Different types of mental illness
Each person is different and experiences their mental illness slightly differently
Often mental health problems are named to help professionals direct people to the right care and treatment.
Read about the different mental illnesses below which people can be ‘diagnosed’ with by a doctor.
View videos about different mental illnesses and their symptoms, to help you learn about what your parent might experience.
Mum told me that sometimes when she’s out in big crowds she just wants to run away. She feels scared, like everyone’s out to get her.
That’s when she says ‘We need to get out of here, I don’t feel very good’ and we just leave.
- People who experience an anxiety disorder often have strong feelings of fear and worry. They feel this much more intensely than the average person.
- They might worry continuously about things that seem small to others or have fears that might stop them from doing normal, everyday things (like sleeping or going out in public)
When people start to avoid things that worry or frighten them it’s called a ‘phobia’.
My Dad is pretty cool, but when he’s depressed he finds it really hard to do anything.
He doesn’t talk much or have any energy. It’s like he’s kind of not there when he’s having a bad day.
- Experiencing depression is very different to just feeling low or overwhelmed.
- People who experience depression often feel very miserable, tired or exhausted for long periods of time. They often have no energy to do anything at all – sometimes even to get out of bed or to eat.
- They might sleep all day and not want to do the things they once enjoyed. They might also feel stressed, grumpy or cry for no reason.
- Mums can sometimes get depressed after having a baby (called ‘postnatal depression’) and it can make it hard to do ordinary things like take care of the baby or other kids.
- They can’t just ‘snap out of it’ or make themselves feel better, no matter how hard they try.
When Mum’s not taking her medication properly she goes up and down. Like she will go on a manic high and be really dramatic or she’ll get depressed and tired, so it can be very hard to try and talk with her.
It gets really confusing, because one day she’ll be fine, but the next day she’ll burst out crying.
- People who experience bipolar disorder (which used to be called ‘manic depression’) often have extreme moods.
- They might sometimes feel very down and miserable. At other times they may feel energetic, over-excited and unable to calm down.
- When they’re feeling over-energetic they might not sleep much, go on huge shopping sprees, cook or clean lots or be really talkative or have big ideas. They might also be stressed and only able to concentrate for a very short amount of time.
Psychosis and schizophrenia
Dad hears voices sometimes, which make him look pretty weird to other people, but we know what’s going on though. He gets angry sometimes and can’t concentrate, but we know him so well we can kind of calm him down and help him get some reality about things.’
- People who experience psychosis (pronounced ‘sigh-koh-sis’) have difficulty thinking clearly and understanding reality.
- As a person loses touch with reality, they might see or hear things that aren’t really there (hallucinations) or have unusual ideas that aren’t shared by other people (delusions). For example, they might believe that someone is trying to harm them or their family.
- It can be really frightening for people who are unwell and for their children and families, especially if they don’t know that this is a form of illness.
- If a person has had more than one episode of psychosis and other symptoms that last longer than six months, they may be described as experiencing schizophrenia (pronounced ‘skitz-o-free-nee-uh’).
View a short video about psychosis and schizophrenia.
Post traumatic stress disorder
Dad isn’t really himself and he’s always on edge, like he’s scared of something happening. He’s pretty grouchy because he doesn’t sleep much and he doesn’t like doing anything outside these days.
It’s not his fault though and I keep reminding myself that.
- People who experience post traumatic stress disorder (also called PTSD) often get upset, scared or panicky, or over-react to very small things.
- This is a type of anxiety disorder that is often caused by a traumatic event (like being in a serious accident, being physically abused or being in a war or a natural disaster, like a bushfire).
- The very upsetting feelings from the trauma of these situations are often re-lived in disturbing flashbacks and nightmares and affect their ability to carry on in everyday life.
Obsessive compulsive disorder
We’re sometimes really late for school because Mum has to check the iron and all the power points before we can go anywhere. She gets pretty on edge and doesn’t like going out much now, unless she has to.
- People who experience obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) might feel that they have to repeat things over and over again (like washing their hands or touching certain things).
- They might be ‘obsessed’ with germs or keeping things in order and feel like they just can’t stop themselves from being this way.
- They often feel that something terrible will happen to them or others if they don’t repeat these things.
Borderline personality disorder
Mum would get very sad and very angry and the anger was a big sign that something was wrong. I distinctly remember walking home from school wondering what she’d be like today. Some days we’d get along so well – like we were best friends. Other days I’d feel like I just couldn’t do anything right. I wasn’t allowed inside or was in trouble for some unknown reason.
- People who experience borderline personality disorder often have trouble with their emotions and relationships with other people.
- They might struggle with confusing mood swings and an intense fear of losing people close to them and need constant comfort. They may have sudden explosive tempers or might even want to harm themselves. They may experience times when they feel scared and chaotic – an ‘out-of-control’ kind of feeling.
- Sometimes people say it’s a bit like living your life on a ‘roller coaster’ but without the fun parts.
- Their behaviour is often not understood and is usually the result of feeling scared, lonely and hopeless.
Mum feeds Josh while we’re all eating and pretends to eat bits of his food. She hates people asking her if she’s eaten. The thing is that she is so skinny already, but she doesn’t see what she really looks like.
- People experiencing eating disorders are often obsessed by thoughts about food and their body weight. This includes people who deliberately don’t eat much at all (anorexia nervosa), and people who ‘binge’ on lots of food in a very small time period and then make themselves vomit the food back up (bulimia) or overeat all the time (compulsive overeating).
- A person with an eating disorder can put huge effort into hiding it and may be constantly dieting, making excuses not to eat, avoiding social situations where there’s food and exercising a lot.
- They might spend a lot of time worrying about what they look like and feel depressed, anxious or irritated.
So, what causes mental illness – how did my parent become unwell?