Think of mental health as a continuum, with health at one side and illness at the other.

When does having a bad day become a mental health problem? Is a mental health problem the same as a mental illness?

Two words are really important here, severity and persistence. If something impacts upon a person to the point it interferes with their everyday life and goes on for a period of time – then it is time to seek help.

Problems encompass a broad range of emotional and behavioural difficulties which may cause intermittent concern or distress (such as failing an exam, work pressure, etc) whereas Illness or Disorders are more severe and enduring and usually defined using diagnostic criteria.

Like physical illnesses, there are MANY categories of mental illness, each one with different signs, symptoms and treatments. Diagnosis is made according to The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or The ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) which detail the types of symptoms and for how long a person must be experiencing them.

About one in five adults will experience a mental illness and most of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives.

The really worrying thing is nearly three-quarters of all people with a diagnosable mental disorder do not seek treatment. What would you think if you had four friends who all broke their arm but only one of them sought help? There are many reasons why people don’t seek help but the biggest one is around the stigma.

One of the big myths out there is that mental illnesses are not true illnesses like heart disease or diabetes. If your friend had a broken leg or he or she had just come out of hospital after an operation, you probably wouldn’t think twice about asking how they were. If they told you they had just received a diagnosis of schizophrenia or depression, would you still ask or would you avoid mentioning it for fear of saying the wrong thing?


Evidence which tells us that people who seek help early can prevent problems from becoming more serious and can reduce the likelihood of secondary effects such as problems with work. The longer people delay getting help and support, the more difficult their recovery can (MHFA Australia,2009)

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate! Do You?

Join us next time when we explore what causes mental illness.


About Andy
Andy is responsible for the overall management of Paradise First Aid. Andy holds a number of Diploma and Certificate level qualifications in first aid and emergency care and has worked in both the private and public health services before making the switch to first aid education. Andy has a passion for Continued Professional Development and is a member of the First Aid Industry Reference Committee and the Australian Resuscitation Council (QLD Branch).

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