What Is Mental Health?
Mental health and Mental ill-health are increasingly being used interchangeably, despite meaning vastly different things.
Everyone has mental health, just as everyone has health. Mental ill-health, is the condition in which one’s mind is influenced both physiologically and emotionally. To the extent that it interferes with a person’s cognitive, emotional and social abilities. Just like good mental health doesn’t ensure the absence of symptoms, Mental ill-health isn’t a perpetual state of everyday life. These symptoms often resolve with time, or as the person’s situation changes. When mental ill-health persists, however, it can lead to a number of mental illnesses, these include but are not limited to; Depression, Anxiety, Trauma/PTSD and Addiction.
The presence of one or more of these illnesses can lead to prolonged changes in a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This ineffable state of being, that feels like it can’t be adequately described, can come into fruition at any stage of a person’s life. It can be the byproduct of a traumatic event or have no root cause at all.
It is this gradual or sudden ill- health, that is thought to arise from the interaction of genetic vulnerability and stresses in life (Headspace).
This vulnerability-stress model accommodates for varying intensities of mental ill-health, or condition. And may be brought on by the level of ‘stress’ we experience. An encompassing term, for the degree of possible exposure a person has to a ‘trigger’. These ‘triggers’, or external pressures vary from; viruses in the womb, through to early childhood experiences, later drug use, or a highly distressing event.
In the course of a lifetime, not all people will experience a mental condition, but most will struggle or have challenges with their mental health. This means that mental health and mental illness are two dimensions that can exist independently of each other (Psychology Today). You can thus have low mental health without having a mental condition, and could, at any time, represent two different points on the dimensions. Furthermore, our state on either dimension is fluid and not static – changing based on our circumstances.
The most important aspect of this difference, is recognising when someone does have a mental condition, and taking the corrective steps to improve their well-being. Comprehensively understanding mental illness is thus the first stage in discovering how beneficial help can be to an individual.
Understanding Mental Illness
The difference between mental illness and mental ill-health is the severity by which the person is effected, and the degree to which it is diagnosed. Mental conditions vary in how long they effect people; sometimes a single episode, sometimes a lifelong condition. They also vary in severity; sometimes transitory, sometimes causing physiological disability requiring long term support (SANE). Regardless of these two factors, the earlier the individual can seek help, the more beneficial for long-term recovery.
It is also important to note that while mental ill-health is debilitating, mental conditions have a far larger area of effect on the person’s everyday life. This is apparent before an individual seeks help – often through isolation or dependence. And once an individual seeks improvement – through realising and committing to combat nuances in their life that have been effected. This area of effect can also impact friends and family.
Often, the support system around these people deteriorates as the condition worsens. This can lead to a compounding decline in mental health.
The conditions that mental conditions encompass, can significantly affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people – with each condition varying from the next. It is important to understand the symptoms of each condition – for yourself or a loved one – prior to seeking help. This can greatly increase the base amount of care that someone receives, if they ever become detached or have just experienced a traumatic event.
The most common mental conditions, covered below, allude to the intense and often debilitating nature of ‘sickness’ within the mind. Explained is the way that sickness effects both psychological and physiological properties within victims. Often disrupting normal rhythms of the mind, and supplanting everyday tasks with strenuous activities. This, coupled with the
non-physical state associated with mental illness, means that any awareness is vital.
Depression is a phenomenological condition that is the result of a genetic vulnerability, usually caused when a combination of recent events and other longer-term or personal factors are met with triggering circumstances.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality. Depression is a condition that seeps away vitality, when conducting simple tasks through to experiencing inescapable moments of anguish. It can be the gripping sensation of not being able to do anything because it may be too strenuous, or just simply because you can’t bear the thought of doing it.
Hard to interpret and even harder to articulate, this mental condition alters the mind and often defines who people are.
Andrew Solomon expresses this in his TED Talk ‘Depression, the secret we share’ by referring to depression as a “lifted veil” – an awful sense of clarity, can cause an ensuing flood of despair. Furthermore, Black dog institute states that individuals may be having thoughts such as, ‘my problems are too difficult to solve’ or ‘it’s all my fault’. To which they say, there is a different route to recovery for everyone along the journey – one must willing though, to always keep in their mind what they are working towards.
Currently 3 million Australians are living with anxiety or depression in 2019 (reachout.com). A vicious cycle of repetitive sadness that disables individuals from connecting with the broader community around them. With almost one in every seven Australians effected by varying degrees of depression, there is a high chance that someone you know or are close with, suffers from the condition.
It is thus paramount to be able to recognise symptoms in someone else – or even yourself – for the individual to fight it early. These symptoms include (Beyond blue):
Anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, constant stress or sadness.
Agitation, excessive crying, irritability, restlessness, or social isolation
early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep Whole body:
excessive hunger, fatigue, or loss of appetite
Lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicide
When any of these symptoms persist for 2 weeks or more, it is important to seek a mental health professional. If you think that you or someone you know may be experiencing depression, completing the Beyond Blue checklist is a quick, easy and confidential way to give you more insight (Beyond Blue)
An anxiety disorder is a medical condition characterised by persistent, excessive, and sometimes overwhelming worry. When left unchecked, anxiety disorders can take multiple forms, and can amalgamate into depression, addiction or other mental conditions. A person may experience more than one anxiety disorder at a time – often having symptoms for other illnesses simultaneously – as it often latches onto a ‘crutch’ or form of harmful support. This can lead to experiences with depression mixed with anxiety, or use of alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
1 in every 14 people in Australia are effected by Anxiety.
Anxiety’s conditions often have a neglected requirement of high mental health services, with very few people who often need treatment actually receiving it. With the effects of anxiety often leading to hardship within employment, relationship breakdowns or depletion of focus, one’s mental state often requires direct and purposeful treatment to heal over time.
Below are the most common disorders that can be attributed to anxiety. While they vary, positive reinforcement of progress is key:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterised by persistent worry that the person realises is excessive or unrealistic. It can be about almost anything – money, work, mental health, relationships or being harmed.
Panic disorder involves frequent sudden attacks of intense fear (panic attacks). These may occur when a person feels ‘trapped’. They may even feel as if they are about to die.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder involves intense anxiety associated with social situations. This characteristically influences how often a person interacts with others. There is an intense fear of embarrassing oneself in public or being scrutinised by others.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
OCD is the occurrence of intrusive thoughts about unpleasant occurrences. OCD is highly distressing for the person experiencing it and for those who care about them.
Phobias are intense, irrational fears about specific objects or situations. Examples include; a fear of heights, storms, dogs, enclosed spaces, snakes or spiders, where the danger is greatly overestimated.
In her talk “How to cope with anxiety”, Olivia Remes of the University of Cambridge shares her vision on how to treat and manage this mental health condition. She claims that anxiety is often swept under the rug and neglected as a source of weakness. And because most are unaware of what an anxiety condition is, individuals might be conducting everyday tasks, but doing so with an overwhelming fear of failure.
Many believe that It’s natural to worry during the stressful times we all experience from time to time in life. Someone with an anxiety or related disorder feels excessively and persistently anxious in a way not keeping with the situation they are in.
Understanding how anxiety disorders ‘work’ then, is an important first step in taking control of the condition and getting better. Anxiety disorders are thought to be caused by inherent genetic vulnerabilities to develop an anxiety disorder. Further inherited personality traits and responses to stressful life events, may trigger the condition or make it worse.
Common stressful life events include (SANE):
Being in an unpredictable new situation such as a change of workplace. break-up of a relationship.
Experiencing the death of somebody close.
Financial or work problems.
Experiences during early childhood.
Excessive drug or alcohol use
Physical health problems.
Conditioning for an anxiety disorder doesn’t just deal with immediate symptoms, and can involve psychotherapy, medication or retreat conditioning. It also helps tackle the triggers for symptoms and other contributing factors. You can learn to control anxiety so its effect on your life are reduced or even eliminated. The first step is acknowledgement.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reaction that can develop in people who have experienced a traumatic event. This event threatened their life, safety, or sanctity or that of others around them. This could be a car or other serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or disasters such as bushfires or floods. As a result, the person
experiences feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror – with little respite when feelings of remission occur (Beyond Blue).
25% of people develop PTSD when exposed to traumatic events.
Traumatic events are not limited to violence or direct trauma. E.g. the death of a loved one can also lead to PTSD. People with PTSD live with a mental condition triggered by memories that dictate their behaviour. Without the proper treatment, sufferers of PTSD experience the effects of a treatable condition, not weakness.
Effects are the intense recollection of specific memories, often linked with certain visual, oral or audible triggers. These triggers might activate intermittently or consistently – interfering with the individual’s ability to carry on with menial tasks, work and relationships.
PTSD is identified by four main symptoms (NHS UK):
Flashbacks of the traumatic event through intrusive memories or nightmares – often leading to physical symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic attacks.
Feeling emotionally numb or disassociation from events that are unfolding.
Feeling anxious and ‘jumpy’ for no direct reason, with Heightened vigilance correlated with the experience.
Avoiding reminders of the event – whereby the person deliberately avoids actions or objects that might incur a sensory trigger.
Many people experience some of the symptoms of PTSD soon after a traumatic event, but over time recover on their own. Hence, treatment does not usually start until a few weeks after a traumatic experience. However, getting help early can quicken recovery. During recovery, individual’s learn to manage their response in unavoidable situations that previously would have triggered flashbacks. It is a process that involves overcoming one’s fears, like any mental condition, while facing such experiences with anticipation of conditioning.
Addiction can directly cause or result from mental health conditions that incur drug or alcohol addiction. One that is too difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs can be a direct result of any of the above mental conditions. With repeated drug use, often leading to irreparable physical alterations that challenge an addicted person’s self-control. This can further interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to consume substances.
Alcohol and drug addiction can eventually lead to a drug-induced Phycological illness. Which when combined with a natural predisposition to a psychotic illness, may trigger the first episode in what can be a lifelong mental condition. Using drugs or alcohol as a crutch can also make the symptoms of mental conditions worse and make treatment less effective.
People with a mental health condition experience addiction problems at far higher rates than the general community.
Those with mental conditions are 50% more likely to struggle with a drug or alcohol problem (lifeline).
Whether you, or someone you know is struggling with addiction or coping with relapse, a support system must be established before any permanent damage is incurred. There are a number of ways that you can go about getting help for addiction or substance abuse (Drugabuse.gov):
The person undertakes detoxification processes. Predominantly run at residential centres or in community circles, this treatment requires commitment to program steps.
Sharing experiences and providing support for each other can be a good way of finding ways of dealing with drug use.
First, Information is power. Understanding what causes you to take drugs, as well as the effect they will have on your mind and body, can help you decide what to do about your drug use. Coming to the realisation or knowing whether your alcohol and/or drug use is influencing yourself, or effecting those around you, can be even more difficult if you have a mental condition. It becomes harder to know whether what you are feeling is a result of your mental condition or drug taking.
Below are some thoughts you might have as to whether your drug use may be becoming a problem:
I often feel that I must have alcohol or the drug.
A lot of what I do during the day revolves around substance taking.
I would rather spend money on alcohol or drugs than pretty much anything else.
I need alcohol or drugs to get through a tough situation.
These days I need to use more alcohol or drugs to get the same effect.
I feel guilty about how much I use alcohol or drugs.
People make comments about how much I drink, smoke or use street drugs.
Alcohol and drugs can trigger symptoms and even contribute to causing a mental condition. Conditions can also make it more likely for you to develop an addiction. The combination of alcohol and drug problems and mental conditions a dangerous one. Serious repercussions for yourself or those around you can result from misuse of substances, with dependency often attributed to a mental health imbalance.
The Different Types of Help & Recovery
Making an informed decision when seeking help for any mental condition, means understanding the different methods of recovery. Varying types of conditioning will vastly improve the path you or a loved one takes. This can mean relapse and recovery for the individual, but also the formation of a goal that remains consistent.
The journey towards this goal can take the shape of numerous treatments and therapies mentioned below.
Residential Mental Health Treatments
Designed exclusively to fully immerse the individual, retreat based programs limit distractions while providing holistic support to each guest. For the duration of an individual’s stay – usually two-five weeks – treatment involves a combination of: mental/emotional therapy, physical/flexibility, and relaxation/detoxification.
Conducted by highly trained staff – including support staff and psychologists – retreats focus on both mind and body, to achieve total health. This further encourages lasting positive change.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches, emphasise that an individual’s cognitions play a significant role in the development and maintenance of emotional and behavioural responses to life situations (SAGE). Often used to treat PTSD, CBT models focus on the form of meanings, judgments, appraisals, and assumptions associated with specific life events. This method of treatment assumes cognitive processes are known by oneself. Our thinking determines how we respond to environmental cues, and cognitions can be targeted, modified and changed.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy. It stems from traditional behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. Clients learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions. Instead, they learn to accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations. And that they should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives. With this understanding, clients begin to accept their issues and hardships and commit to making necessary changes in their behaviour. This is present with however the individual feels during a given situation.
Gestalt therapy is a experiential approach, that helps individuals focus on the present. This help to understand what is currently occurring, rather than what they may perceive to be happening. It claims that current perceptions are reflective of past situations. Clients are encouraged to experience memories, through re-enactment within a safe environment (Psychology Today). Through the gestalt process, clients learn to become more aware of how their own negative thought patterns, and how behaviours are blocking true self-awareness and making them unhappy.
Schema therapy seeks to address enduring maldaptive themes that develop during childhood or early in one’s life. Schemas are deep unconditional beliefs about oneself, one’s relationship to others and one’s relationship to the wider environment (SCMTherapy). Schema Therapy has found to be clinically effective in forensic populations, addictions, eating disorders and other chronic psychiatric conditions. It involves an assessment phase, emotional awareness and experiential phase, and behavioural change stage.
Motivational interviewing is a counselling process that helps people resolve negative feelings and insecurities. It seeks to find the
internal motivation they need to change their behaviour. Motivational Interviewing is a practical, empathetic, and short-term process. The system takes into consideration how difficult it is to make life changes. Often used to address addiction, it prepares individuals to enact the change necessary within other treatments.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a short-term form of therapy that focuses on adult relationships and attachment/bonding. The therapist and clients look at patterns in certain relationships close to the individual. The process then creates a more secure bond – to develop more trust and move each relationship towards a healthier, more positive outcome.
Arts and Creative Therapies
Qualified psychologist sessions continue via phone for up to 3 months after you have left the residential part of your program. These go over what you have learnt and make sure you are applying it for maximum effect once you return home. This solidifies your mental health and thinking patterns to supports them. All whilst they become a permanent neural network in the brain so that you become more and more competent dealing with stress and emotion.
Verdant forests sweep tranquil mountain settings that surround our Sunshine Coast Hinterland. Cozy accommodation and supportive staff, further complete our luxurious retreat. Helping to regain guest’s inner strength, while letting go of negative energy.
While no one knows what it’s like to be you, each individual’s stay is uniquely tailored to their needs. Immersed in a tranquil, inclusive environment, you’ll be provided the basics to rebuild a healthy form of confidence and fulfilment.
Learn more below about how you or a loved one can start your recovery journey today.