Common mental health conditions
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Mental Health is a general term that reflects our psychological and emotional well-being. The mental health continuum shows that our mental health can go up and down according to what is happening for us.
Mental health conditions sit in the “red zone” of the mental health continuum, and typically refer to specific mental health difficulties. These can take a range of forms, one condition can look different for different people. However, they tend to share some core features:
- They include either feelings, thoughts or behaviours that are hard to manage.
- These feelings, thought and behaviours impact on someone’s ability to live the life they would like for themselves.
- Difficulties show up in different aspects of someone’s life, such as their work, their relationships and their hobbies.
A range of factors can influence whether a person experiences a mental health condition. This can include their past experiences, especially any that were traumatic, their genetics, their current environment and their physical health. Importantly, mental health conditions are as much about your situation, context and social supports as any individual factors. This is important, because it’s possible to change your environment in order to improve your mental health.
Common mental health conditions
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Edition Five (DSM5) guides mental health practitioners in the diagnosis and understanding of mental health conditions. There are over 300 conditions in the DSM5, however the most common diagnoses fall into some key categories.
Mood disorders include persistent changes in one’s mood. Conditions in this category include major depression, bipolar disorder, and persistent depressive disorder. Commonly, such as in depression, this takes the form of extreme and persistent low mood or sadness. Mood disorders can also include an inability to feel anything, including joy or happiness, an experience known as anhedonia. Some conditions, such as bipolar disorder include significant episodes of very good mood that is often accompanied by reckless decision making.
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Anxiety conditions typically include fear or anxiety as a frequent or intense experience. Anxiety might be triggered by all sorts of things, such as phobias, agoraphobia, social anxiety, or panic disorder. A person affected by anxiety may stop doing things that are important to them, such as socialising, flying to travel or leaving the house, because of the anxiety they feel when they do. Typically these fears will be consistent and have been around for an extended period of time, i.e. 3 months.
Anxiety conditions can also include a persistent sense of general anxiety, often with physical signs, such as sweating and the shakes, and a tendency to worry about a wide range of things, sometimes to the extent that it’s difficult to focus or concentrate.
When people experience or witness intensely distressing or frightening experiences, these experiences can have an impact that lasts beyond the experience itself. If this is persistent, i.e. longer than a month, and it affects the person’s quality of life, they may be experiencing post-traumatic stress.
Post-traumatic stress can take a range of forms, including suddenly experiencing distressing memories or flashbacks, moments of intense anger, being easily startled, persistent negative thoughts about self and others and an intense desire to avoid things that remind them of the traumatic experience. Read more on recovering from trauma here.
Obsessive-compulsive conditions typically include consistent and repetitive thoughts, or obsessions. Often these obsessions are accompanied by a strong desire to engage in a specific behaviour, even when this is unhelpful or harmful. A common example are thoughts about being unclean, resulting in unnecessary hand-washing. Obsessive compulsive disorders can also include obsessive, acquisition, collecting or hoarding of objects.
Schizophrenia spectrum conditions
Schizophrenia and other related conditions usually include impaired perceptions of the world. This might include hallucinations that people see or hear, or it might include beliefs that don’t make sense or are notably different from reality, such as the belief that others are scheming against them or that a famous person is communicating directly to them through the television. It is important to remember that seeing or hearing people that have past, such as ancestors, is not necessarily related to mental health, and can be very appropriate to a person’s culture or background.
Autism spectrum conditions
Autism spectrum conditions relate to unique ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Everyone has a unique perspective and patterns of thought, however those at the clinical end of the autism spectrum often have persistent difficulty navigating social relationships, have very specific sets of interests, and are intensely uncomfortable with changes to routine or plans. Autism is typically a lifelong condition that first shows itself in toddlerhood.
Coping with a mental health condition
It is important to remember that there are treatments for all mental health conditions. It may take some time to find the one that works for you, and it might not eliminate the condition, but you may be able to live a full and rewarding life whilst managing it. The first step is seeing your GP or Medical Officer to talk through options.