At some stage in their life, around one in five Australians will experience mental health problems¹. These illnesses may vary from mild to severe, and from temporary to long lasting. Most people will fully recover, but a small number may experience many years of difficulties and hardship.
Having a mental illness can be very distressing for the affected person and their family, friends and carers. It is not just the experience of the illness itself that is difficult. Community response and concern for people with a mental illness has not always been positive or helpful.
The good news is that things are changing. Mental health and wellbeing, particularly in relation to young people, has benefited from increased attention in recent years. This is due to a focus on important issues such as depression, substance use and suicide, and the recognition that these problems often begin around the time of adolescence.
Help and support, however, can still be very difficult to come by. These help sheets offer some information and ideas about mental illness, who can help and what to do.
What is a Mental Illness?
The term "mental illness" refers to a wide range of difficulties that may effect the way a person thinks and behaves. Anorexia nervosa, paranoia, anxiety and depression are all examples of mental illness.
Suicidal behaviour' describes any activities related to self-harm or suicide and can occur in people with or without mental illnesses. Threats, suicide attempts and suicidal behaviours should be considered a 'cry for help' and require an immediate response.
What Causes Mental Illness?
Factors that may trigger the onset of symptoms of mental illness include stressful life events, substance use, traumatic early life experiences or a genetic or hereditary predisposition.
How Do I Know if it's a Mental Illness?
Many young people experience mental health symptoms or difficulties without meeting all the criteria necessary for a formal diagnosis of mental illness. A young person who is experiencing mental health symptoms may benefit from a psychiatric assessment.
Diagnosis and Who Can Help?
There are a range of health professionals who can assist a young person experiencing mental health symptoms. They include: doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and mental health nurses.
Support Services for Young People with Mental Health Difficulties
There are organisations that specialise in offering support to people with specific mental health difficulties, as well as their families. Support services are often based at a hospital or local community health centre or a community mental health clinic.
What Else Can You Do?
Supporting a child with a mental illness can be very difficult. Accessing resources and information may help you to understand the illness and to access the supports and treatment required.
¹ National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (1997).
"At times my son would be so cruel and nasty towards me, blaming me for everything that had gone wrong. That was really hard, I just about lost it, but I kept telling myself it wasn't my son's fault, it was the illness that was speaking."