Introduction to mental health

Improving mental healthMental health refers not only to the absence of mental illness, but also to our ability to function in an emotionally and intellectually positive and productive manner. It includes using and developing mental skills, having a feeling of wellbeing, and being able to achieve our goals. Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave, and how this affects our lives.

There are many mental health conditions from which anyone can suffer, including:

While mental health problems may be genetic, we can help prevent mental health problems by changing our lifestyle. Some people consider making it a New Year’s Resolution to improve their mental health; health professionals such as GPs are able to give good advice about how to do this. You can talk about any problems that may contribute to how you feel, such as difficulties at work, discrimination or past abuse. Your doctor can help you find ways to improve these situations.

Who suffers from mental health conditions?

Mental health conditions affect men and women of all ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Some conditions are more common amongst certain groups (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease typically occurs in the elderly). Factors that can affect mental health include:

  • Gender: How gender affects risk varies depending on the particular mental health condition;
  • Ethnicity: Individuals from marginalised and minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience mental health conditions;
  • Economic status: People living in poverty are more likely to experience mental health conditions; and
  • Social support: Individuals who have poor social support networks are more likely to experience mental health problems.

Mental health conditions are common in Australia. In 1996, they affected around one million Australians. Estimates suggest that over 14% of Australian children experience mental health problems, and 20% of all Australians will experience mental health problems at some stage of their life.

Benefits of maintaining good mental health

Improving mental healthIt has been shown that mental health disorders burden the Australian health system. Families and friends who spend time or live with someone with a mental illness can find it very stressful. People with a mental illness often have a reduced quality of life, physical health and productivity. So improving mental health in the community helps everyone, and improves the quality of life of ourselves and our family and friends.

Tips for maintaining good mental health

Many of the factors that influence mental health occur at a societal level and so are beyond the control of individuals. However, there are also a number of measures we can take to protect our mental health.

Surround yourself with supportive people

People we live, socialise or work with will affect our mental health. Having supportive, harmonious family relationships reduces the risk of mental health conditions.

Maintain good physical health

Being in good physical shape is an important component of preventing mental health conditions. So try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.

Get active and involved

Get active and involved in your community. Try new things you’ve always wanted to experience. Being engaged in something helps our sense of wellbeing.

If you have a mental health condition, seek treatment

Mental health conditions are legitimate health problems. The majority of Australians with mental illness do not seek help, even though there are many effective treatments available. Don’t ignore problems or be afraid to seek professional help.

More information

Mental activity For more information, see Effects of Mental Activity on Health.
Health in the New Year For more information on staying healthy in the New Year, including tips on diet, partying, exercise and general health, see Health in the New Year.


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  2. National Health Service UK. Mental health: Introduction [online]. 27 November 2007 [cited 17 December 2009]. Available from URL: conditions/ Mental-health/ Pages/ Introduction.aspx
  3. National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary guidelines for Australian adults [online]. 10 April 2003 [cited 13 December 2009]. Available from URL: _files_nhmrc/ file/ publications/ synopses/ n33.pdf 
  4. Australia Government Department of Health and Ageing. Fun ways to get moving [online]. 10 November 2008 [cited 13 December 2009]. Available from URL: internet/ healthyactive/ publishing.nsf/ Content/ fun
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Health Information Network. Action steps for improving women’s mental health [online]. US Department of Health and Human Services. May 2009 [cited 17 December 2009]. Available from URL: publications/ allpubs/ OWH09-PROFESSIONAL/ actionsteps.aspx

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