What is Mental health?
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, act, make choices, and relate to others. People sometimes use the term “mental health” to mean the absence of a mental disorder.
The WHO states that mental health is “more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.” Peak mental health is not only about managing active conditions but also looking after ongoing wellness and happiness. It also emphasizes that preserving and restoring mental health is crucial individually and at a community and society level.
The 2021 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing (ABS 2022a) estimated that:
- Over 2 in 5 (43.7%) Australians aged 16–85 have experienced a mental disorder during their lifetime.
- 1 in 5 (21.4%) people who had experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime had symptoms in the 12 months before the survey interview. For these people, anxiety disorders were the most prevalent type of disorder (16.8%), followed by affective disorders (7.5%) and substance use disorders (3.3%).
Everyone is at some risk of developing a mental health disorder, regardless of age, sex, income, or ethnicity. A lot of factors can shape a person’s mental health some of which include, social and financial circumstances, adverse childhood experiences, biological factors, and underlying medical conditions.
Early Warning Signs
Not sure if you or someone you know is living with mental health problems? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can be an early warning sign of a problem:
- A change in your eating or sleeping habits.
- Withdrawing from the people and activities you enjoy.
- Having low or no energy.
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters.
- Having unexplained aches and pains.
- Feeling helpless or hopeless.
- Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual.
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, angry, upset, worried, or scared.
- Having severe mood swings that cause problems in your relationships.
- Having thoughts and memories that you can’t get out of your head.
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true.
- Thinking of harming yourself or others.
- Not being able to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school.
How to maintain your mental health
Self-care is one of the main ways to improve a persons mental health. Self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. When it comes to your mental health, self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Even small acts of self-care in your daily life can have a big impact.
The NIMH offers several tips to help a person begin with their self-care routine:
- Regular exercise: Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.
- Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated: A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee.
- Aim for good-quality sleep: Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.
- Perform relaxing activities: Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy such as journaling.
- Practice gratefulness: People can practice mindfulness and gratitude by actively identifying things they are grateful for daily.
- Challenge negative thoughts: A person can practice positivity by becoming aware of their negative and unhelpful thoughts and challenging them.
- Look for positive social interactions: Connecting and maintaining meaningful connections and relationships reduces stress and can also be a source of support and practical help in times of need.
When to Seek Professional Help
Seek professional help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have lasted two weeks or more, such as:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
- Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of my mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
- Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities
What should I do if I think I have a mental health problem?
If you think that you may have a mental health problem, get help. Talk therapy and/or medicines can treat mental disorders. If you don’t know where to start, get in touch with us.
What to do in a Crisis
If you are struggling and have suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone and help is available. Please contact any one of the following organisations:
Suicide Crisis Text Line – 0477 13 11 14
For those who feel more comfortable with texting rather than talking to someone. Confidential one-to-one text with a trained Lifeline Crisis Supporter