About mental illness


A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves.

One in five people will suffer a mental health problem or illness at some point in their lives. This can interfere with the affected person’s relationships, their work and their enjoyment of life.

Mental illness also contributes to social problems such as substance misuse, violence and crime, absenteeism from work, family and relationship troubles and physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.

As with physical illness, mental illness comes in different forms. The most common types of mental illness in Australia are anxiety disorders and depression.

Psychotic disorders are a less common severe type of mental illness and include, for example, schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. Having a mental illness can be difficult for both the affected person and their family and it is not something to be ashamed of.

Specific groups in the community may be more at risk of mental illness. These include:

  • Indigenous Australians
  • Those who have experiences generational trauma and abuse
  • People who are homeless
  • Children living in families with severe mental illness
  • People from culturally and linguistically diverse communities
  • Offenders and their families
  • Youth
  • The elderly
  • People with personality disorders

Mental illness itself is not life threatening. However, up to 15 percent of those seriously affected by mental illness eventually die by suicide. Sadly, more Australians die each year as a result of self-inflicted harm than through motor vehicle accidents and homicide combined. Effective, ongoing treatment is essential to minimise the risk of suicide.

If you need support or information about suicide prevention contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263). If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, consult your GP for more information on treatment options.

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