Common mental health conditions

Poor mental health may affect, among other things, our sleep, mood, motivation and energy. If symptoms persist, they can start to impact our daily living, relationships, physical health and our ability to work.

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Anxiety is a natural reaction that may feel like fear and can occur in a situation that is difficult or threatening. Though at times it can happen out of the blue for no apparent reason.

Everyone will experience this at one point in their life. For some people, anxiety symptoms can become severe and potentially long-lasting. In these cases, anxiety can cause significant distress and interfere with a person's ability to cope with normal daily life. It is then that it is defined as a disorder.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. Anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive fear, anxiety and related behavioural disturbances such as panic attacks.

Anxiety can present with psychological and physical symptoms. The psychological symptoms can give rise to anxiety-related cognitions. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder.

Physical symptoms

  • a feeling of restlessness, feeling 'keyed up' or 'on edge'
  • shortness of breath, or a feeling of choking
  • sweaty palms
  • racing heart
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • muscle tension, trembling, feeling shaky
  • nausea and/or diarrhoea
  • butterflies in the stomach
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • hot flashes
  • chills.

Psychological symptoms

  • apprehension
  • distress
  • dread
  • nervousness
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • panic
  • uneasiness
  • worry
  • fear or terror
  • jumpiness or edginess.

Anxious thoughts

  • "Everything is going to go wrong"
  • "I can't handle these feelings"
  • "I can't calm myself down"
  • "I can't focus on anything except my worries"
  • "I don't want to leave the house today"
  • "I might die".
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Adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder is a psychological response usually associated with life changes and stressors, such as a relationship break-up, loss of a job, financial stress, car accident or family tension. In adjustment disorder, the reaction to the stressor is greater than what is typical or expected for the situation or event.

Presentation could be with symptoms of depressed mood, anxiety and behavioural disturbance. Symptoms can be delayed and may not occur immediately at the onset of the stressor.

The disorder does not usually continue longer than six months after the stressor has abated. However, in some cases persistent or chronic adjustment disorder can continue for more than six months, especially if the stressor is ongoing, such as unemployment.

The symptoms may cause problems with a person's ability to function, for example, the person may have trouble with sleep, work, or studying.

It can occur in response to:

  • a single event (for example, loss of job)
  • multiple stressors (for example, work difficulties and marital problems)
  • repeated occurrence (for example, repeated workplace crises)
  • continuous stressors (for example, persistent pain with increasing disability).
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Depression is a mood disorder where individuals experience negative changes in their mood ('low mood') for a sustained period. There are usually other symptoms present, affecting an individual's energy levels, motivation, sleeping, eating patterns and concentration which exert an overall impact on their ability to function in day-to-day life.

A person may typically experience a number of the below symptoms, behaviours and thinking patterns.


  • low mood
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • tiredness
  • poor concentration.


  • reduced motivation to do various tasks, which could include looking after oneself
  • social withdrawal or increased irritability in social interactions
  • loss of enjoyment and neglect of previously pleasurable activities.

Thinking patterns

  • a sense of worthlessness or low self-esteem
  • feelings of hopelessness about the future
  • extreme negativity about their current situation
  • abnormal feelings of guilt
  • thoughts of life not being worth living
  • in severe cases, an individual can develop abnormal or bizarre beliefs that are delusional in nature.

What leads to depression?

A person can develop depression for a variety of different reasons. Reasons will vary from person to person and often it's a combination of factors that lead to the onset of depression.

Common factors include:

  • Life events such as long-term unemployment, living in an abusive or uncaring relationship, long-term isolation or loneliness and prolonged exposure to pressure at work.
  • Pain factors such as family history, serious medical illness and/or chronic pain and drug and alcohol use. A person's personality also plays a role, as depression is more likely to be present with people who tend to worry a lot, have low self-esteem, are perfectionists or are sensitive to personal criticism or negativity.
  • Changes in the brain. Depression is more than just a 'chemical imbalance'. There are many factors that can contribute physiologically, such as genetic vulnerability, severe life stressors, substances or medications and medical conditions—all can lead to irregular mood regulation in the brain.
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Acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is when a person experiences a traumatic event that may lead to significant distress and/or functional impairment in social, occupational or other important areas. This can be diagnosed between two days and one month after a traumatic incident.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the presence of a severe and persistent stress reaction and symptoms following exposure to a traumatic event. This can be diagnosed one month after a traumatic incident.

These disorders occur after exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence in one or more of the following ways:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic event.
  • Witnessing in person, the event as it occurred to others.
  • Learning about events (violent or accidental) that occurred to a family or a friend.
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s) (for example, first responders, police officers and so on).

Once the above has occurred, the person would ordinarily experience several symptoms including:

  • intrusive memories, distressing dreams, dissociative reactions (flashbacks), intense reactions in response to reminders of the trauma
  • developing a negative mood with persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • developing an altered sense of reality of one's surroundings (for example, feeling like being in a daze or time slowing)
  • sleep disturbances, anger, hypervigilance, poor concentration and easily startled
  • avoiding reminders of the trauma.
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