Most of us know that mental health is one of the most pressing issues facing young people in Australia today. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44, proving that we still have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with mental health.
Mental health struggles seem to be less spoken about amongst men, and it can lead to repressed emotions and confusion.
In 2017, about 75% of Australians who died by suicide were males and 25% were females.
For many guys who don’t identify as ‘depressed’ it can be a real struggle to understand why they are feeling so mentally unwell. The truth is, mental illness is a spectrum of disorders that can affect anyone at any given time. It is much broader than depression.
Wait, so I can still have mental health issues even if I’m not depressed?
Mental health and mental illness have kind of become interchangeable as the world becomes more comfortable with talking about wellbeing, however they are not the same thing.
Talking about mental health often involves mental illness, as it can be a big contributor to poor mental health. However, mental health actually refers to the sum of a person's emotions, feelings, and thoughts and the way they’re able to manage them. You can totally have poor mental health and wellbeing without suffering from a mental illness.
A lot of people’s mental health is negatively impacted by mental illness, although that doesn’t always mean it is depression. Depression is probably the most spoken about and well-understood variety of mental illness, but there are many, many more.
The reason depression has grasped our attention more than other mental illnesses is probably due to the fact that it’s so common. The fact that it affects 300 million people worldwide means that almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from it.
If you’re feeling a little emotionally under the weather but don’t think it’s depression, there’s a good chance you could be suffering from one of the less common (but still pretty common) varieties of mental illness.
What you might not know about mental illness
Anxiety is more common than depression
Although we talk about depression a lot, anxiety is actually a much more commonly reported mental condition. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2014-5 there were 2.6 million Australians who reported having an anxiety condition, which is over 11% of the population. This condition is characterised by fear and nervousness and has many subsets such as OCD and PTSD.
Panic disorders affect 1-2% of the Australian and New Zealand population each year
Panic disorders differ from anxiety, however they are of the same ilk. Panic disorders are characterised by overwhelming emotions of fear and nervousness that can manifest in the form of panic attacks.
For people suffering from these disorders, panic attacks can affect their day to day lives and cause a lot of distress. Sometimes there is no obvious cause - there is just a build up of adrenaline and anxiety in the body that comes out, and sometimes there is a trigger cause like a medical condition, loss of a loved one, or financial stress.
Substance abuse is interlinked with poor mental health
Substance abuse is massively linked to mental health - being both a product of and a precursor to mental illness. Often the two can overlap, with substance abuse offering people the feeling of release from their mental stresses. Needless to say that substance abuse is never the answer, and often makes matters a lot worse. According to some statistics, those who use illegal drugs have much higher rates of mental illness than the rest of the population.
Mental health isn’t just about the mind
Mental health impacts physical health too. Studies have shown that mental health issues have a greater impact on men’s physical health, with the gap in life expectancy between men with mental disorders and the rest of the male population being 16 years according to research in Western Australia.
Mental health encompasses everything from our relationships, to the things we consume and the way we feel about ourselves. It’s important that we are able to manage it effectively and talk openly about mental health beyond just depression.