What are Mental Health and Mental Illness?

In the current coronavirus climate, there is more need than ever to check in with our mental health and general well-being.   So what are mental health and mental illness?

Mental Health: What is it?

Mental health, put simply, is the state of our well-being.  More and more, we are actively engaging in ways to enhance and improve our sense of self and well-being in a rapidly changing world.  Some of these activities include mindfulness, meditation, yoga and exercise in general. 

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic comes a whole lot of new stresses that include social distancing , financial loss, sudden impact on home-life, frustration, boredom, fears around health, difficulty attaining supplies and general disorientation.  Some of the things we are used to doing that normally help regulate and ground us have become inaccessible. In such a climate, some of our pre-existing states can also be exacerbated, sending us even more to the edge of ourselves.

When we focus on mental health, we are taking care of some of our deeper needs.  We are attending to feelings of anxiety, depression, emotional over-reaction and perhaps some general dysregulation.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes mental health as, “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” 

In essence, mental health is about making sure a person has the tools and ability to cope with the pressures of life and be functional within themselves and society . Sometimes co-regulation (speaking with a good friend or a therapist) can enhance and deepen learned self-regulation.  At times like this, a therapeutic relationship can offer stability and structure.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health encompasses emotional, societal and psychological well-being and determines how we react to stress, make choices, think, feel and act both when alone and around others. Many factors can contribute to a decline in mental health, including our environment, in both a physical and social sense, biology, family history and lived experience such as trauma or grief. While everyone may have different experiences or triggers leading to mental health issues, the most common issues that present themselves can include:

 Anxiety Disorders

Feeling anxiety is a normal reaction when facing a stressful or fraught situation like an exam, job interview or a first date. In fact, in some schools of thought,  a certain degree of anxiety in life is a given, and the focus becomes on learning how to be with one’s self through the discomfort, as well as focussing on one’s meaning and values.  However, when the feeling of anxiety severely impacts our ability to function normally in everyday life then it might be useful to seek some help managing and understanding it.  Sometimes anxiety can be experienced as overwhelming dread, it can come out of the blue like a panic attack and it can leave us with a feeling of hopelessness, as though one is stuck in a paralysis. 

 Anxiety is the most common mental health issue facing Australians. Around one quarter of the population - one in three women and one in five men - suffer from a form of anxiety during their life. There are a number of types or classifications of anxiety related to an individual’s stress response as well as how they experience anxiety. These include:

As the name suggests, generalised anxiety is the near constant feeling of elevated stress and anxiety about everyday occurrences without having a single clear cause or trigger. People with generalised anxiety often worry excessively over seemingly trivial or everyday things.  

An irrational fear around social interactions or being in unfamiliar social situations, with people going to great lengths to avoid connection with others.  This could result in isolation and loneliness, or an inability to function in one’s work, which could lead to a decline in mental health.

This type of anxiety commonly manifests as an obsession to perform or repeat tasks such as hand washing or checking locks. The repetition may be talismanic in nature, in essence warding off an existential threat of danger or illness, or may simply be an unavoidable compulsion.

People with a panic disorder can have frequent and repeated panic attacks. These attacks can manifest as a shortness of breath, tunnel vision, chest pain, uncontrollable crying, shaking and more.  Panic attacks are commonly referred to as happening “out of the blue”.

Any event that involves a threat to life or a serious injury has the potential to be traumatic. People with PTSD often suffer extreme and potentially ongoing anxiety after a stressful event. PTSD can also cause personality shifts and trigger depression or suicidal ideation.


Depression can be viewed in many ways, depending on your school of thought.  It is different to grief in that with grief, one can experience a deep sadness in one moment, and a genuine joy in the moment that follows.  While we can dip in and out of grief, the sadness and low moods that come with depression are constant and longer lasting.  Depression becomes a problem when very low moods are experienced for long periods of time.  There are many and varied approaches to treating depression .

Bipolar Disorder

Once referred to as manic-depression, Bipolar Disorder is typified by a drastically shifting mood and outlook. People with Bipolar Disorder swing from being very high (manic) to being very low (depressive). The frequency and severity of the swings varies from person to person, but when manic a person with Bipolar Disorder may sleep less, have more energy, make sweeping decisions and plans, be erratic and lack inhibitions. When on a depressive swing, a Bipolar person may find everyday tasks difficult if not impossible due to lack of motivation, energy and will.

There is no readily identifiable or direct cause of Bipolar Disorder, but it does appear to run in families and might be linked to trauma in childhood.

Maintaining Positive Mental Health

The benefits of maintaining and enhancing mental health are many.  In the current climate that we are in, it is worth identifying if and how we are coping. Sometimes extra support can go a long way to living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

With few exceptions, mental health issues can be cared for or managed through medication, the talking cure (therapy), lifestyle changes and other measures. 

At a time like this, it is important to realise that you are not alone and help is available if you need it. There are many quality resources online offering ideas and suggestions, and these include Beyond Blue , Lifeline , The Black Dog Institute and Reach Out .   You may approach your GP for a Mental Health Care Plan, that involves a referral to a Psychologist for a number of bulk-billable appointments, or you may reach out to a Counsellor or Psychotherapist (that offer a more relational based therapeutic approach).

If you need to book a GP appointment to have a Mental Health Care Plan made, or wish to book an appointment to see a mental health professional , the easiest, most convenient and stress free way is through MyHealth1st.

Our booking service is available 24/7 so if you are feeling the pressure and need help you do not need to wait until business hours to find and book the health you need.

We have created a platform to help you get in touch with the right person from the convenience of your own home.



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