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Mental health

What do Kurt Cobain, Florence Nightingale and Winston Churchill all have in common? They all suffered from a mental health problem. So we're not talking about loopy people in straightjackets, we're talking about 450 million people worldwide, we're talking about you, me, your neighbour or your friend

Submitted 4/24/2006 By lisaso Views 65365 Comments 14 Updated 11/16/2006

It won’t happen to me, right?

Wrong. Mental illnesses don’t occur in isolation. It is common to all countries and the effects are strongly felt everywhere. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in four people will suffer from poor mental health at one stage in their lives. At present, it is estimated that in established market economies, mental illness ranks second in terms of contributing towards the burden of disease. What's more, it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second highest contributor to the disease burden globally.

Biological, physical and social factors all play a part in developing a mental illness. Poverty, sex, age, a major disaster or conflict, family and social environment, and physical health all play a part in your mental health. The chances of developing some illnesses, like Alzheimer’s, only increase with age. So even if you or anyone you know doesn’t suffer now, they may in the future.

Mental health: the invisible man

What do you think mental health means? While most people can list scores of physical illnesses, diseases, aches, and pains, there is no one accepted definition of mental health. Here's a clue: to be in good mental health is more than simply not having a mental illness.

A fully-fledged mental illness is a mental, brain or behavioural disorder. It can include depression, schizophrenia, and drug and alcohol addiction. The most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety disorders.

Mental health is a person’s ability to cope with the ordinary and extraordinary relationships and stress that life throws at us. In short, our ability to deal with the curve balls and bounce back.

Mental health is the invisible man of health problems. It is as important to a person’s wellbeing as physical health, but we tend to keep this problem hidden as a skeleton in our closet. Because of this, many suffer in silence even though help is inexpensive and easily available.

What are the effects?

The social stigma attached to mental health issues means that it is often neglected in favour of more glamorous health campaigns. This doesn’t mean that the effects aren’t as broad or as deep. In reality, poor mental health can decrease an individual’s quality of life every bit as much as poor physical health. Effects include:
  • Medical: the relationship between physical and mental health is closely connected. Depression, for example, can often indicate that a heart disease will develop in the future. Mental illnesses affect and are affected by chronic physical conditions (e.g. diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS). 1 in 4 patients who seek help for a physical condition also have symptoms of a mental illness, but the majority of these aren’t even diagnosed. If the mental illness is left untreated, it can bring about unhealthy behaviour, a lower immune system, and a reluctance to follow medical advice. All of this leads decreased physical wellbeing.
  • Social: mental health has a strong social stigma attached to it. Many sufferers feel ashamed of their condition. This may stop them seeking help. They may also feel excluded from society. All of this adds to a poorer quality of life.
  • Political: mental disorders account for a significant chunk of economic and social costs. In developed countries, 8 out of the 10 leading disabilities are related to mental health. However, the issue is not regarded as a serious problem. Policy makers, like the public, discriminate between mental and physical health issues. This is reflected in the spending on mental health. Less than 1% of low to middle income countries’ health budgets go towards mental health services.

Death is the most grave of these effects. From a combination of these factors, over 800 000 people commit suicide every year and an estimated ten to twenty million people attempt it. However, suicide is often hidden, and the real figures are likely to be much higher.

How do I know this?

Internet Mental Health,

Murray, CJL & Lopez, AD (eds.) 1996, 'A comprehensive assessment of mortality and disability from diseases, injuries, and risk factors in 1990 and projected to 2020', The global burden of disease and injury series, volume 1.

Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Mental health,

World Federation for Mental Health,

World Health Organisation 2001, World health report 2001,

Affected by mental health issues yourself or know someone who is? Check out our sister site

Discuss Now

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RSS Comments

ney77 31-Jul-2008

All of these comments will go a long way to slowly reduce the stigma of mental health. I have noticed stigma is used a lot especially in this thread. Other words i tend to associate with mental illness (any form) include shunned upon, bullied, excluded, crazy, psycho. these are just a few comments and experiences i have lived through while overcoming depression and borderline personality disorder.

However, it is up to us to make mental health a more easy topic to speak about, this in turn will make it easier for people to seek help through that of friends as they will have no fear of what their friends will think. However this would be in an ideal world and i honestly don't see it happening very quickly. Although through my experiences and talking to people about what i have gone through i have realised there are some people out there who are willing to listen and to understand, or at least try to.

We are a long way off a world of no stigma surrounding mental health but with each conversation we engage in, is one small step closer.

Keep talking everyone and adventually people suffering in silence will be able to have their voice heard!



Nicofessence 10-Jul-2008

My eldest sister has been suffering with a number of mental health issues over the last 10 years (according to a number of "mental health professionals"), namely paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis. It has been an incredibly turbulent challenge and I, myself, have suffered from depression, anxiety and mild bouts of paranoia resulting from my sister's suffering - trying to find ways to deal with sharing a room with her, living with her, communicating to the person I looked up to when (at 11years of age til I was 18) I simply did not understand what was happening to her. I now find - after many stints in hospital, a couple of suicide attempts, having watched her been kicked out of our house, trying to set her up in her own place and now finally back at home - she simply has lost all social skills she once had. Whether it's the medication she is finally taking or the illness itself, she is no longer the sister I grew up with for the first 10/11years of my life! Our family, not through lack of seeking, has not received adequate support from "mental health services" or anyone for that matter. We are not "professionals" in that are and don't have the tools to care for her yet she remains 'lost' under our roof. It pains me to see her unable to function. Soon the day will come when I will need to tell her to shower! She cannot complete simply tasks, she does not eat unless encouraged because she simply forgets.

There needs to be a lot more done about assisting those, and families of those suffering with mental health! I find it to be of greater urgency than getting drugs off our streets! (though that's probably how my A grade student sister began her mental decline!)



shelleyq 03-Apr-2008

As someone who’s dealt with anxiety, I am very pleased to see that this is a topic that’s coming to the surface. There is definitely a stigma attached to mental health because it’s seen as a private matter. The more secretive we are about our issues the bigger and more consuming they become.

I applaud those of you who’ve shared your mental health issues; bringing these topics into everyday conversation raises awareness and makes these topics less taboo.

To anyone out there who is struggling with a mental health problem – tell somebody about it: a parent, friend, counselor. I know it was a great sense of relief for me when I finally started talking about my anxiety.



Delicious Malicious 21-Mar-2008

Though society is slowly becoming more acceptable of mental ilness it is a long way off of what it should be.
I personally suffer from Depression,Self Haam and Anorexia Nervosa and have done for just over 6 years now.
I have been shunned in my small town and I was not accepted back into mt college after a 4 month stay in hosp.
I had to leave my college because the comments were bringing back the depression.
I have only recently in the last 6 months had enough courage to wear short sleeves, I do not generally care what people say about my scars and such but at times it does still get to me.
Self harm is definetly not accepted by the younger generations now that it is associated with being emo.
Though Self Harm and Emo are two totally different things you cant be one without being called the other.
The world espiucally that of teenagers is a very judgemental place and I dont see it changeing anytime soon.



Shelleyw 03-Dec-2007

Have a listen to this story from Hack it's all about mental health and young people

This election it's been about tax, interest rates and climate change but here's one area that isn't getting talked about : MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES for young people. 1 in 4 young people are likely to suffer from a a mental health problem and 3/4 of people with a mental health problem show the signs before they're 24. Which means tackling mental health is all about EARLY INTERVENTION.