1 in 5 Australians are affected by mental illness, yet many suffer in silence without seeking help due to stigma. To help break this stigma Mental Health Australia are promoting World Mental Health Day on October 10th, 2017. 

It is, “a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. An initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health to raise public awareness of mental health issues worldwide.” 

Their campaign, ‘do you see what I see?’, aims to challenge the perceptions of mental illness in Australia. Encouraging everyone to look at mental health in a positive light, to reduce stigma and make way for more people to seek support and help. 

Understanding mental health disorders 

The term ‘mental health disorder’ is used to describe a wide range of disorders, including depression, anxiety, stress, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 

Depression 

Described as more of a numb feeling than sadness, depression is not something you can control or just get over. 

While we are all likely to experience some of the following symptoms from time to time it does not necessarily mean you’re depressed. Some common symptoms of depression include: 

  • Feeling sad, down or miserable most of the time (for more than two week). 
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable. 
  • Withdrawal from family or friends. 
  • Difficulty concentrating. 
  • Unexplained and constant fatigue. 
  • Feelings of guilt, sadness, misery, irritability, frustration, lack of confidence, indecisiveness, disappointment. 

Anxiety 

Anxiety is not just a feeling of being stressed or worried. Feelings of stress and anxiousness are common, however are typically alleviated once the pressure or stressful situation is removed. For those with anxiety the anxious feelings do not subside. 

Symptoms are not always obvious and can develop slowly over time. Some common symptoms include: 

  • Physical symptoms: Panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tight chest, restlessness, feeling tense, wound up or edgy. 
  • Psychological symptoms: Excessive fear, worry or obsessive thinking. 
  • Behavioural symptoms: Avoiding situations that cause anxiousness. 

Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenia causes an altered experience of reality affecting thoughts, perceptions and behaviour. It is thought to affect about 1 in 100 people with symptoms beginning in late adolescence or early adulthood. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Hallucinations (hearing or seeing something that isn’t real) and delusions (believing something that can be prevent o be untrue). 
  • Confused thoughts. 
  • Unusual behaviour. 
  • Lack of motivation for everyday tasks. 

Bipolar Disorder 

Bipolar disorder affects a person’s mood, allowing them to swing from one extreme to another. There are two types of bipolar. 

  • Bipolar disorder I: People with Bipolar I will experience depressive episodes and some psychotic symptoms. They are more likely to experience ‘mania’ (feeling very high, happy and overactive) for longer. 
  • Bipolar disorder II: People with Bipolar II generally experience shorter and less severe episodes of mania and depressive episodes. In between these they may have moods which are relatively ‘normal’. 

The symptoms depend on what mood they are experiencing. Extreme episodes of mania or depression can last for weeks and some individuals may not experience a ‘normal’ mood often. 

How to help a loved one? 

  • Ask 

If you suspect someone you know or care about may be suffering in silence simply asking if they are okay can make a big difference. Before you ask, consider whether you are in the right head space to hear ‘no’ as a response. 

  • Listen 

If you are going to ask you need to be prepared to listen without judgement. Don’t interrupt or rush the conversation. 

  • Be there 

Let them know you are there for them. Offer encouragement to take action and seek help and check in regularly to see how they are doing. 

For more information visit Beyond Blue and R U OK.