About mental health issues

What is a mental health issue?

A mental health issue interferes with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. There are different types of mental health issues and each of these can occur with a varying degree of severity. Examples can include:

Just because someone has not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, it does not necessarily mean that their mental health is flourishing. Likewise, it is possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life.

When individuals experiencing a mental health issue receive the right combination of treatment and support, and when they have a voice in decisions concerning their care, they often can and do recover to optimal mental health.

What causes mental health issues?

There is no single cause for mental health issues. A number of factors which result from interactions between the mind, body and environment contribute to developing a condition.

The various, and often complex factors that impact our mental health and wellbeing are often defined as either a risk factor or a protective factor. Risk factors adversely impact a person's mental health while protective factors strengthen a person's mental health and work to improve a person’s ability to cope with difficult circumstances. Risk and protective factors are influenced by all areas of life – psychological, social, environmental, cultural and situational factors.

Similar life events can have very different impacts on different individuals, depending on what else is happening in their life at that time, their resiliency and their ability to learn from life’s challenges.

Examples of risk factors include:

  • genetic predisposition 
  • homelessness and unemployment
  • alcohol and other drug use
  • discrimination and racial injustice
  • family conflict or family disorganisation 
  • stressful life events

Examples of protective factors include:

  • personal attributes, including the ability to cope with stress, face adversity and problem-solving skills 
  • physical health and healthy behaviours 
  • physical activity levels
  • social support and inclusion 
  • strong cultural identity and pride 

Achieving and maintaining good mental health requires building protective factors, minimising risk factors and breaking down barriers to seeking help. 

Mental health is not as simple as being well or unwell. It can be viewed as a continuum, where individual optimal mental health is at one end – represented by feeling good and functioning well – while mental health issues are at the other – represented by changes in common thoughts, feelings or behaviours. Over the lifespan, a person may move through different points between optimal mental health and wellbeing, to being unwell, and through to recovery.

For ways to look after your mental health and wellbeing visit Think Mental Health or if you need someone to talk to, see Getting help.


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