Mental Health

What is it?

The topic of mental health is becoming a frequent part of everyday conversation. This is not surprising as more than three million people in Australia live with anxiety or depression.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.2 In this context, mental health is concerned with our well-being. Yet it is typically associated with a range of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and post- traumatic stress.

Good mental health is associated with increased attention, learning, productivity, positive social relationships along with improved physical health and life expectancy. In contrast, low levels of mental health have an impact on quality of life and daily functioning. It can result in feelings of distress, loneliness, poor physical health, a range of mental health conditions, the ability to work/ study and even suicide.

Mental health problems often go unseen. On the surface, people may appear to have high levels of mental well-being but the reality may be very different. While general discussion about mental health is increasing, it remains a difficult topic for some people to talk about.

Warning signs

Mental health is highly individual. One of the reasons for this is that people have different coping thresholds and tipping points. This, along with the wide range of diagnosable mental health conditions, can make it hard to identify whena mental health concern becomes something more serious. People often attribute the way they’re feeling to the stressors of life and think they’ll simply get over it. In doing so, they neglect some of the key

A noticeable change in behaviour – something out of character – can often be a sign that something is wrong

warning signs. Ingeneral, a mental health condition affects a person’s mood, thinking and behaviour. More specifically, it causes distress and affects a person’s ability to function.

A noticeable change in behaviour – something out of character – can often be a sign that something is wrong. Other general symptoms may include feeling down/sad, having trouble concentrating, excessive fears/ worries, extreme mood changes, social isolation (avoiding people), fatigue, low energy, delusions, paranoia, excessive alcohol, changes in eating habits and excessive anger/hostility.

Sometimes a mental health condition may present itself through physical symptoms like an upset stomach, headache, back pain or other unexplained symptoms.

Risk factors

There are many determinants of mental health including genetic, social and environmental factors.

As with other health-related conditions, age can be a factor (i.e. some conditions are more commonly identified in adolescence or early adulthood) but it’s possible to experience a mental health condition at any age. Often this can be the result of experiencing trauma or stress. These days, stressful life events (such as death of a loved one, divorce, job loss or homelessness) are a common trigger.

Genetic or physical risk factors include having a blood relative with a mental health condition, an ongoing health condition like diabetes or obesity, or brain damage as a result of serious injury. Exposure to environmental hazards is another contributing risk factor. Social factors include quality of social relationships, social isolation, ability to work or study and financial distress. Certain personality traits are also associated with an increased mental health risk.

In addition, lifestyle factors can play a significant role in mental health. It’s worth knowing that an unhealthy diet has poor outcomes for mental health. In fact some nutritional deficiencies mimic certain mental health symptoms and are often quite easily fixed. Being overweight or obese is associated with depression. The use of alcohol or drugs may be intended to alleviate mental health symptoms but can make them worse.

Mental health symptoms should not be ignored. If not addressed, symptoms may escalate over time and have wider quality of life implications. Getting help can be a difficult, but necessary step to take.


Protect yourself: Minimise risk

Protecting your mental health is multifaceted. It sounds obvious but you need to take good care of yourself. Below are some tips to boost mental health:

  1. Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and spend time with
  2. Take steps to address stress. This includes making time for activities you enjoy. There is growing evidence that exercise, mindfulness and meditation are good for mental
  3. Access free support services such as Alternatively speak to your doctor who will be able to recommend a range of options or next steps.
  4. Knowing your risk, consider whether you have adequate insurance (e.g., life, trauma, total & permanent disability, income protection) to protect what you value most in