substance Use Disorder is also a common mental illness, coming in just behind depression, and psychosis, which has a much lower prevalence rate, but can be a high impact disorder when it is present.
Despite one in five adults experiencing mental illness every year, not all of these people are diagnosed or receive treatment for their illness. Sometimes a person is not aware that what they are going through are actually mental health problems, particularly in the early stages, so they may not do anything about them until it is having a huge impact on their functioning, or it is noticed by others. By this time the impact can be devastating in terms of how it affects a person’s life – it may be causing a loss of work or life roles, loss of opportunities, loss of relationships, or loss of self-esteem and confidence. Many people will mask the emotional distress and impact of living with mental health issues because although our community talks far more openly these days about depression, we don’t often talk about other mental illnesses and we still have high levels of discrimination and stigmatising attitudes about mental health issues in general.
Almost half of us (45%) will experience mental illness in our lifetime. If you haven’t had your experience yet then maybe it has been someone close to you who has, or maybe yours is still to come. So, while you may not be experiencing mental illness at this point in time, it may have been in your past and may still be in your future. Consciously choosing strategies to minimise and manage stress, to stay positively connected with others, to find meaning and purpose in your life and to keep you on the more positive side of the mental health continuum is a great idea.
Think for a moment of mental health lying on a continuum from on one end periods of being very unwell and struggling, to on the other end periods of being really well and buoyant. At any given time our mental health might fluctuate up and down this continuum. Sometimes we may feel like we are on the unwell side of things – we may not feel that we have the capacity to cope with the problems we are facing; we might start to feel a little detached from those around us and withdraw, or find ourselves in unhealthy relationships. On the other side there may be times when we feel like we are floating along pretty awesomely – we may feel that we can find solutions to the challenges that we are facing, and we are engaged in healthy, positive relationships.
We may float back and forth on this continuum frequently, and it may depend on what is happening in our life. It’s important to note, however, that even when you are on the unwell side of the continuum, you may be well supported and have good resources and still be able to function in the roles and relationships that are important to you. You can still be enjoying life and living it to the best of your circumstances. You may not always feel like it though, which is even more reason to positively strive to support your mental health and wellbeing.