By Sparky

Most mental health symptoms have traditionally been divided into groups called either ‘neurotic’ or ‘psychotic’ symptoms. ‘Neurotic’ covers those symptoms which can be regarded as severe forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety, or panic. Conditions formerly referred to as ‘neuroses’ are now more frequently called ‘common mental health problems or common mental illness.’

Less common are ‘psychotic’ symptoms, which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucination such as seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that no one else can. Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel, and behave. These are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, they are not a personal weakness of your own.

A variety of terms are used to describe mental health problems: such as mental illness, psychiatric illness, mental disruption, nervous breakdown, burnout, and severe emotional distress. 

And of course, there are also the slang terms used to describe someone who may be unwell: such as nutter, lost the plot, crazy, psycho, got a screw loose, loony, and nervous wreck, to name but a few. They are unhelpful terms and promote incorrect attitudes in others and should not be used.

A mental health disorder or mental illness causes significant distress and affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behaviour. It may disrupt the person’s ability to carry out daily activities or work and/or study and the ability to have good personal relationships.

The unfortunate thing is that it is generally not well understood by people who have never experienced it themselves.

People in general experience changes in their mental health at different times in their lives. This can be influenced by several different factors, such as lifestyle, life events and many others.

Most people experience some form of short to medium term depression or anxiety at some point in their lives. However, the symptoms of this may not require a formal diagnosis and it is not disabling, when we learn to manage what is going on at the time.

When people feel they have mental wellbeing, are more resistant and powerful against stressful life events.

“Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, 

‘I’m possible’”

Audrey Hepburn

How common are mental illnesses?

Mental illnesses are common. 

Mental health and wellbeing are paramount to the overall health of New Zealanders. Mental distress affects many New Zealanders. 1 in 5 adults aged 15 years and over are diagnosed with a mood and/or anxiety disorder (Ministry of Health, 2019). The findings from the 2018 New Zealand Mental Health Monitor (NZMHM) and the 2018/19 Ministry of Health New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS) gives an overview on mental health statistics in New Zealand in the key points.

• Mental distress is highest amongst young people (15 to 24-year-olds). 

• It is more common for individuals to be aware of close friends having mental distress than those they live with, work with or their neighbours. 

• The proportion of New Zealanders with high levels of mental distress is trending upwards over time.

 • There is a greater proportion of younger people in higher/more severe categories among anxiety and mental distress measures than older age groups (25 to 64-years-old and 65+). 

• There is a lower proportion of young people who report coping with everyday stresses, than older age groups. 

• 15 to 17-year-olds and 18 to 24-year-olds are more likely to report having long term psychological conditions that affect their everyday activities and socialising than older age groups.

*1.  The NZMHM asked questions from the Reported and Intended Behaviour Scale (RIBS; Evans-Lacko et al., 2011) about ‘mental illness’. For the purposes of this report, the term mental distress is used instead of mental illness.

Awareness of mental distress (1) in self and others 

78% Know someone or self 

49% Close friend

35% Worked with     

32% Lived with 

32% Self 

20% Neighbour 

*Figure 1 Lifetime experience of mental distress in self and others in 2018. Participants were able to select more than one option.

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