Wellbeing is a multi-dimensional consideration. Physical wellness is important and so is mental wellness (as are financial, spiritual, intellectual and environmental wellness). Let us take a quick look at some of the most common mental health conditions seen today:

  • Anxiety – excessive nervousness and concern about the future. Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety as well as context-specific phobias (e.g. claustrophobia) and panic attacks. Most anxiety conditions respond quite well to medication and counselling.
  • Mood disorders – the most common mood disorder is depression (aka major depression) but bipolar disorder (mood swings from hyperactivity, agitation and mania to low energy, apathy and depression) is also in this group. Depression usually responds well to combined medication and counselling although bipolar disorder can be more challenging.
  • Psychosis – psychotic conditions are characterised by being disconnected from reality in some way. This may manifest as hallucinations, paranoid unreasonable fears, and bizarre notions or thoughts not based in reality. This is a wide range of conditions that often require very specialised care, strong medications, and in-patient care in specialised institutions sometimes.
  • Dementia – this is a loss of cognitive function (memory, concentration, problem solving, basic life skills). The most common type is Alzheimer’s disease (age related dementia with no known cause), for which there is no proven treatment and so the approach is about general care and family support.
  • Eating disorders – these complex and troubling conditions (mainly anorexia and bulimia) involve an inappropriate relationship with and thinking around food. Sometimes triggered by social and peer pressure around appearance and weight control, these are dangerous and serious disorders that often warrant specialist care and in-patient treatment by multidisciplinary teams usually led by psychiatrists.

NOTE: it is not uncommon for some of these to exist together (e.g. a person may have anorexia as well as generalised anxiety while another may become depressed at the onset of dementia). It is also common to see these conditions together with behavioural and or lifestyle issues such as problem drinking, marital discord, substance abuse, problem gambling, and more. Unravelling and understanding these complexities can be quite challenging and is properly the domain of professional experts.

It is good to have a sense of the most common types of mental illness so that should you or someone you know develop these you can seek professional help. Your family doctor or a professional psychologist would be the best people to approach when help is needed.

Written by Dr Colin Burns