what is mental health & mental illness?

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Mental illness is a collection of experiences that mean that you’re not functioning at your best and affects the way you think, feel and act.

Download our factsheet on what is Mental health

Mental health problems are common. When mental health problems start to impact your everyday life and last for more than a few weeks it is a sign that they may have developed in to a mental illness

Almost half of the Australian population will experience a mental illness at some point in their life.


Mental health problems

Feeling down, tense, angry or anxious are all normal emotions and it’s OK to experience them. But when these feelings persist for long periods of time, they may be part of a mental health problem.

Mental health problems can influence how you think and feel, your ability to do your everyday activities (school, study or work) or in relationships. It can be helpful to talk to someone about what’s going on in your life – they may be able to help you with what you’re feeling and thinking.

Things that may suggest mental health difficulties includes:  

  • not enjoying, or not wanting to be involved in things that you would normally enjoy

  • changes in appetite or sleeping patterns 

  • being easily irritated or having problems with friends and family for no reason

  • finding that you aren’t performing at school, TAFE, university or work like you used to 

  • being involved in risky behaviour that you would usually avoid, like taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or depending on these substances to feel ‘normal’

  • feeling sad or ‘down’ or crying for no apparent reason

  • having trouble concentrating or remembering things

  • having negative, distressing, bizarre or unusual thoughts

  • feeling unusually stressed or worried

  • feeling things have changed or aren’t quite right.

Many of these things show up in our everyday lives so it is really important to get professional advice before coming up with labels to describe what you’re going through.

Causes of mental health problems

There are a number of different causes of mental health difficulties. These can be:

  • difficult life experiences: abuse, neglect, or the loss of someone close to you

  • individual factors: self-esteem, coping skills and thinking styles

  • current circumstances: stress at school or work, money problems, difficult personal relationships, or problems within your family

  • biological factors: family history of mental health problems.
The majority of people who experience a mental illness will recover and will only experience one episode throughout their life

Looking after your mental health

There are a number of things you can do to look after and maintain your mental health and wellbeing. A helpful approach can be to incorporate the tips for a healthy headspace into your everyday routine. This will leave you more prepared to cope with the challenges that come in everyday life, and can help you work through challenges you might currently be experiencing.

For more tips on looking after your mental health visit our tips for a healthy headspace.

If you’re concerned about your own or a friend’s mental health and wellbeing, headspace is a great place to go for help.

Getting support can help you keep on track at school, study or work, and in your personal and family relationships. The sooner you get help the sooner things can begin to improve for you.

Check out the 'What is mental health?' fact sheet for more information on mental health.

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The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

 Last reviewed 3 October 2018

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