Mental Illness


Mental Illness and Mental Health may be thought of as points on a continuum; at the centre of which are Mental Health Problems and Issues.  This continuum applies to each and everyone of us.  It is therefore important to define what is meant by each of these terms.

  • Mental Health is a state of well being resulting in productive activities (work and Play), fulfilling relationships and the ability to adapt/cope with adversity
  • Mental Health Problems, issues and situations or developmental conditions cause short/long term distress and/or impair functioning
  • Mental Illness is a condition that significantly impairs a person’s thinking, feelings and behaviour and interactions with others.   These tend to lead to more severe, long term distresses and seriously impaired functioning (delusion and/or hallucinations).  These are serious disorders of thought and disturbances of mood    

This is an extremely broad and complex subject, central to Tier 2 in our Framework for Life (F4L).  Unlike Tier 1 where physical health illnesses (problems and issues) are better understood and accepted, Tiers 2 mental illnesses have a distinct social stigma associated with them; being less well understood and, being of the mind, far more complex.   Our Tier 1 physical brain is the entry point to our Tier 2 realms of the mind (discussed at length in the F4L material on Tier 2).  What adds to the complexity is that we humans are of 3 very distinct and conflicting minds:-

  1. Our Sub-conscious mind
  2. Our Conscious mind and
  3. Our Unconscious mind

All of which need to collaborate and work together in determining our current state of mind.  All of which keeps changing over our entire life span.

One in five (20%) adult Australians have experienced some form of mental illness in the past 12 months. Just under 50% of Australians will experience mental illness in their lifetime.  The causes of mental illness many and varies and further complicated by the interplay between genetics, personality and life experiences. Some of the more common causes of mental illness include:-

  • Genetics (it can run in the family)
  • Medical conditions
  • Adverse life events
  • Biological change in neurotransmitter levels in the brain
  • Lack of meaning to life
  • Personality traits (communication styles, problem solving skills, self esteem and internal self-talk)
  • Drug and alcohol use (addictions may trigger or worsen it) 
  • Stress
  • Diet, nutrient deficiencies, lack of sleep, inactivity

Rarely is there one single factor.  That is what makes the treatment of mental illness so much more complex than dealing with physical illnesses.  In fact compared to physical illness, solutions to mental illness are barely in their infancy.

Some of the recognised forms of mental illness include:-

  • Unhealthy Stress – inability to deal with the pressures of life
  • Depression – being overly concerned about the past (20% experince it in their lifetime)
  • Anxiety – being overly concerned about the future (14% of population experience it each year)
  • Dementia – progressive decline in functional thinking (60% of those aged over 65 years)
  • Schizophrenia – disorganised thinking (1% of population)
  • Bi-Polar – extreme fluctuations in mood swings (2% of population)

There is no cure for mental illness but it can be managed well and people with it can normally lead productive and meaningful lives. The most regressive aspect of mental illness is the stigma associated with the stereotyping of such people as being crazy, nuts, mad, looney, psycho, idiot, schizo, etc.  

Our Health systems are struggling to cope, especially with untreated mental health conditions (like depression and anxiety).   The costs of these untreated mental health issues are estimated to be in the order of $11 billion each year in Australia.  For depression alone, 6 million work days are lost, with more than 3 million Australians suffering from various forms of disabling stress, worry, anxiety, low mood and depression.   One of the principles causes is the untreated mentally ill worrying about things outside their control.

Treating chronic diseases costs more than $155 billion per year in Australia, about 9% of GDP.   This is the second largest burden on society, after cardiovascular disease.   The cost of treating mental illness is larger than respiratory and cancer.    Mental health claims are growing at the rate of 15% each year, as health professional become better trained in identifying the many and varied forms of mental health prevalent across society. These include illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, pain management, post natal depression and anger management.   

Most of the treaters of mental health issues and support staff come from allied health fields, often requiring over 12 months intensive training.   They usually have to be supervised remotely by trained clinicians who scan their transcripts on patients as part of their coaching sessions, paying particular attention for acute symptoms that may be signs of suicidal tendencies.  

Clearly much more is required on this subject to do justice to the social problems and person issues mental illness gives rise to (both the affected and the ignorant). 

Technology helping Youth Mental Illness

While many Information Technology (IT) games and widgets are geared towards taking people’s mind off their real problems by promoting, narcissistic behaviour, consumerism and making money, there are a few examples where IT computer games have been able to help address mental illness; especially wellness for children and our youth.  Created in Australia by ReachOut a game called “Orb” has been developed to tackle negative thinking habits in high school students.   Youth begin using Orb by creating an “avatar” that travels through a digital world (know as Orb) that has been taken over by The Glitch (a negative force).  In the game school children encounter different characters who have been overcome by negativity and each has their own struggle; some have lost family members, some need to start exercising, etc.  The only way to move forward in the game is through engaging in positive thinking and communication.  The game is designed to change a person’s mood in encouraging the user to become open to new things.   Dr. Bulhagiar, a directory at ReachOut, explains that the game is designed to encourage positive psychology principles, like creating meaning in life, building constructive relationships and developing resilience to negative thinking.  “We’re trying to help them be the best they can be”.  “Digital is definitely a positive way to get students thinking about mental health”.  

While the use of computer games have become part of the problem of mental illness and addiction, games such as Orb can become part of the solution to youth mental illness.  

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