Mental illness is a nonspecific label for a grouping of illnesses that may be characterised by emotional instability, behavioral dysregulation, and/or cognitive dysfunction or impairment. Specific disorders that come under the category of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or postnatal depression. Mental illness can be caused by biological (e.g. anatomical, chemical, or genetic) or psychological (e.g. trauma or conflict related) factors. It can impact an individual’s ability to work or go to school and contributes to problems in relationships. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of non-fatal burden of disease and injury in Australia and accounts for approximately 13% of the nation’s disease. Taking into consideration the impact that it has on the health of the Australian population, mental health (along with cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, diabetes and injury) has been nominated as a National Health Priority Area.
The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion was a result of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) first international conference on Health Promotion. The thirtieth World Health Assembly, held in 1977 had acknowledged the importance of promoting health so that all people had an "economically productive" standard of health by the year 2000. Therefore, the conference came about as a result of this notion, and to meet the rising expectations for a new public health movement around the world. The document itself identifies five key areas for action, which are:
1. Develop Personal Skills.
2. Create Supportive Environments.
3. Strengthen Community Action.
4. Reorient Health Services.
5. Build Healthy Public Policy.
Develop Personal Skills
Developing personal skills is done through generating your own personal knowledge of a particular issue, enabling yourself to learn, preparing yourself for all stages or possible life events such as illness, loss or trauma.
The first notion associated with developing personal skills is how an individual may modify their behaviour to reduce their risk of developing the disease. For mental illness, this is difficult to address, and there are not a great deal of causing factors that are within an individual’s control. Mental illness is often a result of family history and genetics, a chronic illness or disability, or some kind of loss. The major controllable risk factor is heavy drinking and drug use, as 50% of women and 25% of men with substance abuse problems also have mental disorders.
There is then the concept of the need for an individual to establish certain skills in order to adopt healthy behaviour in response to the issue. For mental illness it is essential that sufferers become skilled at making decisions, solving problems and coping with undesirable conditions. This assists an individual in recognizing the need to seek help. Also coming under this idea is the necessity of educating yourself to increase understanding of how to identify types of mental illness.
The need for a person to be aware of where they can locate reliable information on the illness is paramount. Only recently has a vast range of information on mental illness been readily available. Organisations like BeyondBlue provide information through a range of mediums, the Internet, pamphlets, television and national surveys and reports. Other sources for information include the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, mental health clinics or facilities, general practitioners, hospitals and schools etc.
It is vital for a sufferer of mental illness to understand where they can find support services and assistance. There are often a number of ‘support groups’ operated through hospitals or organised by individuals with similar needs. An