Mental Health: Anxiety & Depression

What is meant by ‘mental health issues’?

When we use the term ‘mental health illness’ we are using a term as broad as the term ‘physical illness’, which could mean anything from the common cold to terminal cancer. Similarly, and for example, generalised anxiety is described as a ‘mental illness’ as is schizophrenia, but they are vastly different conditions. Generalised anxiety disorder is common, has its origins in upbringing, and is usually curable. On the other hand, Schizophrenia is far less common, organic in origin, and unfortunately manageable rather than curable as it is a seriously debilitating health issue. Mental health problems can refer to a raft of psychological and psychiatric conditions. Well known ones include:

  • Depression (eg. major depression, post-natal depression)

  • Anxiety (eg. generalised anxiety, social anxiety, panic, phobias)

  • Post -traumatic stress and acute stress disorders

  • Psychosis (eg. brief, drug-induced, schizophrenia)

  • Bi-polar disorders

  • Eating disorders (eg. anorexia and bulimia)

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


How common are mental health issues?

Mental health issues are common in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently stated that 1 in 5 Australians experienced difficulties with their mental health in a one-year period. The ABS also reports that 45% of Australians aged 16-85 years have had a significant mental health issue in their lifetime. These figures show the prevalence of psychological problems or psychiatric illnesses in Australia, which is concerning for current and future generations.


How common are Anxiety and Depressive disorders?

The ABS survey of Australians identified in 2007 that 14.4% of Australians have experienced an anxiety disorder in the last 12 months. This included a range of anxiety conditions including generalised anxiety, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

This same survey discovered that 6.2% of Australians had experienced a depressive episode, dysthymia or a mood disorder in the previous 12 months.


Signs of mental health difficulties

It is important to seek a professional assessment by a doctor or trained counsellor when you notice that you are struggling emotionally or psychologically, or when friends or family suggest you seek some support. Equally, you can suggest professional help to someone you know who appears to be having emotional difficulties. Specific symptoms vary depending on the type of mental health issue but early warning signs can include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Changes in appetite

  • Difficulties with concentration, motivation and energy

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Social withdrawal

  • Increase in negative thoughts

  • Decreased mood or fluctuations in mood

  • Trouble relating to others

  • Irritability and difficulties controlling certain emotions

  • Preoccupation with certain thoughts or beliefs

  • High levels of fear and anxiety re: safety

  • Out of character behaviour or impulsivity

  • High levels of stress

  • Difficulties being able to rest and relax

  • Nightmares and intrusive negative thoughts

  • Urges to self-harm and suicidal ideation

  • Strange or delusional thinking/paranoia


What are the causes of mental health issues?

We are still learning about the causes of mental health problems, however one theory that is used to explain the development of such issues is the stress-vulnerability model.

This model proposes that some people are predisposed, either due to either upbringing or genetic inheritance, to mental or psychological unwellness. People appear more likely to develop psychological or psychiatric problems if there is a family history of such mental health issues. A person is also at increased likelihood of having mental health problems if they encounter significant life stressors. Stress is a subjective factor in regards to well-being as one person can find an event or situation stressful, and another person may not. The level of societal or personal pressure that is experienced as stressful and leads to deterioration of an individual’s mental health varies between people, and depends on many factors including the individual’s personality (e.g. levels of robustness, trustfulness, optimism, fearfulness), social supports and circumstances, coping strategies, physical health, willingness to seek help, and so on.

Stressors that may lead to the development of mental health problems include:

  • Poor physical health or illness

  • Alcohol or substance misuse

  • Hormonal changes, or having a baby

  • Significant changes in lifestyle or circumstances

  • Difficulty with transitioning through life phases

  • Homelessness or financial stress

  • Unemployment

  • Grief and Loss

  • Relationship break-down

  • Sexuality and gender issues

  • Social isolation

  • Exposure to trauma or violence

  • Sexual assault and/or abuse


What is the impact of a mental health problem?

The impact, of course, depends on the nature and severity of the illness. Leaving psychiatric conditions aside, ordinary psychological problems such as depression and anxiety cause significant stress on the individual and the individual’s partner, children, extended family, and friends, colleagues, workmates. Some common negative effects include:

  • Loss of relationships

  • Loss of employment

  • Reduction in physical health

  • Family conflict

  • Financial stress

  • Social isolation

  • Grief re: changes in lifestyle

  • Increased substance use or alcohol use

  • Reduced functioning and self-care

  • Self-harm, suicidal behaviour or suicide


How does one look after and improve one’s mental health?

Recovery from, or resolving, psychological problems can be a difficult or relatively easy journey depending on the nature of the problem, its level of entrenchment in the personality, the personal resources (i.e. emotional strength and vulnerability) of the person affected, how long the issue has been in the individual’s life and the severity of the symptoms. Recovery time can vary however and is influenced by the factors such as:

  • The level of social support in the individual’s life

  • The presence of effective coping strategies

  • Positive physical health such as regular exercise, sleep and good nutrition

  • The development of stress management and emotional regulation skills

  • The opportunity to make lifestyle changes

  • Willingness to access professional help

Counselling or therapy can be an integral part of recovery from mental health problems and can provide the following benefits:

  • Support in understanding the problem causing distress

  • A safe and non-judgmental space to discuss experiences, thoughts, and feelings

  • Help to reduce emotional pain and suffering

  • An increase in insight and skills to cope with the issue and reduce its impact

  • Support to return to a normal routine

  • Enhanced self-care

  • Assistance dealing with the reality of a current stressful situation

  • Improvement in stress management and general coping skills

  • Help in managing emotional reactions

  • Support for family, relationship, work or social issues

  • Effective therapeutic approaches that can treat the mental health issue

  • Help in achieving permanent change for more effective emotional functioning

  • Help with maintaining improved quality of life


Many people with problematic emotional states, such as chronic anxiety or/and depression, do benefit from taking prescribed medication. Although not always necessary, they can be a useful adjunct to psychological therapy.

If you would like to learn more about your mental health, or to make an appointment, please feel free to contact Kate.