A mental illness is when ongoing symptoms cause frequent distress and affect your ability to function. It can influence the way you think, feel, behave and/or relate to others.
- We all experience some ups and downs, sometimes feeling low and other times being happy.
- If you have ongoing distress and your ability to function is affected, you may have a mental illness.
- Mental illness refers to a wide range of conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, PTSD, psychosis, perinatal depression and addictive behaviours.
- The good news is that there are treatments and support to help you with these conditions, but the sooner you get help the better.
- There is also plenty you can do to reduce your risk of getting a mental illness and to help yourself get better if you do develop one.
What are the symptoms of mental illness?
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, especially if you are young. Being in a constant state of mental distress can be very damaging, mentally and physically.
There are two major types of mental illnesses: psychosis and mood disorder. The symptoms for each differ.
|This includes disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar 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. 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.||Getting help if you are depressed is important because it often occurs with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or substance abuse disorders, as well as with other health conditions 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 talking therapy. Together these help you understand your illness, manage your symptoms and lead a satisfying life.|
Do people recover from mental illness?
With appropriate care, you can recover from a mental health problem. Get help as soon as you realise you may have a mental health condition, as this will make your journey to recovery easier. But whenever you reach out, you will no longer be managing on your own, and with support your situation will improve.
One of the most important things that help 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. Tell your friends, family and whānau what is happening for you – they can help.
Top tips for staying mentally well
- Share your thoughts and feelings with friends, family/whānau or a counsellor.
- Talking your problems through as soon as they appear can really help relieve stress and anxiety.
- Eat nutritious food, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. Doing these things can trigger a chain of healing effects – especially when you feel anxious or under stress.
- Build and maintain your self-esteem. You will feel better more often, enjoy your life more and do more of the things you have always wanted to do.
- Learn to relax. There are many relaxation techniques and mindfulness methods to chose from.
- Spend time doing the things you love to do, such as sport, hobbies, gardening, time in nature or with your whānau.
Where to get help with your mental health
If you think you or someone close to you is experiencing a mental health problem, there are many places to go to get help. You can start with seeing your GP or primary healthcare nurse, or texting or phoning 1737 for free any time of the day or night.
There are also lots of self-help resources, like websites and books, right through to seeing a specialist mental health professional or accessing an emergency service. Read more about where to get help with your mental health.
The NZ Mental Health Foundation has a comprehensive list of mental health support services.
If you have a family member who you are concerned about and would like support, you can contact Supporting Families – an organisation dedicated to helping families living with mental illness.
Staying well Mental Health Foundation, NZ
CALM – Computer Assisted Learning for the Mind NZ
Just a Thought NZ
Mental illness & discrimination Like Minds, Like Mine
#RadNotBad – stories about people's experience of mental illness Mental Health Foundation, NZ
Mental health Ministry of Health, NZ
|Rudy Bakker is a New Zealand Registered psychiatric nurse. Primary health is generally the first point of contact for people with presenting mental health and addiction issues. Integral to my role as mental health & addiction coordinator for East Health Trust PHO is to build a primary healthcare clinicians tool kit for mental health and addiction-related presentations with the emphasis on supporting early intervention processes.|