We define mental illness as an abnormality in cognition, behaviour, mood, or social function, which is severe in degree or duration. It affects the ability of someone to respond to and work with others every day, as we often associate it with distress and/or problems functioning.
Many people with mental illness are in denial or do not want to talk about it because of the social stigma. Yet mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of -- we should treat it like any medical condition.
Mental illness does not choose who it affects. It does not discriminate regardless of one’s age, gender, sexual orientation, social status, income, race or cultural uniqueness.
We should make an emphasis that mental disorders are treatable. Throughout their daily lives, the vast majority of people with mental illness continue to function.
Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness
It is not always easy to tell the difference between what habits are normal and what the symptoms of mental illness might be. There are no easy tests to inform someone if the behaviours displayed are that of a mental illness or just a manifestation of a physical condition.
Every disorder has its own symptoms, but common mental illness signs may include the following in adults and adolescents:
• Intense mood swings, including uncontrollable “highs” and euphoric emotions
• Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
• Excessive anxiety or show of concern
• Extreme sadness
• Hard time focusing or concentrating
• Extended or strong feelings of irritability or anger
• Issues in understanding or relating to other people
• Continuously tired or low energy
• Increased hunger or lack of appetite
• Changes in sex drive
• Distorted sense of reality
• Suicidal ideations
• Perceived physical ailments, and more
Paying attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviours is particularly important. Please remember that the onset of several of the following symptoms, and not just any improvement, suggests a concern for assessment. The foregoing signs should not be because of the recent use of the drug or other medical conditions.
Mental Illness Statistics in Australia
Mental illness is prevalent in Australia, and as in other developed countries, it has significant mental, social and economic effects.
In 2007, the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB) directed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that one in five people aged 16 to 85 years old will experience one of the more prevalent forms of mental illness. Of the 20% of Australians who have a mental illness, 11.5% have one disorder, and 8.5% have two or more disorders. Nearly half (45%) Australians would suffer from mental illness during their lives. The onset of mental illness typically occurs between mid to late adolescence, and Australian adolescents (18-24 years of age) have the greatest incidence of mental illness relative to any other age group.
For instance, a person with an anxiety disorder may also experience depression, or a person with depression may misuse alcohol or other medications in an attempt to self-medicate.
What Is Mental Illness and Addiction Comorbidity?
As scientists learn more about addiction and how it affects the brain, they also understand how problems of drug use and co-occurring issues of mental health go hand in hand. People experiencing substance use disorders (SUD) are diagnosed with mental disorders or vice versa. Reports have found that about half of those living with a mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder.
Comorbidity is a term that describes a person having more than one medical issue—this can occur by having two conditions simultaneously or one occurring after the other successively. In this context, mental illness and substance abuse co-exist. A great number of people with substance abuse problems also have mental health issues. Not that either of the two causes the other to happen, but they often exist together. This information should be thought of when treating substance abuse because a mental health issue can exacerbate addiction.
Comorbidity between the two is likely to happen when you realize that these are chronic brain diseases. When someone has a drug addiction problem, it will impair the function of their neurons. It will alter the way the neurons send and receive lead to distorted messages throughout the network. Just like any chronic illness (renal failure or diabetes), a person with a substance abuse problem struggles with the condition for the rest of their life and must learn to control and manage it. Simply ending the drug use is impossible; it is a daily battle of will.
Additionally, drugs target the same areas of the brain are altered by mental health issues such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression. It incriminates the very same areas of the brain that respond to stress and respond to pleasure in both drug use and mental disorders. Therefore, you cannot isolate one from the other and it is often difficult to establish which came first.
Three Reasons for the Comorbidity
1. Mental health disorders can contribute to substance abuse
People with mental health issues such as depressive disorders, anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder—are more predisposed to turning to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Some high-risk drugs of abuse like Valium and Xanax can successfully treat the symptoms of anxiety, but long-term use may lead to addiction.
Once a person develops a mental illness, their brain does not function normally. The mesolimbic pathway in the brainstem (the “reward” centre) is altered to enhance the pleasure sensation caused by drugs, and this precipitates the person’s persistent use of the substance.
2. Substance abuse can precipitate the development of mental health disorders – Chronic use of some substances can lead to both short-term and long-term alterations in the brain. This, in turn, can lead to mental health issues including anxiety, depression, paranoia, hallucinations among other problems.
3. Common risk factors attributed to both substance abuse and mental health disorders – Exposure to external factors like trauma, physical abuse, extended stays in a war zone, neglect, poverty—these factors can trigger a mental health disorder and/or increase the likelihood of substance abuse. There is a genetic overlap between mental illness and substance abuse, besides factors such as the living environment and social relationships, the genetic make-up of a person is linked to their predisposition to drug use, and the development of mental health problems. In some studies, it has been found that genetic risk for depression and schizophrenia are also associated with a high risk of cocaine and cannabis use.
Research suggests concurrent management for co-occurring disorders. Providing a comprehensive treatment for people with both addiction and mental health issues suggests a better outcome. Through comprehensive care, doctors and therapists can handle and treat all conditions. As a result, it often lowers the cost of care and creates better results for patients.
Mental illness therapies differ by condition and by patient. At The Arden Centre, there is no “one size fits all” treatment. The Centre provides a new benchmark for addiction care. We make full use of the relaxed atmosphere with our therapists focusing on helping patients regain their sense of self. If you or someone you know needs support, don't be afraid to reach out. It's an important first step to know everything you can about mental health.
I am an energetic and committed Senior Health Care Manager with a passion for developing staff through education and mentoring.