According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being, 45% of the Australian population, age 16-85, have a mental illness at some stage in their lives.
In any one year, 20% of the population have a mental illness.
Mental health issues are very debilitating and cause huge amounts of suffering impacting many aspects of a person’s life, including their ability to work, parent their children, cook, maintain a house, take adequate self-care and get through normal activities of daily living. In extreme cases, some end their lives.
Anxiety disorders are amongst the most common mental illnesses accounting for 14% of Australians every year, and more than twice the rate of depressive disorders (6%) and substance abuse disorders (5%).
Anxiety disorders occur where the anxious symptoms become chronic, severe, upsetting and disrupt daily life. Generalised Anxiety Disorder is living with persistent and excessive worrying that something bad will happen, everyday and impedes functioning and relationships. Panic Disorder is living with the constant fear of having terrifying overwhelming panic attack and fear of losing control, of fainting or having a heart attack. Specific fears and phobias involve extreme anxiety of particular objects or situations, for example, fear of injections, fear of flying, fear of driving over the bridge or catching public transport. Also some have fears about health or Illness, and worry about having a serious medical condition. Social Phobia is the fear of negative judgement by others that leads many to avoid difficult social situations like giving presentations or attending work social events.
Adolescents are a particularly vulnerable group. The findings from 2016 Mission Australia Youth Mental Health report, found that just over one in four young people, aged 15-19, who responded to the survey met the criteria of having a probable serious mental illness. The top three concerns for youth were coping with stress, school or study problems and depression.
Yet despite the alarming levels of mental health issues in our community, the vast majority of people do not seek professional help. Only one in three women and one in six men seek professional help. Young people report turning to friends, parents and the internet for assistance.
Why do people not seek help? For some they do not realist that what they have is a mental health problem, others don’t know where to go to seek help and for others the stigma associated with mental health issues leads to shame and avoidance of seeing a Psychologist or Psychiatrist. There are also financial constraints, as there is usually a gap fee to see a GP to get a referral and to see a Psychologist or Psychiatrist.
What if you are reluctant to seek therapy?
Recognise that it is normal to have concerns. You may worry that therapy will make you feel uncomfortable or will not make you feel better. However you do not know this for sure. Therapy has helped many, many people and there is no evidence that it won’t help. In fact, many clients notice a decrease in symptoms within a few weeks of therapy, or even sooner and some choose to continue on their own. There is not right way. Consider treating going to therapy as an experiment to try. It is not necessary to make a commitment to further sessions. If it is not helpful you can stop. It would be a shame if you decided not to try when it could make a real difference in your life.
The role of medication?
Many clients attend therapy without medication. Some disorders, however, respond better to a combination of medication and therapy. If you are on medication, or would like to be on medication, you may want to discuss that with your therapist to consider whether or not to consult your GP or be referred to a Psychiatrist to ensure you are on the right kind of medication and dosage.
The concept of “recovery” in relation to mental illness does not simply mean that the person gets better and never has illness again. Some with simple or short term experiences of an illness recover with treatment while others who have complex issues and ongoing difficulties over years may have periods of wellness and periods of unwellness, and the focus is on management, learning to identify triggers, manage stress and apply skills to reduce symptoms. Many people live and work, and simultaneously experience mental illness.
Reliable sources of information on:
Suicide and self-harm
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Alcohol and other drugs