What is mental illness?

A mental illness becomes a mental health problem when that ‘health problem’ significantly affects or impacts a person's thinking, how they behave with other people and within their own world in a negative manner.  It seems that what they say, does not follow through with what they do behaviourally and more often than not, they lose the ability to function in such a way that they can plan according to what they set out within themselves to do.

Fundamentally, a mental illness affects the way a person, thinks, feels, and behaves.

According to the Australian population, one in five Australians suffer a mental illness at some point in their lives.

Mental illness are of many different types, degrees and severity. They have different causes, symptoms and onsets.  Some of the major types are:

These illnesses may also be referred to as a mental disorder, mental impairment or psychiatric disability.

What causes mental illness?

Mental illness often results from a multitude of factors that are most likely a negative interplay of complex interactions between the mind, body and environment. Some of the factors that can contribute to mental illnesses are:


  •   Long-term and acute stress

  •   Biological factors such as genetics, chemistry and hormones; all creating a higher predisposition to   having depression

  •   Use of alcohol, drugs and other substances

  •   Cognitive patterns such as constant negative thoughts, low self esteem lowering self-worth and deep negative well                established thinking patterns

  •   Social factors such as isolation, financial problems, family breakdown, abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, emotional and sexual), trauma and   violence  

  •   The factors mentioned above however, can often be minimized by a strong and supportive community, as well as with psychological and medical support.



The Mental Health Cost to the Australian People.

Beyond Blue has released statistics stating that 1 in 5 Australian workers experience mental-health illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and the cost to businesses was at least $10.9 billion a year.


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Michelle Barratt is a Fellow of the Clinical College at the Australian Psychological Society.