One in five Australian adults and one in four 16 – 24 year olds experience mental illness every year, however not all of these people are diagnosed or receive treatment for their illness. Sometimes we are not aware of what we’re going through, particularly in the early stages, so we may be experiencing mental health problems but not doing anything about them until it reaches a point where it is having a huge impact on our functioning, and is then noticed by ourselves or by others. By this time the impact can be devastating in terms of how it affects our 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 of us will mask the emotional distress and impact of living with mental health issues because, although our community talks a lot more openly nowadays about depression, we often don’t 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’s 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 keep yourself on the more positive side of the mental health continuum is a great idea.
Some people will have short term experiences of their illness. They will get treatment and/or supports and will get better. Others may have ongoing dances with their illness for many years, where they have periods of being well, as well as periods of being unwell.
With good resources and supports many of these people can learn what their triggers might be. They can learn how to minimise the risks of becoming unwell and how to put in place personal, family, community and workplace supports to minimise the impact of these unwell periods.
The concept of “recovery” is often spoken of in terms of mental illness. Recovery does not simply mean that the person gets better and never has the illness again. It can also mean that a person recovers functionally, so even though they may continue to experience symptoms of the illness, they are still able to function (sometimes with resources and supports) and to live the life roles and experiences that they have chosen.
It is important to understand that even someone with long term mental health issues does not have to passively just exist with the effects of the illness. Many, many people live beautiful, functional, enriched and delicious lives and experience mental illness simultaneously.
Remember, mental health is a part of general health, and we can treat mental illness just as we do other illnesses with proactive strategies to reduce our risks, and ways to manage times of ill-health with appropriate resources and supports.
So next time you hear someone talking about their uncle who ‘had mental health’, or one of their colleagues who did, stop them and point out that we ALL have mental health, and over our lifetime up to half of us will experience mental illness and given how common it is, it’s about time we got over the stigma and stereotypes. In fact you’re probably more unusual if you don’t experience any mental health issues yourself or through someone close to you.
This video provides further examples of language that’s often used inaccurately to describe mental health issues.