A mental illness is when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. It can influence the way you think, feel, behave and/or relate to others.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. For example depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, PTSD and addictive behaviours.
We all experience ups and downs in our mental health: at times we may feel really down and low, other times we may feel happy and balanced. A mental illness is when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. It can influence the way you think, feel, behave and/or relate to others.
What to look out for
If you have a mental illness you can experience problems in the way you think, feel or behave. This can significantly affect your relationships, work and quality of life.
Symptoms differ from person to person, but a common sign is if your behaviour changes, suddenly or gradually. These changes can sometimes be a reaction to life events; this is especially true for adolescents. Being in a constant state of mental distress can be very damaging, mentally and physically.
There are two major types of mental illnesses and the symptoms for each differ:
|This includes disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder - (previously called manic depressive illness), where you lose touch with reality.||This is where you experience overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, inability to sleep, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, changes in appetite etc. These changes make it difficult to cope with work, study, relationships and other demands. Most of us feel sad, discouraged, or low every so often, but for some this mood doesn’t go away. If you feel like this for a month or more, and it gets in the way of daily living, you could be depressed.|
|Your ability to make sense of thoughts, feelings and other information is seriously affected - what you see, hear and feel is real to you, but people around you do not share your experiences.||Picking up depression in young people is important because it often occurs with other mental health disorders, most commonly anxiety, disruptive behaviour, or substance abuse disorders, as well as with other serious illnesses, such as diabetes. Early diagnosis and treatment of depression is critical to healthy emotional, social and behavioural development.|
|Effective medication and support from professionals mean that most people who experience this type of illness are able to live productive and rewarding lives.||Most mood disorders can be effectively treated, usually with a combination of medication and therapy, which help you understand your illness, manage your symptoms, and lead a satisfying life. If you’re in doubt about whether or not you or someone close to you is ill, you should seek advice from your GP or a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or mental health nurse.|
You can recover from mental illness
With appropriate care, you can recover from a mental health problem. One of the most important things that help with this is compassion and understanding from those around you. A person with a mental illness often faces isolation and discrimination from others – people may react with embarrassment, rejection and abuse if they don’t understand why you are acting unusually.
Top tips for keeping well
- Share thoughts and feelings with friends, family or a counsellor. Talking your problems through as soon as they appear can really help relieve stress and anxiety.
- Eat nutritious food, get adequate sleep and exercise regularly. Doing these things can trigger a chain of healing affects – especially when you feel anxious or under stress.
- Build and maintain your self-esteem. As you work on building your self-esteem you will feel better more often, enjoy your life more than you did before, and do more of the things you have always wanted to do.
- Learn to relax and spend time doing the things you love to do. There are many relaxation techniques and other methods available to suit personalities and lifestyles, eg, hobbies, reading and meditation.
- Seek help. A problem can sometimes be too hard to solve alone – or with friends and family – so it’s important to seek professional help. You can see your family doctor, a community group, a psychiatrist, nurse, occupational therapist, psychologist, social worker or counsellor.
Getting the help you need
If you think you are experiencing a mental health problem there are many places to go to get help – from seeing your GP and accessing self-help resources, like websites and books, right through to seeing a specialist health care professional or accessing an emergency service.
The NZ Mental Health Foundation has a comprehensive list of mental health support services.
If you would like to talk to someone, try one of the following helplines. These are all free to call from a NZ landline:
- Free call or text 1737 to speak to or text with a trained counsellor
- Depression Helpline (0800 111 757)
- Lifeline (0800 543 354)
- Samaritans (0800 726 666)
- Youthline (0800 376 633)
If you have a family member who you are concerned about and would like support contact Supporting Families – an organisation dedicated to helping families living with mental illness.
Staying well Mental Health Foundation, NZ
Mental health NZ Ministry of Health
Just a thought NZ
Mental illness & discrimination Like minds, like mine
Nine great books about living with mental illness Sane, Australia, 2018
#RadNotBad – stories about people's experience of mental illness Mental Health Foundation, NZ