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Mental health and mental illness

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:

‘a state of wellbeing 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’

(World Health Organization, n.d.)

A mental health problem may interfere with how a person thinks, feels and behaves but to a lesser extent than a mental illness. Mental health problems are less severe than mental illnesses but may develop into a mental illness if they are not dealt with effectively.

As discussed by SANE Australia (2019), mental illness includes a wide range of conditions that affect how people feel and think. Most of these are first experienced in a person’s late teens or early twenties.

Mental illnesses include more common conditions such as anxiety and depressive disorders, and less common illnesses which can be more severe like schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder. Mental illnesses vary in how long they affect people. Sometimes a single episode can occur over a few weeks or months, and sometimes a mental illness is a lifelong condition.

Mental illnesses vary in severity. Sometimes they are mild and transitory, and sometimes they are severe and cause psychosocial disability requiring long-term support.

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