The Silent Epidemic: Examining the Global Impact of Mental Health Disorders

The Silent Epidemic: Examining the Global Impact of Mental Health Disorders

Featured Painting Title: Recovery
By Jeswant Sidhu

"This painting represents my coming out of the darkness and moodiness of my illness. The dark background represents the gloom, and the four circles represent the mind, heart, soul and spirit with the spirit being the largest circle. The mind, heart, soul and spirit are also represented by the rectangles. The one circle and rectangle coloured by black lines represent a tarnished and imperfect mind. From this dark background emerges a bright and hopeful yellow colour representing my coming out of the illness"



Mental illnesses often start in adolescence or early adulthood. In Australia, half of all people who experience a mental illness have their first episode by age 18 and three quarters by age 25. When mental illnesses start at this stage in life, they can affect the young person's education, movement into adult occupational roles, forming of key social relationships including marriage, and the formation of health habits such as the use of alcohol or other drugs. Consequently, mental illnesses can cause disability across a person's lifespan.

This is why it is so important to detect problems early and ensure the person is properly treated and supported. Some illnesses have a major impact by causing premature death while others are major causes of disability. Mental illnesses have their major impact on disability and medical experts rate them amongst the most disabling illnesses.


Impact of mental illnesses

Disability refers to the amount of disruption a health problem causes to a person's ability to work, look after themselves, and carry on relationships with family and friends. It helps to understand that the degree of disability which can occur during an episode of mental illness can be comparable to that caused by physical illnesses.

Here are some examples:

1. The disability caused by moderate depression is similar to the impact from relapsing multiple sclerosis, severe asthma, or chronic hepatitis B.
2. The disability from severe post-traumatic stress disorder is comparable to the disability from paraplegia.

In recent years it has been recognised that mental illnesses are a major issue for Australia. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has concluded that in 2003 mental illnesses ranked as the third biggest source of disease burden in Australia after cancers and cardiovascular (heart) disease. Disease burden is the combined effect of years lost due to premature deach and years lived with disability caused by an illness. While mental illnesses are not major causes of premature death, they are the major cause of disability in Australia.

There is all too often additional suffering caused by attitudes of rejection and stigma towards people with a mental illness. Because the disability caused by mental illnesses may not be readily visible to others, people with mental illness can be judged negatively. They may be incorrectly perceived as weak, lazy, selfish, uncooperative, attention-seeking or not really ill. This lack of understanding contributes to the stigma that people with mental illness can experience. The community's attitudes towards mental illness should be fundamentally the same as approaches to physical illness. People suffering from mental health problems need the respect and assistance of friends, family members and the broader community.

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