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Mental Health FAQ’s

Major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder generally have early warning signs that signal a person may be developing a mental health problem. Early intervention can help reduce the severity of an illness, or even delay or prevent a major mental illness altogether. It’s important to understand the early warning signs to assist sufferers to get medical assistance before an illness appears in its full-blown form.

What are the signs and symptoms to be concerned about?

1. Feeling worried or anxious 

Excessive and constant worry that and interferes with life could be a sign of anxiety. Other symptoms of anxiety may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, restlessness, diarrhea or a racing mind.

2. Feeling depressed or unhappy 

Losing interest in a hobby, seeming sad or irritable for a few weeks or more, lacking in motivation and energy or teary all the time; may be signs a person might be dealing with depression.

3. Emotional outbursts 

Sudden and dramatic changes in mood, such as extreme distress or anger, can be a symptom of mental illness.

4. Sleep problems 

Persisting changes to a person’s sleep patterns could be a symptom of a mental illness. For example insomnia; could be a sign of anxiety or substance abuse. Sleeping too much or too little could indicate depression or an eating disorder.

5. Weight or appetite changes 

Fluctuating weight or rapid weight loss could be one of the warning signs of a mental illness, such as depression or an eating disorder. Other mental health issues can impact appetite and weight too.

6. Quiet or withdrawn  

Withdrawing from life, especially if this is a major change, could indicate a mental health issue. If a friend or loved one is regularly isolating themselves, and refusing to join in social activities they may need help.

7. Substance abuse 

Using substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to cope can be a sign of, and a contributor to, mental health issues.

8. Feeling guilty or worthless 

Thoughts like ‘I’m a failure’, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘I’m worthless’ are all potentially signs of a mental health issue, such as depression. Frequently criticising or blaming themselves is a sign the person may need help. 

9. Changes in behaviour or feelings

A mental illness may start out as subtle changes to a person’s feelings, thinking and behaviour. Changes’ such as an unusual drop in functioning, or difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with concentration, memory, or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain, heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch,  unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical thinking in an adult and fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling are all warning signs that the person may be developing a mental illness. 

Getting help

A combination of symptoms that are ongoing and significant and that interfere with day to day life, could be a sign that a person has or is developing a mental health issue and it’s important to start the conversation about getting professional help.

The first step for a person with mental illness symptoms is to see a doctor or healthcare professional. Dial triple zero (000) if you’re concerned a friend or loved one is at immediate risk of suicide or self-harm




Some illness such schizophrenia disrupt brain function so much that they can cause a condition called psychosis. When someone experiences psychosis they are unable to distinguish what is real and they lose contact with reality. Psychosis can lead to changes in mood and thinking and to abnormal ideas. Symptoms can vary from person to person and may change over time but some of the more characteristic symptoms include; 

Confused thinking
When acutely ill, people with psychotic symptoms experience disordered thinking. The everyday thoughts that let us live our daily lives become confused and don’t join up properly.

A delusion is a false belief held by a person which is not held by others of the same cultural background.

The person sees, hears, feels, smells or tastes something that is not actually there. The hallucination is often of disembodied voices which no one else can hear.

Changed feelings

The way the sufferer feels can change for no obvious reason. They might feel strange and cut off from the world, with everything moving in slow motion. Mood swings are common- between excited or depressed. They may also feel less emotion or show less emotion to those around them.

Changed behaviour

People with psychotic symptoms may be extremely active or have difficulty getting the energy to do things, laugh when things don’t seem funny, or become angry or upset without any cause. 


Around three in one hundred people will experience psychosis at some time in their lives, with most experiencing their first episode in their late teens and early twenties. Psychosis is frightening for the person and misunderstood by others, but can be treated, with most people making a full recovery. Without treatment, psychosis can seriously disrupt the sufferer’s life and development, so it’s important to seek help early.

Safe and effective treatments for psychosis is easily available and usually involves medication and community support. These treatments can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms. Avoiding drugs, reducing stress and learning ways to cope with stress can help prevent the symptoms from returning in the future. Getting help early generally leads to better outcomes and a quicker recovery. General practitioners (GPs) and clinicians at your local mental health service will be able to provide the help you need.




Mental illnesses and psychological distress are difficult things to talk about. It is important for sufferers to find a general practictioner (GP) who is knowledgeable, skilled and helpful and with whom they feel comfortable to share private details about their health. Here are some clues to help people find the right GP.


What this fact sheet covers:

• Introduction

• Doctor’s interest in mental health

• Mental health training

• Where to look for a doctor who might suit you

• What you can expect of a GP who is helping you with your mental health

• Characteristics of a good mental health assessment

See below attachment for more information

What this fact sheet covers.

• Signs of depression in adolescence

• Where to get help for an adolescent

• Key points to remember

• Where to get more information

What this fact sheet covers:

• Types of treatments for depression

• Physical treatments

• Psychological treatments

• Self-help and alternative therapies

• Key points to remember

• Where to get more information

Treatmentsfordepression | PDF 119kb

Depression is a common experience. We have all felt ‘depressed’ about a friend’s cold shoulder, misunderstandings in our marriage, tussles with teenage children – sometimes we feel ‘down’ for no reason at all.

However, depression can become an illness when:

  • The mood state is severe
  • It lasts for 2 weeks or more, and
  • It interferes with our ability to function at home or at work.

Signs of a depression include:

  • Lowered self-esteem (or self-worth)
  • Change in sleep patterns, that is, insomnia or broken sleep
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Less ability to control emotions such as pessimism, anger, guilt, irritability and anxiety
  • Varying emotions throughout the day, for example, feeling worse in the morning and better as the day progresses
  • Reduced capacity to experience pleasure: you can’t enjoy what’s happening now, nor look forward to anything with pleasure. Hobbies and interests drop off
  • Reduced pain tolerance: you are less able to tolerate aches and pains and may have a host of new ailments
  • Changed sex drive: absent or reduced
  • Poor concentration and memory: some people are so impaired that they think that they are becoming demented
  • Reduced motivation: it doesn’t seem worth the effort to do anything, things seem meaningless
  • Lowered energy levels.

If you have such feelings and they persist for most of the day for more days than not over a two week period, and they interfere with your ability to manage at home and at work, then you might benefit from getting an assessment by a skilled professional.

Having one or other of these features, by themselves, is unlikely to indicate depression, however there could be other causes which may warrant medical assessment.

If you are feeling suicidal it is very important to seek immediate help, preferably by a mental health practitioner.

See the Black Dog Institute:

» Getting Help

» Emergency help

How to tell if you or someone else has depression

Please note that the information in this section (or anywhere on this site) is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, so please see a qualified health provider if you have any health concerns. Read our full terms and conditions. (Source – Black Dog Institute)

If you are feeling suicidal it is very important to seek immediate help, preferably by a mental health practitioner.

How to tell if you or someone else has depression

9 tips to improve wellbeing

A list of simple tips that you can use to look after your mental health.


8 tips for good mental health

» mindhealthconnect

The terms mental illness or mental disorder describes a group of illnesses that can affect a person’s thinking, mood, behaviour, memory and their perception of reality. It impacts the sufferer’s ability to work, have relationships and carry out everyday tasks. Mental illness affects people differently and for some it will be mild and last for only a short time, while for others it will be severe and debilitating. Some sufferers will experience their illness only once but for others their mental illness may come and go throughout their life.

There are many types of mental illness including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorder, eating disorders and trauma-related disorders.

Mental illness is very common with one in five Australians affected each year. Sufferers may develop symptoms very quickly or experience subtle changes over time. Suicide rates are high among mentally ill – around 10% of sufferers eventually die by suicide. The stigma and discrimination often associated with mental illness may also contribute to the high rates of suicide.

Exactly what causes mental illness is not clear but is believed to be the result of complex interactions between the mind, body and environment. Factors such as stress, biological factors (genetics, chemistry, and hormones), alcohol and drug use, self-esteem and social factors such as isolation, financial pressure, and violence, are all through to contribute to the development of mental illness.

Each mental illness needs specific treatments but most can be treated and managed with counselling, medications and community support.


SANE  » http://www.sane.org
mindhealthconnect   » http://www.mindhealthconnect.org.au
Better Health Channel   » http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Western Australian Mental Health Commission   » http://www.mentalhealth.wa.gov.au

Self-assessment tools

» three simple questions
» checklist
» quiz

Everyone at some point experiences anxiety – that unpleasant feeling of nervousness, apprehension and distress that something bad is happening or about to happen. When worry or fear becomes constant and excessive and interferes with everyday life, it is considered a medical c condition known as an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is the most common mental disorder affecting 14% of Australians every year, with women more likely to develop anxiety than men.

People with anxiety disorders may experience persistent, excessive or unrealistic worries and feel distressed for no apparent reason. They may worry excessively about the past, present or future and believe situations to be much worse than they actually are. These feelings of panic and fear can interfere with a person’s ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks, are difficult to control, and can last a long time. Physical symptoms may include sweating, shortness of breath, pounding heart, dizziness and trembling.

There are many forms of anxiety disorders and a person may be anxious and fearful of lots of things or have one specific fear or be experiencing significant anxiety after a trauma. Some people may also suffer from depression at the same time.

Anxiety disorders can be managed using interventions and strategies such as cognitive behaviour therapy, relaxation and mindfulness.

Anxiety Self assessments tools

Self-assessment tools can help you understand how you are feeling and if you may be suffering from anxiety.

  • The Jean Hailes self-assessment tool starts with three simple questions. It aims to help you to understand more about whether you are worried, anxious or have an anxiety disorder.

JeanHailes – for women’s health » self-assessment tool

  • beyondblue has a simple checklist to measure how you may have been affected by depression and anxiety in the past four weeks. All answers and results remain confidential. After you take the test, results can be printed for your records or to give to your GP.

beyondblue » anxiety and depression checklist

  • Mindspot has a brief quiz to help measure your symptoms of anxiety.

Mindspot » quiz

Techniques and strategies for dealing with anxiety

  • Smiling Mind is modern meditation for young people. It is a web and App-based program, designed to help bring balance to young lives by helping to provide a sense of clarity, calm and contentment.

» Smiling Mind

  • MoodGYM is an interactive web program designed to prevent depression. Consisting of five modules, it includes an interactive game, anxiety and depression assessments, downloadable relaxation audio, a workbook and feedback assessment.

» Moodgym training program


Mindspot » http://mindspot.org.au/
SANE  » http://www.sane.org
mindhealthconnect   » http://www.mindhealthconnect.org.au
JeanHailes – for women’s health » http://jeanhailes.org.au/

sane-factsheetSchizophrenia is a complex mental illness affecting a person’s behaviour, thinking, emotions, and sense of reality. Schizophrenia is not a split  personality but a breakdown in the normal functioning of the brain.

Symptoms can vary widely between sufferers and may include jumbled and confused thoughts, hallucinations and delusions. Other signs include hearing unpleasant voices or having false and sometimes weird beliefs.

People with schizophrenia may also avoid family and friends, lack motivation and have difficulty working. They can experience increased suspiciousness, irritability, anger, tension, or depression and a very small number of people with schizophrenia may become violent.

Around 1 in 100 people in Australia will be affected by Schizophrenia with symptoms appearing in adolescence or young adulthood. The illness may begin rapidly, with acute symptoms developing over several weeks, or it may progress slowly, over months or even years. Men are slightly more likely to develop schizophrenia than women with symptoms appearing at a younger age.

20 to 30 per cent of people with schizophrenia recover completely while some may have episodes that come and go. For some sufferers it can also be a life-long chronic condition which can be very distressing and disabling.

Early diagnosis and treatment is important for improving long term outcomes and to prevent the severe, chronic debilitating form of this illness from developing.

Schizophrenia treatment options are becoming more effective and more tolerable. Under the care of a psychiatrist a combination of medications, psychological treatments and community support programs can be tailored to help each individual manage their symptoms.

sane-schizophrenia-factsheet | PDF 124kb

bdi-vertBipolar disorder is the name used to describe a set of ‘mood swing’ conditions, the most severe form of which used to be called ‘manic depression’.

Bipolar disorder I is the more severe disorder – with individuals being more likely to experience mania, have longer ‘highs’, be more likely to have psychotic experiences and be more likely to be hospitalised.

Bipolar disorder II is generally viewed as less severe, with no psychotic experiences, and with episodes tending to last only hours to a few days, but longitudinal studies suggest impairment is often as severe as in bipolar I disorder.

The high moods are called mania or hypomania and the low mood is called depression.

It is important to note that everyone has mood swings from time to time. It is only when these moods become extreme and interfere with personal and professional life that bipolar disorder may be present and medical assessment may be warranted.

  1. involving both psychological and social aspects
  2. relating social conditions to mental health

In practice, if a professional is focusing on your psychosocial situation they are concerned about such things as your living environment, your relationships and support and their impact on your psychological state.


Merriam Webster online dictionary

DEPRESSION – everyone has the blues but clinical depression is very different. It can strike at any age and is the most common cause of suicide The lows are much more severe and persistent than in common depressions. People who are affected may experience psychotic symptoms. Symptoms may include feelings of hopelessness, unable to carry out normal duties, thoughts of guilt and worthlessness.

By 2020 depression is estimated to be the second biggest international health problem


“Terminology used in mental health” from the Am i mad? website
This website provides information about support services in Kent in England. However, it has a lot of good and very accessible information about mental illness/wellbeing in general.


No, but they can be. The government’s Better Access program was introduced to include Medicare rebates for visits to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.

To qualify to have your visit to a psychologist covered by Medicare you need to see a GP and get a treatment plan which specifies the professionals you will get services from.

» Better Access to Mental Health Care


Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
Better Access to Mental Health Care – Questions and Answers

Yes, because they are medical practitioners. However, each doctor sets their own fee which will probably be above the standard fee defined by Medicare. You will get a proportion of the standard fee back from Medicare and will have to pay the rest yourself.

It is a good idea to ask about fees the doctor charges before you make an appointment. Your first appointment is likely to be a longer one – so the doctor can get the full picture on your medical background – and more expensive than follow up visits.

Psychologists and psychiatrists both work in the area of mental health, and often work together. However, there are some significant differences between the two professions in the following areas.

Education and qualifications

Psychologists study human behaviour in their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees before undertaking supervised experience and gaining registration. They do not have a medical degree; however, many have postgraduate qualifications to specialise in various aspects of psychology, including mental illness.

Psychiatrists have a medical degree, which involves six years of studying general medicine, followed by further study to specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and emotional problems.

Services provided

Psychologists assist people with everyday problems such as stress and relationship difficulties, and some specialise in treating people with a mental illness. They help people to develop the skills needed to function better and to prevent ongoing problems.

Psychiatrists treat the effects of emotional disturbances on the body and the effects of physical conditions on the mind.

Prescribing medication

Psychologists cannot prescribe medication. Their treatments are based on changing behaviour and emotional responses without medication. There is a considerable amount of evidence showing psychological treatments are effective.

Psychiatrists can prescribe medication. Some combine medication with other forms of therapy.


Australian Psychological Society
http://www.psychology.org.au/community/about/ [accessed 9 October 2011]