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Mental Illness and the Impact on Youth

Mental Health vs Mental Illness

With the way the world is going, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the youth of this world are affected by bad mental health. The stigma surrounding mental health is slowly declining, but if you have any social media, you’d know that for the youngest generation, talking about mental illnesses is just a casual Tuesday.

Mental health and mental illness, are two very different things. Mental health is the well-being of your psychological and emotional well-being. Specifically, it’s the ability to cope with the normal levels of stress in everyday life, while also being able to function as a person. Everyone has mental health, though not everyone will deal with a mental illness.

Mental Illness refers to a serious disorder that affects a person’s behaviour or thinking. It’s bad mental health that affects everyday life because it affects the way someone thinks and behaves. Furthermore, bad mental health starts at a young age, and a majority of the time, it develops before the age of 25.

In fact, one in seven children under the age of 18 has experienced symptoms of several mental illnesses. And sadly enough, suicide continues to be one of the biggest killers for young Australians. (Lawrence et al., 2011.)

Figure 1, Infographic. (Gawler Youth, n.d.)
Figure 1, Infographic. (Gawler Youth, n.d.)

Types of Mental Disorder

There are nearly 3000 mental disorders listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). For instance, the major group of mental disorders include:

Mood disorders (depression and bipolar)

  • Irritability, aggression or hostility
  • Ongoing sad, empty or anxious mood
  • Changes in appetite or weight (rapid gain or loss)
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Difficulty focusing


  • Constant or excessive worrying
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Fatigue or restlessness (constantly tired, insomnia or restless sleep)
  • Difficulty concentrating
    Personality disorder
  • Impulsive or risky behaviour
  • Unstable or fragile self-image
  • Unstable or intense relationships
  • Suicidal behaviour or threats of self-harm
  • Rollercoaster moods (usually reaction to interpersonal stress)

Psychotic disorders (schizophrenia)

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed mood
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Delusions, hallucinations or suspiciousness

Eating disorder

  • Dieting or binge eating
  • Purging (vomiting or using laxatives to rid food from the body)
  • Excessive exercise or focusing more on body image
  • Change in clothing style (e.g., wearing baggy clothes)

Trauma-related (Post-Traumatic Disorder / PTSD)

  • Avoiding situations that may be triggering
  • Having nightmares or flashbacks
  • Experiencing emotional numbness
  • Feeling nervous/anxious or acting impulsively or aggressively

Substance abuse disorder

  • changes in mood, personality and/or behaviour (secretive, disappearing for long periods, loss of interest or motivation)
  • hygiene and appearance (for example, messier than the usual appearance)
  • physical health (constantly sick or weirdly tired)

Most Common Mental Disorders in Youth

Anxiety disorder is the most common disease affecting children and adolescents. About 6% of children experience anxiety disorders at some point in their life. Anxiety disorders can cause children to be so afraid of things or situations that they interfere with daily life (Here to help, 2014). The rise of anxiety in young people is becoming an alarming problem as it can lead to several other problems ranging from depression and substance use to suicide.

Anxiety can affect people of all ages, in different ways. There are physical and emotional symptoms for all disorders and some of the symptoms for teens and children are listed below.

  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Afraid of making the wrong choice
  • Nervousness, trembling or sweating
  • Unable to let go or set aside worry
  • Fatigue, insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Thinking a situation or event is dangerous
  • Constantly thinking of the worst-case scenario
  • Persistent worry of things out of their control

Panic attacks are also a massive symptom of anxiety. They can be debilitating and terrifying for whoever is going through one and can be bought on by triggers, severe stress, medical conditions or physical causes. (Robinson et al., 2020.)

How severe a panic attack is, is different from person to person, and feels different for each person. In fact, some may feel like they’re having a small ‘freak out’ to feeling like they’re dying. “A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterised by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, and you may feel like you’re dying or going crazy. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, without warning and sometimes with no clear trigger.” (Robinson et al., 2020.)

Up to 40% of Australians experience panic attacks at some point in their life. Some may not realize they are having one and sometimes think they are instead having a heart attack.

Getting Diagnosed and Ways to Deal

How to go about getting diagnosed

First, take stock of the symptoms you may be experiencing, when it began and if someone in your family has any mental disorders. Some mental disorders can be hereditary; gathering as much information as you can is equally as important and can sometimes go a long way in getting an accurate diagnosis.

To get a diagnosis for a mental illness, talking to your doctor is the best way to go about things. Besides, trying to diagnose yourself is unsafe, so talking to a doctor or psychologist is your best bet. A physical exam or lab test may be necessary, or getting a psychological evaluation may be necessary.

Types of treatment

Mental Illnesses can be treated, however since there are many different factors in the development of each disease, it can sometimes be difficult to predict how, when or to what extent someone will get better. It doesn’t mean treatment doesn’t work; it just means recovery differs for everyone.

A majority of the time, people will experience relief from symptoms with individualized treatment plans, that they adhere to. (NAMI, n.d.) Of course, there are other ways to get treatment, such as:

Psychological Therapy – A doctor, psychologist, or other health professional will discuss their symptoms and concerns with the person, and discuss new ways to think about and manage them.
Medication – Research has shown that mental illnesses are related to changes in brain chemistry, which can sometimes be restored by medication. There are of course benefits but possible side effects may occur, so never self-medicate.
Support Programs – Support groups are super important for people with recurring symptoms or mental disabilities. This support may include information, accommodation, help find suitable jobs, training and education and mutual support groups.

In 2016, the United Nations created the Sustainable Development Goals or the SDG’s. These are 17 goals to better the world by 2030. In particular, SDG #3, included by the UN in their global agenda, addresses health and well-being, aimed at steering humanity towards better mental health.

For more information on how to improve the health of individuals and the planet, please visit the THRIVE Project website and examine the THRIVE Platform tool, aimed at guiding society towards well-being.


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