If you feel you’re suffering from a mental health issue, you’re not alone. There are three main types of presentations psychologists commonly treat and, as this article will detail, these are widespread in the Australian community.
As the numbers below will indicate, experiencing a mental health issue or psychological distress from time to time is a very normal part of being human. And, often, it’s simply a matter of receiving temporary professional help from a psychologist to overcome your issue so you can get on with your life… just as you would from your doctor if you had a physical disease or impairment.
In this article, we’ll discuss three main categories of mental health issues (Anxiety, Mood Disorders and Substance Use) psychologists regularly treat and demonstrate just how common these are by referring to Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Hopefully, you’ll be comforted by learning you’re not alone and help is available.
According to ABS data, 44% of the population between 16 and 85 have experienced a mental disorder at some point in their lives. That’s around 8.6 million of us.
Additionally, the ABS estimates that 4.2 million Australians in the same age group experienced a mental disorder in the last year. To put this in another perspective, if you invite 9 friends around for a dinner party, statistically, 2 of you will have recently had a mental disorder.
Of the total collection of disorders the ABS collected information on, Anxiety Disorders made up the bulk with 3.3 million Australians affected by these. These include some very recognisable afflictions –
- Panic Disorder – These are repeated events of sudden sensations of intense anxiety, fear or terror that peak quickly. They may also be accompanied by breathlessness, chest pain, a pounding heart and thoughts of impending disaster. Sometimes these attacks lead to fears of being in the same place where they have happened previously so sufferers often avoid those places in the future.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder – This is a persistent and excessive worry about routine or unusual events. The key to identifying this disorder is that the level of anxiety is way out of proportion to the actual event you’re contemplating or experiencing. These events can affect how you feel physically and often happen with related anxiety disorders or depression.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – SAD is often described as feelings of embarrassment, concern about being negatively judged or heightened self-consciousness due to social situations. It may lead to fear and avoidance of social situations and outings, leading to feelings of isolation and the complications accompanying this.
- Phobia Related Disorders like Agoraphobia – Specifically, agoraphobia refers to a fear of places or situations that may cause you to panic, or feel trapped which invokes feelings of helplessness. This may be an elevator, a room without windows or even the wide open spaces that are common in the outback.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – This childhood condition can often be seen at the kindergarten gate as parents say goodbye to their 3-year-old children. It’s marked by anxiety that’s uncontrolled for the child’s level of development.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD may be found in people who have been involved in disturbing or shocking events. Sometimes they can relive these events in nightmares or flashbacks and this may cause sadness, fear, anger or feelings of detachment from others. Some professions (police, soldiers, paramedics, firefighters) are more prone to PTSD due to the increased likelihood of witnessing extremely shocking events.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD is an all-too-common, long-lasting condition where a person endures repeated thoughts and behaviours that cannot be controlled. This may result in constantly checking that something is in place or a cycle of thought patterns that can loop for hours at a time.
- Selective Mutism – Children with this issue shut down verbally in certain situations while they are normally talkative in other situations. For example, they may speak confidently at home but not utter a word at school.
Common Anxiety Symptoms
Below is a non-specific list of symptoms generally associated with anxiety. You may have experienced some concerning your anxiety issue while someone else with the same issue may experience a different set of these symptoms and to varying intensities. Before becoming overwhelmed by your symptoms, consider if seeking assistance is a good option for you. Common anxiety symptoms include –
- Difficulty controlling your thoughts and worries
- Nervousness, restlessness
- Increased heart rate
- Weakness, fatigue
- Trouble switching off to sleep
- Gut health issues
- Avoiding events or people that create anxiety
- A heightened sense of looming danger or panic
- Rapid breathing
If you’re suffering from a combination of these to the degree that you’re unable to complete your daily activities in a timely manner, perhaps seeing a psychologist for an exploratory session would be a good idea. At least then you’ll know and the comfort that provides will ease your burden. Statistically, 1 in 8 Australians has experienced anxiety-related mental health disorders which means many treatments have been developed to address them. Your psychologist will be able to match the best treatment to your specific circumstances.
Affective (Mood) Disorders
On top of Anxiety Disorders is another category called Affective Disorders. These are more commonly known as mood disorders and 8%, or around 1.7 million Australians suffer from these conditions which include –
- Depression – Depression comes in various shapes and sizes but is largely characterised by ongoing feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness. Depression is much more than a temporary sensation of feeling down. Its elongated symptoms can last days or weeks on end. There are several documented variants of depression.
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – Previously known as Clinical Depression. MDD includes persistent and chronic events of hopelessness, fatigue and low mood. It can be extremely debilitating to sufferers as it significantly upsets their ability to perform routine tasks due to the weightiness of their thoughts and moods.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder – Also known as Dysthymia, this is accompanied by a severe set of symptoms that are persistent for a minimum of 2 years. It’s extraordinarily upsetting for sufferers and their loved ones who helplessly witness these symptoms.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder – This form of depression is most commonly felt through the long winter months when sunlight is at its lowest ebb. Long hours of darkness can play with our mood and affect our ability and desire to function.
- Depression due to Medical Illness – Some medical conditions can carry an extraordinary psychological burden which may begin at the time of diagnosis and continue throughout the disease or occur at various random times after diagnosis. Consider how you might react after being diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
- Bipolar Disorder – There are different types of bipolar disorder and the common thread is extreme mood changes. These may transition from depression to mania and each episode may last for several days or weeks. It’s a very unpredictable condition which makes it difficult for sufferers and their loved ones to deal with. If you feel this may apply to you, be sure to make an appointment with a psychologist so your specific form of bipolar can be diagnosed and treated.
Common Affective Disorder Symptoms
The symptoms of bipolar and depression can vary widely in terms of severity and duration from person to person. The lists below are indicative only as individuals may experience combinations of these and others not mentioned.
- Elongated sadness
- Prolonged lethargy
- Feelings of apathy and futility
- Changes in sleeping and eating norms
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Uncharacteristic and chronic mood changes
- Irritability and anxiety
- Little interest in performing normal activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
- Heightened self-confidence and/or self-importance
- Delusions and hallucinations
If you are feeling you have an uncomfortable number of these symptoms and they are affecting your ability to function to your normal, healthy levels, consider booking an appointment for a conversation with a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to detect these symptoms and make a diagnosis before selecting the optimal therapy for the individual before them.
Substance Use Disorder
Finally, let’s consider Substance Use Disorder. This disorder affects a person’s brain and behaviour and may lead to a lack of control of their use of substances. These substances include alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, prescribed and over-the-counter medications. The most severe symptoms occur in people who become addicted to the substance they take and may result in a slavish dependence leading to crime and other antisocial behaviours.
The estimates cited by the ABS have a higher degree of error for this category but are a genuine cause for concern. Around 42% of Australians have experienced a Substance Use Disorder which may include –
- Alcohol Dependence – Alcohol dependence sees people prioritising drinking over other obligations or activities. As a result, work and family life may suffer and other harmful consequences may ensue such as liver disease, cognitive impairment and depression. Alcohol dependence indicators include a strong craving for it, and lack of consumption control and can lead to numerous social, professional and personal problems.
- Harmful Use of Alcohol – Over time, the harmful use of alcohol can lead to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems and a variety of cancers. Psychosocially, it can affect relationships, mobility, the ability to concentrate and other cognitive processes. Globally, it is among the leading risk factors for disease, disability and premature death.
- Drug Use Disorders – Mental disorders associated with chronic drug use include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, antisocial personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These can ruin the lives of sufferers and their loved ones. Help is available if you feel your drug use is becoming out of control or is out of control. We urge you not to delay seeking assistance so the damage can be minimised and, where possible, the symptoms reversed.
In a strange twist, these substance use issues are the only disorders of the total mentioned in this article which are dominated by males. Every one of the others is more common amongst females according to the ABS data.
Substance Use Disorder Symptoms
Below are some of the warning signs to look out for in yourself and those around you.
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in pupil diameter from their normal size
- Runny nose or sniffling
- Mental haze or incoherence
- Sudden highs and lows in mood
- Missing deadlines
- Alterations in sleep and eating patterns
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Tremors, slurred speech or reduced physical coordination
- Poor personal grooming habits and a deterioration in appearance
Help is available if you feel your substance use is ruling your world. Psychologists are non-judgemental and highly skilled at working out solutions for substance overuse problems. In some cases, they will work in tandem with your GP to ensure the best medical care can be supplied in concert with the best psychological care.
Perhaps there are two simple rules of thumb to apply when trying to decide if seeing a psychologist is right for your circumstances…
- Are your present difficulties affecting your ability to perform your daily tasks to the point where something needs to change?
- Are you ready to remove your armour and have a discussion with a trained professional who knows how to help you make the change you want?
Experiencing mental health issues is part and parcel of being human. We are all susceptible to them from time to time due to so many of life’s pressures and events that are out of our control.
One of the most common sticking points people feel before approaching a psychologist for mental health assistance is the fear they associate with deciding to do it. You see, the admission to yourself that your life has reached such a low point creates an enormous burden for some of us. Paradoxically, it’s also the first step to achieving enormous relief.
A better day does exist. When you’re ready to live it, feel free to call us on 1300224665.