You hear the phrase “mental health difficulties” used all the time. But what does it actually mean?
To explain this, it’s helpful to think about mental health on a spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum is mentally healthy. In this area you feel able to work and study, feel connected to others, be involved in activities in your community and ‘bounce back’ when life’s changes and challenges come along.
At the other end of the spectrum is mental illness. Mental illness is a general term that refers to a group of conditions, such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders. These conditions can significantly affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with others. Almost half of the population will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.
In between these two ends there is a ‘coping area’, where people might feel some pressure but are doing OK, and a ‘difficulties area’ where people might feel like they aren’t doing so well.
It’s important to know that everyone sits somewhere on this spectrum, and where you are can change from day-to-day or week-to-week, depending on many factors.
Mental health spectrum
Understanding Mental health difficulties
Everyone can experience the signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties from time to time. It’s common for people to have times in their life when their sleep, mood, motivation or energy are not going as well as they would like.
If these signs and symptoms are happening for a few weeks or more, and are starting to have a bigger impact on things like relationships, or work and study, it’s a sign that you might be heading towards the difficulties area of the spectrum.
If you’ve noticed these sorts of changes, it’s important to look after yourself, learn a bit more about what’s happening for you, and enlist the support of family and friends. By finding the right support and strategies, things can get better.
Signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties:
- 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 more often
- 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.
Contributors to mental health difficulties:
The challenges that we experience in life can often contribute to periods of difficulty. It is important to remember this is never someone’s fault. There is no one cause of mental health difficulties. Instead, there are a number of overlapping factors that might increase the likelihood of developing mental health difficulties, such as:
current circumstances: such as stress at school or work, money problems, difficult personal relationships, or problems within your family
difficult life experiences: abuse, neglect, or the loss of someone close to you
individual factors: coping skills and thinking styles
biological factors: family history of mental health difficulties
Looking after your mental health
There are a number of things you can do to look after and maintain your mental health and wellbeing. As a start, incorporate the tips for a healthy headspace into your everyday routine. This will leave you more prepared to cope with the challenges you face in your everyday life. These include:
get into life
learn skills for tough times
get enough sleep
cut back on alcohol and other drugs
When and where to seek help
If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, it’s important that you reach out to a trusted friend, family member, teacher or Elder to share what you are going through. Or you can get in touch with your local headspace centre or use our online or phone-based service at eheadspace.
If you ever feel unable to cope because of overwhelming or intense emotions, or if you have any thoughts of harming yourself, then ask for help immediately.
For immediate help contact: triple zero (000) if it is an emergency
National 24/7 crisis services:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- beyondblue: 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
Additional youth support services include:
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 25 June 2020