Frequently Asked Questions
- What is mental health or a mental health episode?
- What is a mental health episode?
- How common are mental health disorders?
- Would you say that everyone who dies by suicide had a drug and or alcohol problem?
- Who can get depression or anxiety?
- What is the difference between depression and anxiety?
- Are bi polar and anorexia mental health conditions?
- Do you think medication should be prescribed for everyone struggling or are there alternatives? Please list them if there are….
- Have you personally seen an increase in any conditions that could lead to suicide during Covid?
- Has suicide increased during Covid?
What is mental health or a mental health episode?
- It can get a bit confusing with all of the different terms for mental health.
- People often say “mental health” to mean mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
- However, The World Health Organisation’s definition of “mental health” is actually the opposite – it focuses on a person’s sense of wellbeing, coping with normal life stresses, being productive and contributing to their community.
- I like to use the term mental wellbeing, to focus on living life well.
- And just like physical wellbeing, everyone has mental wellbeing and can do things to look after themselves. In fact, for me, mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing. Interestingly, many of the things we do to keep physically well, like eating healthily, exercising, and sleeping well, can also help us to keep mentally well.
What is a mental health episode?
- A mental health episode happens when a person experiences a mental health disorder over a period of time.
- For example, people who experience depression may be well for some time and then experience a period or episode of depression where they find functioning in daily life really difficult.
- Another area where you might hear the word “episode” is when a person is experiencing a psychotic episode. Psychosis affects a person’s ability to distinguish what is real and what is not real, like seeing or hearing things that other people do not see or hear. Generally, the symptoms of a psychosis occur as an episode and medication and treatment can relieve or even eliminate these symptoms.
How common are mental health disorders?
One in five people in Australia will experience a mental health disorder each year. So if we think about it, for every five people you know, one may have experienced a mental health disorder in the last 12 months. In a room of 30 people, it is likely that about 6 of those people have experienced mental ill-health.
Would you say that everyone who dies by suicide had a drug and or alcohol problem?
- No, not everyone who dies by suicide has a drug or alcohol problem.
- The relationship between drug and alcohol use, mental health and suicidal behaviour is a complex one.
- We do know that there is sometimes an increase in alcohol and other drug use in the period before a person dies by suicide. Western Australia data from the Coroner’s Database indicates that nearly a third of males and a quarter of females had alcohol and other drug use issues noted in the three months prior to their death. On the other hand, two thirds of males and three quarters of females did not have drug or alcohol issues noted in the three months prior to their deaths. We need to be really careful when we look at statistics and try not to generalise them to everyone.
- Alcohol and other drugs are sometimes used by people to temporarily feel better when they are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. In the long-term, over-use of alcohol and other drugs can actually make mental health issues worse, which could lead to an increase risk of suicide.
Who can get depression or anxiety?
Anyone can experience depression or anxiety at any age. If there is a family history of depression and / or anxiety, a person might be at increased risk of experiencing depression or anxiety. We need to remember though that a risk factor such as family history does not mean that a person will definitely experience depression or anxiety. There are many factors involved in mental health and each person’s situation is individual to them.
What is the difference between depression and anxiety?
Depression and anxiety are very different and some people actually experience both.
- Depressive disorders is an umbrella term for a number of different disorders, which differ in duration, timing or cause. They all significantly impact on the person’s ability to function.
- There are three areas that we notice changes when a person is experiencing a depressive disorder – physical changes, changes in how they feel, and changes in how they think
Changes in how a person feels may include:
- Prolonged feelings of sadness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling empty
- Feeling more irritable
The physical changes may include:
- changes in appetite (either loss of appetite or overeating) and/or weight loss or weight gain
- changes in sleep (poor sleep or oversleeping)
- decrease in energy levels and fatigue
The changes in thinking may include:
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty making decisions
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Low self-esteem
- Thoughts of death, thoughts of suicide, and/or suicide attempts
- Everyone feels unhappy at times in their lives. When these feelings stick around for long periods, and the changes I’ve just mentioned really impact on a person’s ability to function in their lives, then we might consider that they are experiencing one of the depressive disorder.
- Anxiety Disorders include different disorders that all involve excessive fear and anxiety.
- Again, we need to remember that everyone feels fear and anxiety at different times. It is part of what makes us human, in how we have evolved to keep aware of potential threats in our environment. However, when the fear and/or anxiety persists over a long period (usually more than 6 months) and is not what would be expected for the age of the person, then they might be experiencing an anxiety disorder.
- The anxiety disorders vary based on what is causing the fear or anxiety and the changes in thinking that can go along with that.
- Some examples of the different anxiety disorders are:
Specific phobia is when a person is fearful or anxious about a certain object or situation, like a fear of flying, a fear of a particular animal, or a fear of a particular situation. The person may actively avoid the object or situation. The level of fear or anxiety is persistent and out of proportion to the actual risk posed.
- Social anxiety is when a person is fearful or anxious about social situations that might involve being scrutinised or judged by others. A common example would be meeting unfamiliar people. The person may also actively avoid these situations. The focus of the person’s thinking is that they will be negatively evaluated by others, embarrassed, humiliated or rejected by others.
- Panic Disorder occurs when a person has recurrent unexpected panic attacks and is constantly worried about having more panic attacks. Again, the person might avoid certain situations or locations which causes issues for their everyday functioning.
- Panic attacks occur when there is a surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within a few minutes and is accompanied by physical changes and changes in thinking.
- Agoraphobia is when a person is fearful and anxious about situations involving being in public. The situations almost always bring on the fear or anxiety and the situations are often avoided and require someone else who they trust to be with them.
- Generalised anxiety disorder involves persistent and excessive worry and anxiety about many areas, which the person finds difficult to control. There are also physical changes that occur with the worry.
Are bi polar and anorexia mental health conditions?
- Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depression is a mood disorder where a person experiences both manic episodes and depressive episodes at different times in their life.
- A manic episode is when a person has abnormally elevated or irritable mood with a significant increase in energy or activity. At the same time, there are physical changes and changes in thinking which may include a decreased need for sleep, being more talkative than normal, feeling that their thoughts are racing, increase distractibility or involvement in activities that can result in negative consequences (e.g., shopping sprees).
- A depressive episode is the same as what I talked about earlier where there are physical changes and changes in how the person feels and thinks.
- Anorexia Nervosa is one of the Eating Disorders, along with Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder.
- Anorexia is when a person deliberately decrease their food intake leading to a significantly low body weight.
- People with Anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight, and see their body shape and weight differently to how others see it.
- Do you think medication should be prescribed for everyone struggling or are there alternatives? Please list them if there are….
As a Psychologist, I am not medically trained, and do not prescribe medication. Therefore, I am not able to talk specifically about medications for different mental health disorders. Psychologists work with people through talking therapy. However I can say that in my experience if a person is experiencing very severe symptoms, then talking therapy can be too much for them to cope with and being prescribed appropriate medication by their GP can give them some relief from their symptoms, which can then help them to be able to engage in talking therapy.
Do you think medication should be prescribed for everyone struggling or are there alternatives? Please list them if there are….
As a Psychologist, I am not medically trained, and do not prescribe medication. Therefore, I am not able to talk specifically about medications for different mental health disorders. Psychologists work with people through talking therapy.
However I can say that in my experience if a person is experiencing very severe symptoms, then talking therapy can be too much for them to cope with and being prescribed appropriate medication by their GP can give them some relief from their symptoms, which can then help them to be able to engage in talking therapy.
Have you personally seen an increase in any conditions that could lead to suicide during Covid?
There has certainly been an increase in anxiety and fear across the world in 2020, along with high levels of grief and loss in countries with high COVID death rates. We have been relatively untouched by COVID in Australia, but it is my sense that Australians are still experiencing high rates of stress and distress as we watch on helplessly as the rest of the world continues to suffer. Some parts of Australia are continuing to experience lockdowns and self-isolation periods. As we are still in the midst of this global pandemic, many of us will be feeling stressed and anxious about what might happen next.
As a result, there has been an increase in people experiencing mental health issues and there has been an increase in people accessing psychologists across Perth. I see this as a positive, in that people are accessing supports and talking about their distress. I think COVID brought with it an increase in people’s openness to talk about their stresses and a greater acceptance for people to listen and support their friends and families. People may have started looking out for elderly neighbours, for example, or checking in on family that they know are in lockdown.
Has suicide increased during Covid?
The official statistics for suicide rates for 2020 in Australia have not been released yet. However, some interesting information is coming from New South Wales, who started a Suicide Monitoring and Data Management System this year. They use data collected from NSW Police and the State Coroner to estimate the number of recent suspected and confirmed suicides. They recently published their data for 2020, which showed that suicides in NSW had fallen by 5%
This is very interesting given the predictions that suicide would significantly increase in 2020. This prediction was based partly on real data showing an increase in suicide as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis. The increases in suicide rates were greater for men than women and this increase in male suicide rates was associated with increases in unemployment. So we expected with the increased rates of unemployment, to see increased rates of suicide.
It could be that the Australia government’s economic assistance may have helped. We had initiatives of financial assistance in JobSeeker and JobKeeper, as well as people accessing superannuation if under financial pressure. We know that when a person feels like a burden, their risk of suicide can increase. It is possible that people lost their jobs, but didn’t feel as much of a burden if they could access government financial payments and superannuation funds?
I think 2020 opened up a lot of conversations and media attention to mental wellbeing and I hope that has helped people feel less alone. If people can connect with someone when they are feeling distressed, worried, stressed, or depressed, and they can receive an understanding ear and a helping hand to get professional help if needed, then this will hopefully help decrease rates of suicide.
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