What is mental illness

Mental illnesses affect one in five Australians at any given time.  Mental illnesses are disorders that affect the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and interacts with others and the world. The prevalence of these disorders is only increasing; the World Health Organisation has projected depression will be one of the biggest health problems worldwide by 2020. 

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Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is an illness of the brain that causes intense psychotic episodes involving delusions and hallucinations, as well as longer periods of social withdrawal, reduced emotional expression and motivation and learning and memory disturbances. It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental insults to the brain which affect brain development. There is no cure. Current treatments are anti-psychotic drugs. These can provide benefits for the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, but provide no relief for symptoms associated with reduced motivation, emotional expression, memory, and learning deficits.

Major depression: an illness of the brain that is characterised by a persistent lowering of mood which may sometimes manifest as irritability in young people. Other symptoms include disturbed sleep, loss of motivation, changes in appetite and sexual interest, anxiety and impaired concentration. Both genetic and environmental factors (such as stress), have been associated with depression.  There is no cure. Current treatments are anti-depressant drugs and psychological therapy.

Anxiety disorders: are a group of brain disorders which present with persistent, excessive worry, feelings of panic, dread or fear. The anxiety may become so distressing that it interferes with a person’s ability to carry out or take pleasure in day-to day life. Anxiety is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic predispositions and strong environmental cues and triggers. There is no cure. Treatment is psychological therapy as well as antidepressant and anxiolytic drugs.

Bipolar disorder: an illness of the brain which is characterised by extreme moods of feeling very high and active or agitated with rapid thought (manic) or feeling very low (depressive). Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental insults to the brain that affect brain development. There is no cure. Treatment involves mood stabilising and antipsychotic medication, and psychological and lifestyle therapies.

Autism spectrum disorders: developmental disorders of the brain that affect the way an individual relates to their environment and their interaction with other people. The main symptoms include difficulties in social communication, social interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests. Other symptoms include unusual sensory interests (e.g. sniffing an object), sensory sensitivity (e.g. loud noises) and learning difficulties. There is no cure. Currents treatments involve behavioural support.  

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